What is it to be human?

     According to Freud when the libido gets caught up with the ego, personality leads to narcissism, which has a stong correlation to fantasy and delusion. Narcissism evolves around extreme self-consciousness and a belief that life must be lived around one’s own desires [survival]. A normal part of psychosexual development is the overcoming of early childhood narcissism, but increasingly in today’s society we see strong elements of narcissism functioning as a major charisma, not just in individuals, but in the cultural temper that encourages competitives and ruthlessness in the capitalist markets. Narcisism is prevalent in art. The primal self or those components that are linked purely to ancient survival instincts are active in the most discursive and complex social systems to create impacts that are perplexing and harmful to species survival.

     Everyone has dreams that are linked to desires. ‘Both healthy dreams and unhealthy symptoms follow a similar logic when confronted with repression.’ Freud wrote a lot about the contents of dreams. Freud calls the dream we remember upon waking the ‘manifest dream’; this can be a reaction formation or a substitute formation that hides the secred thoughts and desires and creates a natural repression. ‘Repression, which Freud sometimes calls the ‘dream-censor’ in his discussion of dreams, is continually re-working the latent dream-thoughts, which are then forced to assume toned-down, distorted or even unrecognizable forms.’ Freud maintains ‘the two main ways that repression re-works the primitive impulses of the latent dream-thoughts is by way of condensation [1] or displacement [2].’

1] In condensation, multiple dream-thoughts are combined and amalgamated into a single element of the manifest dream; according to Freud, every situation in a dream seems to be put together out of two or more impressions or experiences.

2] In displacement, the affect [emotions] associated with threatening impulses are transferred elsewhere [displaced], so that, for example, apparently trivial elements in the manifest dream seem to cause extraordinary distress while ‘what was the essence of the dream-thoughts finds only passing and indistinct representation in the dream’. For Freud, ‘Displacement is the principle means used in the dream-distortion to which the dream-thoughts must submit under the influence of the censorship.]

     Freud gives us an inkling of how fantasies, in this case dreams, serve to offset the realities we do not wish to face in our daily lives; or perhaps those very real thoughts which might be so primitive and anti-social we are compelled to repress them.

     A lot of Freud’s ideas have been challenged, however, it is easy to see how many of the ‘condensations’ and ‘displacements’ have become so ingrained in what we take to be the ‘inherited human knowledge’ that they take on a life of their own by creating a symbolic order within which everyone is compelled to comply. Trying to fathom how this symbolic order activates human behaviour is no simple task. These rigid symbols hold idenitical meanings for all humans and they become codified into various insitutions and orders that we take as given, right, appropriate and normal, but are they normal? Or is it that they have been contrived over such a long period of time that we have forgotton what normal is? Is it normal to live our lives through mythologies, ceremonies, rituals, literatures, films, advertisings and consumerisms? Can we safely take pleasure in these modern idioms while at the same time distancing ourselves from the psychosexual and reflexive aspects?

      Freud writes about how in the ancient marriage ceremony of the Bedouins, the bridegroom covers the bride in a special cloak called an ‘aba’ and at the same time states the following ritual words: ‘Henceforth none save I shall cover thee! The statement is not straight forward it has multiple meanings and multiple implications. Are humans similarly covered by a semiology embedded into everyday language frames?

    Freud’s aim was to translate the manifest dream back into its constituent form to reveal the hidden thoughts. We do this today in a discipline called  psychotherapy which is said to include these same techniques for exposing and mitigating trauma. It cannot change the society, but it can change individuals who can then participate in social change. However, do people participate in social change?

     Freud’s form of interpretation of symptoms follows the goal of determining the repressed sexuality and/or traumatic events that cause abnormal fantasies and abarent behaviour, but not all fantasies are bad, many have a very useful purpose. There would be no great art or literature without fantasies so how do we sort the good from the bad?

     In a small volume called Self-Deception Unmasked Alfred R Male raises complex questions about the nature of belief and the structure of the human mind. Mele addresses four of the most crucial questions for understanding humanity.

1] What is it to deceive oneself?

2] How do we deceive ourselves?

3] Why do we deceive ourselves?

4] Is self-deception really possible?

     Mele breaks down the nature of self-deception into five chapters. Chapters 1 and 3 offer common forms of self-deception and puts social expectations at the forefront of self-deception, which makes the art of self-deception a highly rational organised action although the sub-text might be quite irrational. Another reason for self-deception is to avoid pain. In Chapter 4 the author goes on to show how the deceiver comes to believe his proposition. Chapter 5 recounts links to motivation and emotion.   How the emotions and pain play a crucial role in determining fantasy, delusion and the motivation to act on self-deception is revealed in numerous forms of creativity, especially Outsider Art. Only recently have we gained an appreciation for this genre and it has opened up a can or worms on what it is to be human.

What Do Artists Talk About?


