The Outlaw and the Other

ProhibitionHumans are born into a control structure and taught to oblige authority from the very beginning because it is the key to the kingdom of comfort and survival. We enter into an unwritten contract with society that allows us to follow certain rules and expect ‘returns’ on our investment of working within a framework of authority and obedience to law. But here’s the rub. Since people do not have a stable identity it would not be unreasonable to argue that they ‘act out’ the rules created by a society that has successfully harnessed their minds through the indoctrination of social prohibitions. In doing this, we are able to create an image of society as the big Other through which we obtain an identity. But how stable is this image, and what happens when the framework that holds up our psychological structure ‘malfunctions’?

The principal struggle of man is the powerful will to assert himself in a personal, and often misguided, experience and interpretation of the world according to his own internal psychological structure. The question here is what constitutes the internal determination of our existence and how it can shape and inform our internalisation of social prohibitions. What is the difference, if any, between the law which governs an individual’s own vital sense and those which govern social law? Some perceive the social law simply as a repression of the ‘sacred’ inner law and others see the inner law as the internalisation of social norms.

The internalisation of law as a set of social prohibitions is arguably the earliest lesson afforded to us by our parents, the principal law-givers. The concept of the authoritative patriarch is often the first symbolic prohibition. The Name of the Father (nom du père) becomes an integral part of early socialisation through warning and disciplinary action (‘wait till your father hears about this!’), bolstering in the child the idea that all actions have consequences and naughty behaviour carries penalty. If there is no prohibition between the child and primary care giver, this often creates a problem early in life and is one of the chief antisocial indicators. Many serial killers, for instance, grew up in homes where either the father was absent or the primary care givers were negligent and failed to impose boundaries.

One of the effects of dealing with authority (paternal law, etc) is the creation of anxiety, which is fundamental to the internalisation of prohibitions. In fact, law would not function without it. In some cases, anxiety can be a thrill for the transgressor and act as the driving force in the perpetuation of their offences. This penchant can be described in terms of a duel between Eros and Thanatos, where the dichotomy between love and destruction, life and death, outlaw and other, can be a powerful catalyst to push the limits and transgress. Guilt too can contribute to this process, and is related to the idea of superego. If a person feels guilt, they might want to transgress in order to pacify and appease their conscious.

Desire is always related to the symbolic articulation of law and prohibition, which is often essential for desire to exist and in fact keeps it alive

Central to this theory is the concept of desire. Lacan regarded desire as a continuous effect of symbolic articulation which is essentially insatiable. Therefore it is not necessarily associated with the object that would seem to satisfy it – but rather with the object that arouses it (for instance a fetish or another sexual perversion). Desire is always related to the symbolic articulation of law and prohibition, which is often essential for desire to exist and in fact keeps it alive. People therefore invent new prohibitions to keep desire alive and have become self-inhibitors in the process. While human desire has many different layers, it is the insatiable hunger for the taboo, the forbidden and the prohibited that plays an integral role in the satisfaction of lust.

I have always felt that desire is an engine that keeps us alive and often sublimates creative tensions. While desire is linked to our subconscious (i.e. we do not always know what we want or can pinpoint its origin), what we desire is often linked to our culture and society (the Other). Our basic biological needs have been transformed and human desire goes beyond the satisfaction of rudimentary needs and often has a ‘life of its own’. But what about drives, dreams and fantasy? What is their significance, if any, to a discussion about prohibitions?

In Lacanian psychoanalysis, drives differ from biological needs because they can never be satisfied and do not aim at an object but rather dither around it. Critically, drives do not search for, nor always recognise, prohibitions. Freud believed that sexual drives initially behave auto-erotically, finding their satisfaction in the subject’s own body and therefore never experiencing the state of anxiety and frustration that follows the introduction of prohibitions.

