Saturday, April 13, 2013

Freud's Copernican Revolution pt. 3

V The rational chooser vs. the characterological economy of the libido

In the introduction I quoted a passage on the characterological economy of the libido from Civilization and Its Discontents. In it Freud emphasizes that someone’s approach to happiness is established by their “psychical constitution” which plays a “a decisive part, irrespectively of the external circumstances” (Civilization 83-4). Freud gives the example of the “narcissistic man” whose main satisfaction is found in “mental processes” vs. the “man of action” for who the status conferred by money, positions of prestige, and the “external world” grants happiness. At least I understand Freud here as noting that some people are intellectuals by “nature” (i.e. based upon their ego drive/ideal make-up produced in psycho-sexual development). They like to think about the big questions like human nature (i.e. psychology or philosophy) or how things work in an elementary way (i.e. physics or biology). Although an individual might come from a culture that has a “tradition” of valuing the intellectual over, for example, sports/combat, aesthetics/manners, etc. and therefore might work harder to understand intellectual pursuits, he is still different from the person with a “narcissistic” or “intellectual” economy of the libido. Similarly, there is another character types that might want to appear as an intellectual and would create the difference between the ‘true’ and ‘pseudo’ intellectual who’s happiness is found in “being seen as” one instead of his ego ideal demanding perfection of thought or god-like knowledge from him[1].

With the “man of action” I understand Freud to be writing about people for whom their “image” is very important. It is important that they go to “good universities” or have a “good job”, “good salary” and send their kids to a “good school”. We’d say that such a person is ambitious. While everyone would dynamically possess these interests, for some individuals they have an extra economic emphasis on one or more of these traits[2]. Moreover, character traits such as being an intellectual, ambitious, shy, endearing, vain, etc. are trans-historical. This means that we’d find them in different cultures (American, French, Russian) and in different times (Medieval, Ancient Greece, etc.) for as long as homo sapiens have existed in culture[3].

As I mentioned in the introduction, Freud’s model contrasts with the “rational chooser” model which doesn’t recognizes these characterological differences between people. The latter simply holds that the individual has a ‘will’ and chooses or doesn’t choose to pursue intellectual interests or ambitious goals. Freud holds that: 

Although thus humbled in his external relations, man feels himself to be supreme within his own mind. Somewhere in the nucleus of his ego he has developed an organ of observation to keep a watch on his impulses and actions and see whether they harmonize with its demands. If they do not, they are ruthlessly inhibited and withdrawn. His internal perception, consciousness, gives the ego news of all the important occurrences in the mind's working, and the will, directed by these reports, carries out what the ego orders and modifies anything that seeks to accomplish itself spontaneously. For this mind is not a simple thing; on the contrary, it is a hierarchy of superordinated and subordinated agencies, a labyrinth of impulses striving independently of one another towards action, corresponding with the multiplicity of instincts and of relations with the external world, many of which are antagonistic to one another and incompatible. For proper functioning it is necessary that the highest of these agencies should have knowledge of all that is going forward and that its will should penetrate everywhere, so as to exert its influence. And in fact the ego feels secure both as to the completeness and trustworthiness of the reports it receives and as to the openness of the channels through which it enforces its commands (A Difficulty in the Path, p. 141).

“The will” here is seen as informed by multiple reports of the interest of the drives and the ego is that which synthesized the interest of the drives (“ego interest” and “object libido”) into something which gives the most pleasure but without going against the agency that demands “perfection” (the ego ideal) and the inhibition of certain acts (conscience). The ego psychologists agree with this as Milrod states clearly that the ego ideal is formed after the Oedipus complex and has only ethical values as its contents. However, there are two major distinctions in pre-oedipal functioning. Ego psychologists want to claim that the ego observes itself in order to keep the ego ideal as a separate autonomous agency. This is, as I showed, is not Freud’s position. The “nucleus”, “grade in the ego”, or “superordinate agency” has always been referred to as the ego ideal[4]. The second is that Milrod’s view of the ego ideal fore-runner of the wished for self-image only allows for intellectualism to arise as a character trait in imitation of the admired trait of a parent[5]. Unless Milrod wants to claim that the sublimation of a love for feces will create intellectualism, or some similar erotogenic zone claim, then all ‘character’ regarding non-ethical life is formed at the phallic stage where the wished for self-image arises. Milrod claims the child will identify with certain “admired qualities” of its “idols”[6]. The view I understand Freud’s work to be suggesting is much more radical than this. Moreover, it recognizes the earlier psychoanalytic matching of character traits and erotogenic zones but it doesn’t derive the traits from ‘adultomorphic’ impressions of the infantile thought processes in the child’s relation to his own body. Instead, it links them to the primarily related, inter-subjective creation of the mind (the ego being derived from the id) that happens to be paralleled by bodily zones.    

