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Am I writing angrily or are you reading angrily? Such a question arises whenever someone is outraged by my text. Are they outraged because of something I said, or is it the way that they read my text which triggered the outrage? Moral outrage is the yearning for narcissistic supply, but this is not entirely a bad thing. Something like impersonal narcissism (Bersani) or primary narcissism (Freud) may in fact be a good thing. Certainly if we are outraged at perceived injustices in the world, and if those injustices actually are injustices (here’s the problem would the real Guarantor of Meaning please stand up?) then we should be outraged by them. Or at least, we can empathize with those who are outraged. But perhaps even then, in the case of real injustice, assuming we can agree what that is, I advocate a more Stoic approach. Being outraged gives your opponent the upper hand. The Stoic concept of apatheia does not merely mean “apathy” in the negative sense of indifference to the plight of the marginalized, indifference to the silencing of the subaltern. Rather, apatheia can also mean the rejection of pathological, passive and passionate responses.1 Stoicism advocates the development of “antipassion antibodies” (Damasio) which would combat the instinctual, kneejerk reactions and hopefully open up the “zone of indetermination” (Bergson) enough to allow one to suspend habit and appeal to past experience.2 If a bear is coming at you in the wild, do you want to be overcome by passion? Overwhelming emotion in such a case would lead to almost certain death. Stoic apatheia is not a pathological indifference to the plight of others, nor is it passivity or interpassivity (Zizek), but is rather a belief that the only good is in applying the test of good and bad to one’s own judgments, and the only bad is in applying that same judgment to external things. It is an urging to sit with frustration instead of evacuate it (Phillips), to bear one’s obsessions and forbear the compulsions which would relieve the psychic pressure. Stoic apatheia advocates the suspension of reactive outrage because it is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.3 The difficulty here is determining what is valid outrage and what is mere scapegoating. If I am infuriated by something that someone writes, is it valid in the sense of indicating the need to reject the thinker’s thought, or am I tilting at windmills? If I claim that this person is scapegoating me, how can I be sure that I am not in fact doing precisely what I decry? Scapegoaters always claim that they are the ones being scapegoated, after all. Is my outrage just yearning for meaning in life? I am reminded of a story from psychoanalytic practice of a woman who was an
Pathology, passivity and passion all have their root in pathos. I am indebted to Christian Kerslake for bringing Bergson’s idea of the “zone of indetermination” to my attention via the excellent book DELEUZE AND THE UNCONSCIOUS (2007): Kerslake, Christian. “Deleuze and the Unconscious.” Continuum, 2007. 3 This turn of phrase is from the bard: Shakespeare, William. Shakespeare: Macbeth. TY Crowell & Company, 1904.
a defense mechanism. Zizek points out that the trend of interpassivity is one such (false) way to feel like you’re making a difference. . or recycling or voting. or a neurotic with latent psychosis. so I get really outraged at some perceived injustice and make a big display of my virility maybe I march in the Occupy Wall Street movement. we are preventing a true difference from happening. Interpassivity is something like the problem of good intentions. a fantasmatic supplement protecting me from the harsh truth of my actions. the small change which prolongs the current conditions instead of a much larger change which would result in the radical loss of our current (privileged) conditions. etc). 5 Incidentally. The problem with interpassivity is that we think we are interacting but really we are “interpassing. or maybe I write an impassioned piece calling for insurrection. etc. Instead of making a difference.5 Narcissistic Supply is not “happyjuice” as much as it’s “meaningjuice” we do not want to be happy as much as we want to feel that our lives have meaning. however ordinary psychotics do not typically have the same level of delusions or hallucinations. “I’m sorry” both attestations to one’s depth of human subjectivity. it is because I want to feel like I am making a difference. Lacan states that analysands have very good reasons for being resistant to analysts: the analyst