      The Buddhist philosophy suggests that all worldly existence is centered on pain and suffering and that the only way out of the pain and suffering is   detachment developed in individuals by practicing the art of meditation. This involves emptying the mind of runaway thoughts and controlling the breath, which in turn leads to a more tranquil state of mind, temporarily at least.   The desire for peace and harmony through meditation is not in itself a bad thing. Contemplation when it leads to creativity is a key to a fulfilling life.

   The arts are crucial components in human survival as demonstrated tacitly in the heroic legends and effigies Mesopotamia, Carthage and Pre-Hellenic Greece. Similar trends extended from China to North America through Mexico to the South Americas, the black African nations as well as forming the basis of the Indian Brahmanic Dharma and Asian Buddhism.  These were the works that expressed action and guided new realities. It would appear then that art is a good place to start in understanding the human psyche.    Liberating humanity from fantasies and delusions is not an easy proposition because the world we live in is engulfed in fantasies and many of these thoughts and feelings stem from our ancient past.   As the enlightened scientist Carl Sagan has pointed out we inhabit  A Demon Haunted World which holds more prominence in people’s lives than logical thinking.  This world of fantasy has become so very popular that some scholars, including Sagan refer to it as a pseudoscience, but maybe pseudoscience is just another word for creativity.  Every science has its counterpart in a pseudoscience and in some cases the science has come from the pseudo-sciences as in the practice of astronomy, which was born from ancient astrology.  Pseudoscience differs from erroneous science because as Sagan explains

Science thrives on error, cutting them away one by one.  False conclusions are drawn all the time, but they are drawn tentatively. Hypotheses are framed so they are capable of being disproved.   A succession of alternative hypotheses is confronted by experiment and observation. Science gropes and staggers towards improving understanding.[1]

     Pseudoscience depends on systems of faith, creeds, canons, discourses and practices that cannot be certified to be true and effective and which frequently act against any real understanding of ourselves and the world we live in.  It is nonetheless an area of creativity.   Pseudoscience still depends on myths and possibilities which become delusions when people start to see them as truth. On the other hand myths help us to map our lives.  Not all the aspects of mythologies are bad; myth makes great art and even more fascinating literature.  The fact is, fantasy continues to be more accepted by mass populations as the world become ever more complex.    So why should we strive to change this phenomenon?  The simple fact is, we don’t need to change the appeal of myths, we just need to put them into perspective.  Otherwise, there is the possibility of slipping back society   back into stagnation and the kind of life-world that resembles the Dark Ages.   It has happened before that great periods of Enlightenment have led into the depths of human despair.   In fact we might say that history is littered with light and dark periods that have had their greatest impacts on the poor and vulnerable. Generally speaking, people do not deal well with change.  The dark spaces are not a good environment, yet so many creative people are plagued by them.

 The most familiar period in history to be called the Dark Age is that describing a period in history during the Middle Ages, from approximately the 6th to the 13th Century and prior to the 14th Century Renaissance. Although there is no historically fixed boundary on the use of the term, in the Dark Ages there are some important lessons to be learned.   Its use, which usually refers to a cultural and economic decline that followed the ‘Fall of the Roman Empire’ resonates with many dark periods in modern history including the current 2013 economic decline.    All empires rise and fall and the world is currently experiencing the reconstitution of empires dismantled after the Second World War, but these empires have reached a hiatus.   Global empires have brought us a global economy, not such a bad thing, but it has also opened the door to abuse through poor regulation.  People are protesting the onset of doom and gloom with few gains and no resolution.

     The concept of a Dark Age originated with the Italian scholar Francesco Petrarca in the 1330s and was aimed at critiquing a decline in Latin literature; it then denoted a period of deep and ‘dark’ backwardness that was juxtaposed to the notion of ‘light’ and progress. As the time moved forward the Dark Ages came too include the excesses of theology, enforced piety, rigid laws, austerity and the persecution of dissidents and outsiders.  The Dark Ages is sometimes linked to corruptions in the church and state as well as highlighting the reduction of knowledge and opportunity within the mainstream society; moves that have generally suited the dominant interests.  

      Over the decades many an economic downturn has been described as a move towards the Dark Ages with the latest events linked to the 2008 global economic crisis which still, in 2013, has Europe and the United States in the grip of austerity measures and the tightening of social order.  In some quarters the Dark Ages is seen as a good thing because it encourages conservation and boosts a national impetus towards political  unification, this in turn aids business, but it divides the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ across ever widening chasms.  Community becomes a key feature of the Dark Ages because it encourages like-mindedness. However, like-mindedness equates with fewer rights and a curb on population demands.   Like-mindedness can also be a state of inertia, repression and frustration.  This in turn can manifest social unrest and violence. The 2012 Occupy Movement is typical of the retort against government measures of   austerity and typical of a peoples’ revolution when there is nowhere else to go.   There is always a need for social order, but repression can be a major dilemma for any society.  Repression is a root cause of fantasy and delusion in individuals and this has repercussions for the entire social environment. Repression in psychoanalysis is the removal from consciousness of painful and disturbing experiences that leads to the deliberate suppression of any articulation required to deal with them. This scenario has its consequences.