The criticism arises of how the pre-oedipal child (and the pre-phallic/wished for self-image child) can somehow understand perfection or have some notion that it wants to be an intellectual or be interested in the “big questions”? If it can’t even formulate such questions in speech how can this interest be fixated in the child? The answer to this is that these people work from a metaphysical assumption that we are primarily separate as opposed to being social animals which means that they must over-value linguistic based consciousness. They fail to see the humans are primarily social animals and dependent upon their caregivers and that mind is formed inter-subjectively. Earlier parental images or imagos aren’t based upon the cognitive understanding of the parent being god-like (as if the child is a little theologian). Instead it is based upon the child’s feeling of connectedness to a parental imago (a libidinal tie). At the Oedipus complex the child ‘depersonalizes’ the parents into father-substitutes in the community that he seeks education from and tries to hide immoral acts from in social anxiety. In the castration complex he tries to present himself as a rival who possesses the knowledge, skill, or wisdom of the “class of fathers” in the community present the image to others that he should himself be a leader in his field of knowledge or work[7]. However, with more precision we can say that the relation to the parents already carries the social relations the child will have with others outside of the insular family setting. The child is already embedded in the social because it is primarily a social animal. In philosophical terms this creates a social ontology in which ego drives and ideals reference the individual’s connection/libidinal ties to others in individual relationships and others in terms of interacting with the social body in general. Again, the child doesn’t understand ‘reality’ in some cognitive way. Rather social reality, in terms of how he is or is not treated by others, is the standard. I’d like to recall that Freud posited the superego in higher animals and based this on their social organizations possessing a leader. The ability these animals display to pick up on the social reality of their leader must be part of our early cognition and anyone who has been around young pre-verbal children has seen the amount of ‘checking-in’ they do with their mothers before leaving her sight.  

The pre-oedipal ego ideals similarly have “depersonalized” relations that will determine whether an individual is connected (the double identification, or fusion) with the social body. These earlier parental images feel more powerful than the phallic-Oedipal relations, and correspondingly are depersonalized to represent more fundamental ties to the social body than the phallic-oedipal class of fathers who are the educators in one’s community. Instead of the phallic class of fathers in one’s community, there is the anal class of fathers who are the pillars of society itself. As the person suffering from the phallic-castration complex rivals the fathers in the community at the anal-castration complex he rivals the kings, presidents, popes, geniuses, etc. who provide the rules or ruling ideas to a culture[8]. The cult leader who splits off from society to start his own society, the intellectual who touts a new model of thought opposed to the classic paradigms taught in academia are examples of those who rival the anal fathers and whose ego ideal regresses from the demand for status or recognition among phallic fathers to the anal fathers. From this anal level a more fundamental interaction with the human world at large designates the oral libidinal tie or derpersonalization. The oral castration complex sees the individual in a rivalry with the human world for possible worlds in the forms of living alone in a monastery, alone in nature, creating alternative worlds in art (novels, paintings, etc.)[9]. The individual who has regressed to the oral ego ideal doesn’t feel the demand of competing with anal fathers and having his own group to control, adopt his idea, or treat him as god-like. Instead he is contented with his supremacy in imagination[10]. Along with the ego drives the object drives can similarly be plotted in this social ontology so that individual phallic love moves to anal orgies down to personal relationships that exist only in the imagination of the schizoid[11].