is trying to rob the analysand of his or her pleasure (in complaining. and overlyconcrete thinking to varying degrees) are identical with fullblown psychotics.ordinary psychotic. . all the while failing to grasp that my good intentions are there to help me sleep well at night. that we are important or significant in some way. she would find a reason to be outraged by something her neighbor. . prolonging the current conditions under the auspices of trying our best to change. The features of captation by the Imaginary and inability to engage with the Symbolic (as well as breakdown of the ability to metaphorize. doing our duty as good samaritans by passing along information or “raising awareness” as it is called. I have good intentions. or vote. When I get outraged about something. who has not been triggered. Each time I share a story on Facebook about the evils of the world. She truly enjoyed complaining so much (as a means of gaining muchneeded narcissistic supply) that she didn’t want the objects of her complaint to go away. doing my best to protect other people who are basically 4 Following JacquesAlain Miller’s definition of ordinary psychotic as someone whose psychic structure is that of psychosis but has not had a psychotic break something like a protopsychotic.4 Any time life would get too meaningless. We make a token effort so we don’t have to make a real one. By appealing to my own humanity. “Why did you eat the cookies?” “I didn’t mean to. that we have made a difference in people’s lives. I perpetuate an Imaginary fantasysupplement of myself as a basically good person. My good intentions are what I hold up as proof of my sincerity in some kind of tautological fallacy: I have good intentions because I am sincere because I have good intentions because . because then she would be robbed of her enjoyment.” or else.” we are passively standing by the sidelines watching. I feel a little bit important. or her landlord. one’s wealth of sincerity and meaning. I’m just saying that we do these interpassive things so that we don’t have to do any true action. We learn good intentions at a young age. Of course I am not saying we should stop sharing stories of injustice. like I’m doing my part or each time I recycle a bottle.
the savior what a burden to unconsciously feel that you must save the world. but nevertheless I am “doing my best”: “Yes. a herosavior or doctor curing the ills of the masses.” I am reminded of Bertolt Brecht’s poem THE INTERROGATION OF THE GOOD: Step forward: we hear That you are a good man. Talk about 6 These “needs” might be better understood as “desires. You cannot be bought. . Which opinion? You are brave. we need to feel significant or important.good from the evil oppressors who would rob them of their lifeblood. Whose advantages do you consider then? You are a good friend. that it would be lost without you! But this burden is willingly taken on because then at least you’ll be necessary. not least of which by way of suicide. . the Right . I perpetuate the parisitization of a certain metonymic group (“the Bankers. I know that I am merely human. the Virtuous. also Cannot be bought. we really do need meaning in our lives. but I believe that even humble humans can make a difference by aligning themselves with the Good. Or else I admit that I am not all good. It is really a tremendous ego inflation to unconsciously identify with the hero. Against whom? You are wise. . you say your opinion.” “the Greedy Capitalists” etc).6 first and foremost its need to feel needed.” though at some real level. Are you also a good friend of the good people? Hear us then: we know. The deflation of realizing that the world won’t miss us when we’re gone. For whom? You do not consider your personal advantages. You hold to what you said. You are our enemy. The problem with moral outrage is that it can perpetuate the notion of a Good person who is fighting on the side of justice against the injustices of the world. that when we are forgotten people will even forget that they forgot about us such a deflation is a crushing blow to the ego. which wants nothing more than being needed. but the lightning Which strikes the house. But in consideration of your merits and good qualities We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you With a good shovel in the good earth. defending the underdog. But what did you say? You are honest.” “the Corporations. Our ego demands to have its “needs” met. Lack of Narcissistic Supply can lead to not only something akin to psychic death but to real death. This is why we shall Now put you in front of a wall.