       According to Sigmund Freud every element of life and death is tied up with psychosexual experiences.  The very act of entering into civilised society entails the repression of various archaic and primitive desires. Freud maintained that each person’s psychosexual development is based on surpassing the previous ‘love-objects’ or ‘object-cathexes’ that are inherent in the first sexual phases of child development, this includes the oral phase and the anal-sadistic phase; [food and excretia]  however, even well-adjusted individuals still harbor those hidden forces which become manifest in primal desires.   We see these elements portrayed in dreams, art and literature; or what Freud referred to as slips of the tongue [parapraxes].    also known as the ‘return of the repressed.’[1]  ‘In less well-adjusted individuals, who remain fixated on early libido objects or who are driven to abnormal reaction formations  or substitute formations, two possibilities exist:’[2]

1]     Perversion, in which case the individual completely accepts and pursues his or her desire for alternative sexual objects and situations [sodomists, sado-masochists, etc.];

2]     Neurosis, in which case the same prohibited desires may still be functioning, but some repression is forcing the ‘repudiated libidinal trends’ to get ‘their way by certain roundabout paths, though not, it is true, without taking the objection into account by submitting to some distortions and mitigations.’ [3]

       For Freud repression is a normal part of human development; indeed, the analysis of dreams, literature, jokes, and ‘Freudian slips’ demonstrates the ways in which our hidden desires continue to find outlets in perfectly well-adjusted individuals.   However, when we are faced with obstacles [to the satisfaction of our libido’s  cathexis] we may experience traumatic events, or when we remain fixated on earlier phases of our development, the conflict between the  libido and the ego [instinct and reality] or between the ego  and the superego [the moral self] this can lead to alternative sexual behaviours.[4] In other words most aberrations are rooted in trauma.

 [1]Carl Sagan [1997] The Demon Haunted World. N.Y. Ballantine Books, p20.

[2] Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Freud: On the Unconscious.” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory  Purdue University.   http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/psychoanalysis/freud2.html . Retrieved 12th May 2013.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.  See  Freud. Introductory Lectures 16.350  


[5]  The Id, ego and super-ego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud’sstructural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described. According to this model of the psyche, the id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual trends; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego.[1] The super-ego can stop you from doing certain things that your id may want you to do.[2]  “The Super-ego of Freud. http://journals1.scholarsportal.info.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/tmp/1616109293319725532.pdf and  http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/personalityelem.htm  Retrieved 12th May 2013.



Country Well Being Or Communal Autarky?

Breaking the Myth of Well Being in Country Areas. 

       A study by D J Harvey and the Department of Social Work and Community Welfare at the James Cook University in Queensland [2007] explored the well accepted notion that there was very little difference between the well being of country women and their urban sisters.  In the context of drought and tough economic times, there have been ideas to the contrary.   Indeed, there have been a number of indications that Australian women living outside metropolitan areas might have a heightened risk of mental health problems and mental disorders due to a range of factors specifically related to rural living. These conditions include ‘isolation, economic restructuring, climate extremes and distance from services’. The research is sketchy to say the least.  Womens’ Health Australia found that although women in rural areas experienced a similar number of stressful events, they were less stressed by them than urban women’[1].  Harvey’s study suggested that this was due to a ‘gendered rural identity’.   Rural women coped better with life’s difficulties because they were conditioned into seeing themselves as rural and therefore better able to cope.   Harvey’s study revealed that most rural women had the view that they were physically and mentally strong and resilient simply because of their identity.  

The fact is these women fulfil their roles because ‘identity’ means they are stereotyped and thus afforded limited options.  Implicit in the view of stereotyping is the notion that all women in country areas are the same and many are willing to succumb to some form of unwanted oppression.  Or, alternatively they can negotiate their way around it. This might be true, but is it good for well being?

Well being obviously varies according to age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, education and more.   Nonetheless, whole populations tend to put the realities aside and become beguiled by the imagery of what life in the country should be like rather than the way it is.   This is helped by media advertising and programmes such as McCloud’s Daughters, which portrays the rural setting as healthy and a wonderful adventure. Even when somebody dies there is a heightened level of excitement. Selling the stock to pay for the funeral while the body is still warm pumps the heart just that little bit faster.   It makes for good entertainment. However, let us not forget that entertainment plays on the emotions it has nothing to do with reasoned judgement.