I am highlighting these levels of social ontology by directing attention to individuals who have clearly regressed (‘introversion of the libido) in regards to the demand of perfection that motivates them. In individuals who haven’t regressed these demands of perfection can still be an important factor in their character or economy of the libido[12]. For rational choosers, mental illness is only regarded as something wrong with the body (brain) while the mind as a unitary, rational thing exists apart from it. Freud instead made the Copernican revolution to say we aren’t rational choosers but instead we are driven to find happiness in certain ways. Reason exists but it is secondary and directed to the practical questions of how to realize our desires which are primary and based upon our libidinal ties qua social ontology. So instead of seeing psychosis as something bodily Freud courageously saw this as a necessity for seeing the mind in parts (even though it may subjectively feel whole). Thus he compares the normal person who has a physical illness to the psychotic in how they function. He writes:

Closer observation teaches us that he also withdraws libidinal interest from his love-objects: so long as he suffers, he ceases to love. The commonplace nature of this fact is no reason why we should be deterred from translating it into terms of the libido theory. We should then say: the sick man withdraws his libidinal cathexes back upon his own ego, and sends them out again when he recovers. ‘Concentrated is his soul’, says Wilhelm Busch of the poet suffering from toothache, ‘in his molar's narrow hole.’ Here libido and ego-interest share the same fate and are once more indistinguishable from each other. The familiar egoism of the sick person covers both. We find it so natural because we are certain that in the same situation we should behave in just the same way (Freud, ‘On Narcissism’, p. 82-3, emphasis mine).

Freud compares the bed-ridden person suffering from a toothache or the flu to some people suffering from a regressed psychosis in that both can be motivated to do no more than sit around all day and satisfy impulses to eat and drink  (and often with the latter, smoke). Both ego and object libido are expressed in fantasy or imagination while after the oral/primary narcissistic stage they are expressed separately at the anal stage: “Defaecation” Freud writes, “affords the first occasion on which the child must decide between a narcissistic [egoistic] and an object-loving attitude (Freud, ‘On Transformations of Instinct’, p.130; Abraham, ‘Contributions to Anal Character’). With both the person suffering from the flu and psychosis there has been a relinquishment of higher forms of the ego ideal that demand perfection that is observable in the outlined forms of prestige in community, the ruling people or ideas of culture, (etc.). The physically ill person will have his ideals emerge again but the psychotic has ‘foreclosed’ these ideals and can’t regain them without help from the outside[13].

I have offered a simple sketch of how we can conceive of pre-oedipal ego ideals in relation to primarily relatedness or a social ontology. The ‘intellectual’ discussed above has a connection to the ‘big ideas’ or being god-like in knowledge. Again, this isn’t in relation to the child understanding the concept of perfection or god or ‘big ideas’, but instead is a libidinal tie to the figures who represent the pillars of society. The content of this knowledge or power will be filled in retroactively by the more developed cognition of later stages. In addition, what counts as the ‘big ideas’ will develop in culture. In ancient Greece the brightest minds were producing such things as the Pythagorean theorem which a grade school student learns now. Those who strive for the anal phallus today are working on quantum physics or something else that represents learning the secrets of God. However, as Freud expresses in ‘On Narcissism’, having these ego ideals doesn’t mean that one has the capability of sublimating and thereby living up to them[14].