he deceives himself with the idea that he didn’t know what he was doing and so on. If outrage is one of the byproducts of this chemical reaction. He decides to leave the chairs exactly where they are but neglects to tell the others about it (in this example.g. . Perhaps his ego was unawares but his unconscious knew exactly what it was doing: tricking the other into being angry as a way of expressing his anger through a surrogate. I lose the ability to differentiate between the relativelyaccurate image of the other based on reality and my relativelyinaccurate image whose sole source is personal bias. perhaps the most we can say is “What does it do?” Is there anything productive about this outrage? Does it offer a critique in the Deleuzian sense of explaining the genesis of the object of critique (why it came to be seen that way in the first place) and offering an alternate way of seeing it? Or is this a purely negative critique which merely seeks to destroy. Or when I induce another into a role. to locate transferences. tricked into carrying the anger of the writer?7 The problem is first and foremost to clarify. there is a contamination between observerobserved so that I cannot be sure where the truth is located perhaps the things I say about them are true. .” it is an experience. When I project. when I’m engaged in an angry debate with someone. am I an angry reader or is the person I’m reading an angry writer? Is the anger “in me” or in the writer. introjection. when I see a problem in the other’s thinking. from the other side. when I forcefeed them signifiers to swallow and hold. whom the young man has issues with. unbeknownst to himself). the most we can say is “it is a phenomena.” is it because I’ve been induced into a role. mostly older men. “Why is that person so made at me?” the whole time failing to realize that one has induced the other into holding one’s anger. So.codependency! Is there anyone who isn’t codependent? Those who we call codependent are merely those who act out the ego’s normal functioning in an extreme form. the young man is “flabbergasted” or at least. we mustn’t dismiss a purely negative critique on such grounds. The meeting of the minds causes a chemical reaction. I contaminate the projected screen with my own psychic contents. but whether it stems from one or the other mind is hard to say. When the older men are later angry that the chairs haven’t been moved. Bly’s example is of a young man who is tasked with arranging chairs before a talk. on his behalf. . because my forcefeeding of that signifier to the other person (via projective identification) causes that person 7 Robert Bly points out in IRON JOHN (1990) that it is entirely possible one can get off “scotfree” from an altercation. to disentangle if such a thing is possible. roleinduction. Occupy Wall Street simply because there is no unified front or clearlydelineated goal. in this latter case. Zizek reminds us that even if the critique cannot give the right answer. and even if it is “in me. Pathological behavior is just normal behavior called into stark relief. contamination. an adept at making others outraged while denying all culpability. is it me or them? Who’s to blame? Or is “blaming” the wrong question altogether? I ask again. not create? Of course. He is a master manipulator. he feigns ignorance. When I am faced with the problem of moral outrage. It seems to me that the solution to this problem of outrage is to identify if projection is going on (isn’t it always?). it can at least say what is the wrong answer we can’t dismiss e. when I am outraged by the implications . Kevin Spacey’s character Francis Underwood does much the same in the American TV show HOUSE OF CARDS (2013). It’s like quantum entanglement where we can’t be sure what’s the observer and what’s the observed. feigning wonder. but it is only because I say them that they become true.
or can fully endorse their own guilt as a way of escaping it. or to tell the truth about truth. Zizek points out. ground can only be taken willingly. Analysts can inadvertently collude with their clients. I may not even know what I lost because I was not aware of having it in the first place. We are also each responsible for having the courage to stand our ground. what can we do? It’s not that we can’t deny or admit it. Consider the example of the partner who admonishes one for not acting like an adult could this partner have inculcated dependency. shouldn’t I be held accountable? It’s a way of escaping culpability to say that I was merely induced into a role. If I allow myself to be brainwashed into thinking it’s ethical to commit what I later realize are horribly unethical atrocities. reliance. We must be on guard against false admissions as a way of shortcircuiting complaint. a betrayal born out of fear. But it’s the analyst’s own fault for allowing the collusion to take root. following Lacan. rather. with measure.” Doing things with measure means that I will admit my guilt. but humans can be sincere under the auspices of pretense. When my ego is inflated. convinced to give ground because of charisma or intimidation. Can’t we hold analysands to