In all honesty, how many city women would want half their arm stuck up the rear end of a cow?  How many would replace their Chanel No 5 perfume for the smell of the silage that hangs putrid in the air night after night?  How many would relish the idea of having to hose the cow dun from dairy walls so it covers their boots and clothing and gets into their hair?  Whoever called this ‘well being’ needs to seriously question their interpretation of the word; such activities might be necessary for job survival,  but they are certainly not a good definition of ‘well being’.   Nor are they particularly conducive to good physical or mental health.

If city folks knew how many chemicals got dumped on the land and how many get into their food chain they might think twice about what they eat. Notwithstanding, farmers handle these chemicals daily and we do not really know how they impact on health and well being.  Cancer rates are high, so too is depression a reality, albeit more hidden in country areas than anywhere else.  Maintaining the country traditions often means living with shame if something happens to make the circumstances of living different.

Environmentalists are fast becoming aware of a farming industry that is not ‘quant’ but ‘cruel’.  Do city people know that farmers still cut the tails off their dairy cows?  Do city people ever see a young calf wrenched from its mother straight after birth in order to preserve the milk for commercial consumption?  I am loathed to think that these event do not impact on the state of mind of the farmer.   After all, is an abattoir very different from a war zone?  Could it be that the number of boys who leave the farms and go into the military do so because killing appears familiar.  This might be drawing a long bow,  but the unconscious traits are not always obvious.

As a therapist and social researcher living between Melbourne and a small country town I would suggest that the term ‘well being’ is understood differently by different groups.  In Melbourne for example, well being means having a good education and experiencing a wide variety of social and cultural events, thus being able to gain a comprehensive understanding of the world we live in. This is not always the case, money and parental influences play a big part in peoples’ futures.   In Melbourne there are still the left-over elements of feminism that afforded women [rightly or wrongly] the idea that they have some rights.  In stark contrast many country areas are extremely patriarchal and women have no rights, nor do they articulate any desire for them.  Many women seem to think they can rule the roost with their sexuality or by the nature of them being hard working free labour.

Domestic violence and child abuse are often rampant in country areas, as many older generation members do not understand the harm it causes.  It is often a case of do unto your children what was done to you.   There is the lack of mandatory reporting because in small communities everyone knows everyone and there would be revenge.

Country men and women  are often poorly educated so they live with the fear of being turfed off the farm, not simply because of the loss of lifestyle, but because they feel incapable of doing anything else.   Women rarely inherit the farm because most are protected by family trusts which favour men.   This situation is exacerbated by a lot of inbreeding, nepotism and multiple relationships that prevent women from extending their aspirations and opportunities outside of the environment.

With all of these factors in mind, country women do appear to be formidably resilient because they have learned to make do and they see no other way out.   Moreover, they extol the perceived virtues of this lifestyle because to deny them would end in misery.   It is usually much easier to live with a fantasy than bear the hardships of the truth.  Women can believe they are happy because they have known nothing else.

If the same phenomenal lifestyle where attributed to a cult people would be very worried and want to do something to create change for the victims.   We would say these people are living in a state of mind control not as individuals in a position of full consciousness.

Think about it; any attempt to confront members of cults with the inconsistencies of their beliefs fall on deaf ears and in this respect closed country communities share these same dynamics.  They are reluctant to change. Feudalism in country areas still exists.   Power lies with an elite and the rest do what is expected of them.    This is extremely damaging to mental health and well being because it takes years of therapy or self-help to turn these deeply embedded emotional problems into self-determination and reasoned judgement. Reasoned judgement doesn’t happen in closed communities, it happens amidst a diversity of ideas.

While Harvey’s study is limited the findings suggest that the stereotyping of country womens’ resilience might actually be damaging to their health[2]  Harvey writes:

‘The studies…reveal that women have voiced resistance to expectations that they can cope with whatever comes along without adequate support. However, it is not clear how women negotiate rural identity and the broader social, cultural and physical environment in which they live, in order to achieve health and well being… the findings of this study exhibit a tension to belonging to a close knit rural community and the experience of social and geographical isolation. The study also found a tension between a strong gendered rural identity that fosters a culture of stoicism and self-reliance and feelings of resistance to societal expectations of coping with adversity.  …It is necessary to move beyond stereotype views of women and simplistic notions of rurality to explore the social, cultural, economic and geographical factors, which shape womens’ experiences of health and well being’[3].

      Cultural change requires careful social planning. It means challenging old ways and old hierarchies.  It should be mandatory for government departments, including schools to employ staff from other cultures and groups from outside the area.  Ethics and rights should be properly legislated and multiple relationships within statutory agencies outlawed. Small town camaraderie is not a good thing it amounts to communal autarky and the oppression of women.  It is certainly not a good situation for well being. Notwithstanding all of the above, living in country areas can be amazing in terms of space, beauty and the diversity of wildlife.  In addition as the cities are getting beyond their carrying capacity the country environment is gaining new blood and changing.