The demand for an ideal for perfection in thought is described by one analyst as the plight of the autistic character: “One of the means used by some autistic characters to avoid rejection and loneliness is suggested by both the environment and by thinking through deduction: the achievement of perfection. For, he reasons, if he discharges with perfection what he is usually rejected for, then he will not be rejected. But the very essence of the autistic character's plight, that is, non-engagement, presents a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to learning how to achieve perfection: there is no one available to teach perfection, or there is no one whom he dares ask to teach it. The autistic character, however, does surmount this to an extent by becoming his own master teacher: by an enormous psychic feat (using incalculable energy) he stretches his thinking processes to their outermost reaches to derive knowledge of content and technique. And then he teaches himself—he is, for that matter, forever reminding himself, coaching himself, and even testing himself. But for all of this, he is never sure that he has done something perfectly or even well, for his master teacher—his thinking—alas has known of little but his own ivory tower (Bernstein, ‘The Autistic Character’. p.542). To the extent that being acknowledged as achieving perfection in thought is the goal then it is a demand of the ego ideal. To the extent that ‘thinking through deduction’ or certain cognitive style gives pleasure in itself and has an economic significance in an individual then the ego drive as opposed to the ideal is relevant in the character.
[2] Freud writes of such instincts “which cannot possibly be attributed to every human being. The dynamic conditions for its development are, indeed, universally present; but it is only in rare cases that the economic situation appears to favour the production of the phenomenon” (Freud, ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’, p.42).
[3] I think there is a case for saying that some new character traits have been created since culture has developed to the present day, but my point here is that literature from ancient Greece and ethnographies of primitive cultures shows that we have the same types of people. By the word primitive I mean the fact that the status of their political economy, mathematics, and technology is much more basic than ours. This doesn’t mean that their culture is somehow less healthy or inferior to ours. I think there are good cases to be made that some earlier cultures produce less mental illness and allow for more happiness. 
[4] But these melancholias also show us something else, which may be of importance for our later discussions. They show us the ego divided, fallen apart into two pieces, one of which rages against the second. This second piece is the one which has been altered by introjection and which contains the lost object. But the piece which behaves so cruelly is not unknown to us either. It comprises the conscience, a critical agency within the ego, which even in normal times takes up a critical attitude towards the ego, though never so relentlessly and so unjustifiably. On previous occasions we have been driven to the hypothesis that some such agency develops in our ego which may cut itself off from the rest of the ego and come into conflict with it. We have called it the ‘ego ideal’, and by way of functions we have ascribed to it self-observation, the moral conscience, the censorship of dreams, and the chief influence in repression. We have said that it is the heir to the original narcissism in which the childish ego enjoyed self-sufficiency; it gradually gathers up from the influences of the environment the demands which that environment makes upon the ego and which the ego cannot always rise to; so that a man, when he cannot be satisfied with his ego itself, may nevertheless be able to find satisfaction in the ego ideal which has been differentiated out of the ego. In delusions of observation, as we have further shown, the disintegration of this agency has become patent, and has thus revealed its origin in the influence of superior powers, and above all of parents. But we have not forgotten to add that the amount of distance between this ego ideal and the real ego is very variable from one individual to another, and that with many people this differentiation within the ego does not go further than with children (Group Psych, p. 109-10, emphasis mine).
[5] Just as the child strove to be “one with” an admired object representation in imitative identification, he now strives to become “one with” admired qualities in the wished-for self image (Milrod, The concept of the self, p. 15).
[6] Ironically, for the criticisms leveled against ego psychologists by Lacanians, their position is hardly different from this. They may focus more on the claim that the signifier implanted in the child determines the direction he may go in his life, more than the identification that produces it, but its effectively the same. 
[7] As I discussed, there are levels of father substitutes from primary school onward. The masculine protest/castration complex defusion from phallic-father substitutes sees the individual attempting to present an image of superiority. He no longer takes on more of the accumulated knowledge, skill, or wisdom in his historical civilization but feels that he is superior as is. ‘Maturation’ is blocked in the ‘libidinal tie’.     
[8] Abraham reminded us that the child on his pot, on his throne, as it is said, is sovereign” (102) “On the subject of sublimation, Freud [in Civilization and Its Discontents] said that all of human civilization could be considered as an attempt at the sublimation of anal erotism” (105). “ Anal object relation is therefore a social relationship par excellence. Considering that the anal person defines himself through others, we can ask ourselves how this relationship with that manifold other, i.e. society, evolves for him” (108). “He is identified with the other elements of the hierarchy including the principle of absolute domination, personified by a God or a 'charismatic chief'” (Grunberger, ‘Study of Anal Object Relations’, p. 109). Good cultural examples to disambiguate the phallic and the anal levels comes from Star Wars in which the phallic father is represented in his ‘bad aspect’ by Darth Vader (direct commander of the troops) and the Anal father is represented by the Emperor. Additionally, in Lord of the Rings there were rings made for all the different kings but one ring that controlled all of those rings. Also, in Highlander, there are many ‘immortals’ living among regular humans but secretly waging a battle against each other in which there can only be one.
[9] Some artists can also functionally live alone and force all their feelings to exist through the books they write, paintings, or music. In this sense the monastic religious adherent can be viewed as making his life a piece of art where the artist lives through his art. Early analysts have impressionistically cited the relationship to the oral mother as the prototype for this relation but this is ‘adultomorphic’ and attributes cognitive awareness to the child it can’t have. It’s only by seeing the human being as primarily related instead of primarily individual that this kind of relation can exist as a libidinal tie to the social body that can be filled in by content from one’s culture and later cognitive development. Edmund Bergler writes:  
“However, according to my conception, the writer's type of neurotic orality is not greediness and a wish to ‘get’ in the repetition of the child-mother situation, but rather a spiteful desire for oral  independence, whereby the artist identifies himself with the ‘giving’ mother out of aggression toward her, and thus eliminates her. He achieves oral pleasures for himself through ‘beautiful’ words and ideas. In its deepest sense, it is a desire to refute the ‘bad’ pre-cedipal mother and the disappointments experienced through her, by establishing an ‘autarchy’ (Bergler,  On a Clinical Approach to the Psychoanalysis of Writers, p. 46).  
[10] As a general arc that corresponds to the psychosexual stages, the auto-erotic stage would correspond to getting into a rivalry with “3-d reality” for autistic shapes and sensation as the work of Frances Tustin has outlined. While the oral individual in solitude is still experiencing others in imagination the autistic child has a reduced realm of sensations. It seems likely to me that this arc would continue to another stage where any sense of pre-conscious reality is rivaled by the sense of unconscious contents. This would be the important regression point for psychosis.        
[11] Two people coming together for the purpose of sexual satisfaction, in so far as they seek for solitude, are making a demonstration against the herd instinct, the group feeling. The more they are in love, the more completely they suffice for each other. Their rejection of the group's influence is expressed in the shape of a sense of shame. Feelings of jealousy of the most extreme violence are summoned up in order to protect the choice of a sexual object from being encroached upon by a group tie. It is only when the affectionate, that is, personal, factor of a love relation gives place entirely to the sensual one, that it is possible for two people to have sexual intercourse in the presence of others or for there to be simultaneous sexual acts in a group, as occurs at an orgy. But at that point a regression has taken place to an early stage in sexual relations, at which being in love as yet played no part, and all sexual objects were judged to be of equal value, somewhat in the sense of Bernard Shaw's malicious aphorism to the effect that being in love means greatly exaggerating the difference between one woman and another (Group Psychology, p. 140-1).