the same standard? Or do they “get out of jail free” because of their supposed ignorance? One has to wonder if all ignorance is feigned ignorance. to overly accept the blame. changing the blame to the victim (or “fictim” to borrow the term from Boundary Logic). and thus it is not my fault. I simply mean to say. if there is no such thing as “authentic ignorance” of the kind which would justify feeling bad for another person’s raw deal. attempting to secure a privileged neutral subjective position outside of positionality. Zizek reminds us that it is no better to attempt to fully endorse one’s own culpability. we need to recognize what inflation looks like. that humans are different from animals in that humans can deceive to deceive (pretend to pretend) or even lie by telling the truth. but I will also deny my . or what meaning means etc all lost causes). at least in the cases where the victim claims to have been induced into a certain role. there is a complicity or collusion which goes on unbeknownst to one’s conscious mind. When I betray my unconscious desire. Each of us is responsible for our own individuation. Animals can trick us with deceptions. I may not even realize it. Consider the highly paid philosopher in Western academia who denounces his own privileged position as a way of effectively escaping culpability. Perhaps at some level. I am failing to follow the Stoic principle of measure. that I entered into projective identification and gave up my own individuality. (Or to find a metalanguage. allowing themselves to be induced into roles and then feeling jilted or crying foul after the fact. whenever one allows oneself to be induced into a role. The collusion happens at the unconscious level. the idea that I will do something “God willing. not to give it away freely in a betrayal of our unconscious desire. So. But certainly I do not endorse a “blame the victim” mentality which has no empathy or compassion for those who “didn’t know any better” than to allow themselves to be induced into certain roles.to act in such a way. if we can’t deny our guilt and we can’t admit our guilt. infantilism? Whenever we are speaking of projective identification it is unclear how much the induced subject identifies with his or her key signifiers because of a willingness to give ground or how much ground was taken unwillingly.
bias) then it is the same problem it’s that strange phenomena of using one’s humility as a source of pride. . . What we need is not the disjunctive sequence of exclusionary binary logic or the representational logic of the one/many distinction. Either way it is inflation. Richard Tarnas includes a wonderful idea from John Stuart Mill in his tremendous book COSMOS AND PSYCHE: INTIMATIONS OF A NEW WORLD VIEW (2006): in an intellectual debate. When I deny any wrongdoing. They can be entirely unproductive. I’m experiencing a positive inflation which seeks to keep my ego propped up by fantasmatic supports. .” so to speak. with measure. each party tends to be correct in what it affirms and wrong about what it denies. We need a nondiminishing stream of signification.” or as Adam Phillips puts it. We need ideas. positive or negative. and . a paraconsistent logic which allows for both/and instead of either/or. When I fully embrace my culpability. Ideas are nondiminishing wellsprings of evocation. When the character Haraway in GHOST IN THE SHELL 2: INNOCENCE (named after Donna Haraway) points out that saying robots and humans are different is no more profound than saying black is different than white. or that pernicious form of egoism which says “Look. we need ideas instead of ideals. In the context of moral outrage. which stifle the free flow of ideas. what I get out of this oblique statement is the idea that oppositional dual relations are simply not that useful for some things. I’m dropping the ego!” (Osho) We can take a cue from Deleuze and Guattari in their riffing on the rhizome in the opening to A THOUSAND PLATEAUS: CAPITALISM AND SCHIZOPHRENIA (1980). Deleuze urging us to think something different in kind from quantitative oppositional metaphors these are all examples of the alternative to dualistic thinking of the type which cannot stand ambivalence. a flow of conjunction. Derrida’s overturning of dual relations. etc. not a philosophy of fixity. Lacan’s rejection of the dual relation as Imaginary. . when I admit my guilt too readily or too excitedely (as if I am only too happy to finally admit my Eurocentrist. . . not ideals. and that only a paraconsistent logic which allows for the affirmation of both (without denying either) can grasp the situation in its haecceity. but a conjunctive sequence: “and . The work of dialetheists like Graham Priest may be relevant here. Perhaps the key takeaway here is the notion of nondualistic thinking.guilt. it may be the case that there are grains of truth in both the outraged and the “outragee. and . compared to ideals which are these fixed binary sort of fantasies which one can only endorse or reject. insofar as it is the unreserved admission or denial of guilt which is problematic.
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