[12] This is the position of ego psychologists Annie Reich and Edith Jacobson:

There normally develops a faculty for self-evaluation and reality appreciation, which enables the child to recognize certain aspects of the parental images as something he has not yet reached but wishes to become. Here we see a type of ego ideal- we might call it the normal one- which will lead to attempts gradually to bring about a realization of these aims, as soon as the individual’s growing strength and capacities will permit it (Annie Reich, Early Identifications, p. 221)

Forever close to magic imagery and yet indispensible to the ego, the ego ideal is eventually molded from such idealized object and self images. The separate though concomitant building up of an ego ideal composed of idealized parental and self images and of realistic ego goals as well as realistic self and object representations, appears to reflect the child’s simultaneous acceptance of the reality principle and his resistance to it…. The prominent, strange, and precious quality of the ego ideal is its unreality and its distance from the real self. Although we are ordinarily perfectly aware of this, the ego ideal exerts a tremendous influence on our realistic behaviour. The vicissitudes of the ego ideal reflect, of course, the development of infantile value measures. Its deep unconscious core harbors derivatives of early notions of value, such as the idea of eternal happiness, of glamour and wealth, or physical and mental power and strength; notions which do not yet have the quality of moral ideas but, partly surviving in our ego goals, may play a paramount role in patients whose superego has never matured (Jacobson, The Self and The Object World, p. 110-2).  
[13] This isn’t to say that the psychotic is untroubled and happy without ideals. Anyone who as worked with them will know they have immense suffering and the ideal have been relinquished but this is brought about by defenses and with the experience of supreme persecutory and depressive anxiety.    
[14] A man who has exchanged his narcissism for homage to a high ego ideal has not necessarily on that account succeeded in sublimating his libidinal instincts. It is true that the ego ideal demands such sublimation, but it cannot enforce it; sublimation remains a special process which may be prompted by the ideal but the execution of which is entirely independent of any such prompting. It is precisely in neurotics that we find the highest differences of potential between the development of their ego ideal and the amount of sublimation of their primitive libidinal instincts; and in general it is far harder to convince an idealist of the inexpedient location of his libido than a plain man whose pretensions have remained more moderate. Further, the formation of an ego ideal and sublimation are quite differently related to the causation of neurosis. As we have learnt, the formation of an ideal heightens the demands of the ego and is the most powerful factor favouring repression;  sublimation is a way out, a way by which those demands can be met without involving repression (On Narcissism, p. 94-5).

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