Fantasy is a pivotal element in the discussion of any psychological structure and may hold the key to the internal determination of an individual’s existence. Paradoxically, fantasy is often a temporary perception of wholeness and does not necessarily seek fulfilment. In fact, when the fantasy is fulfilled, the subject is often wounded because they lose a scenario through which they order their being (people often masturbate to fantasy scenarios they have no interest in materialising and would often experience shame and/or horror if faced with the reality). When the fantasy created around an object collapses it becomes tainted and hateful, and ‘fantastical’ notions of the sublime can easily turn to disgust. It is a thin line that is directly linked to violent drives. And indeed, the worst crimes are not committed by ‘evil outlaws’ but rather intelligent perverts and neurotics taking pragmatic decisions in the quest for survival.

Advertisements

14 comments

  1. Vippy

    Oh my, it seems I have missed this post somehow!
    I can’t even begin to address all the points you’ve raised, not to mention I still need to wrap my mind around them (shame on you for making me think!) but I’d like to state how great it is to see The Witch of Endor by her cauldron again, concocting yet another brilliant brew…
    Looking forwards to the next post. Love you Daaarling ❤

  2. I should probably wait for the next post in this social-psychoanalytical series, but alas, I can’t help myself right now because I’m probably not prohibited enough. That’s ONE reason… out of many I’m sure. 😉

    People therefore invent new prohibitions to keep desire alive and have become self-inhibitors in the process. While human desire has many different layers, it is the insatiable hunger for the taboo, the forbidden and the prohibited that plays an integral role in the satisfaction of lust.

    Invention is very good! Creativity is very, very good! Wicked decadence is the best! 😛 Denying and/or forceably oppressing this human nature almost always results in a proportionally reciprocated revolution. History has always shown that sooner or later an oppressed people WILL revolt; sadly that is when the worst in humanity rears its very ugly head. 😦

    But all of that resulting hurtful, hateful behavior should and CAN be avoided, if — and I emphasize IF — others (those in supervisory positions) stop piously judging acts outside of physical abuse (obviously murder as well) or blatant disregard of legal proprietary ownership, humans excluded of course. Much of society’s initial fragmentations are rooted in imposing abusive judgemental piety and elitism.

    I’ve said nothing, however, to the individual’s search and need for impactful connection with other individuals, e.g. “lust” is a very natural human biological phenomena that should NOT be oppressively governed or vilified. “Taboos” are an entirely different arena separate of social governing; it is social etiquette which never belongs in courtrooms or legislative congresses. Hence, a pious society and government creates the infectious “anxiety” and rebellious behavior contradictory to our natural primal ancestry and genetic coding… e.g. the Bonobos chimpanzees have absolutely NO social anxieties, taboos, or severe fragmentation for a very good and very simple reason! 😀

    Paradoxically, fantasy is merely a temporary perception of wholeness however and does not necessarily seek fulfilment. In fact, when the fantasy is fulfilled, the subject is often wounded because they lose a scenario through which they order their being (people often masturbate to fantasy scenarios they have no interest in materialising and would often experience shame and/or horror if faced with the reality).

    Based on my first-hand experiences, I must respectfully and humbly disagree with this proposed conclusion. None of my many first-hand fantasies have resulted in any sort of “horror”. On the contrary, they’ve ended in not only the exact opposite, but fueled MORE fulfilled, exhilerating fantasies realized and repeated. What a delicious Bohemian life it is! 🙂

    In my next blog entry I will explore these ideas in further detail and discus neurosis, perversion and psychopathy.

    Oooooo… that post is going to be all sorts of juicy messy! 😈
    By and large, this was still a stimulating thought-provoking post and I am looking forward to the next one!

    Ah, it’s good to be back. 😉

    Indeed…for everyone! So glad you’re back. ❤

  3. Kate Large

    Wow, probably too many points to cover in one post…I believe this would require low couches, bottles of jewel-coloured liquids and a smoky, narcotic atmosphere… A lot of terrific points raised here, and what interests me is looking at those social constructs through the filter of an inherently dysfunctional and violent rather than a “benevolent” (be that in name alone) society. For example, growing up in Northern Ireland from the 70s-90s, the “rules” were so powerfully toxic that they CRIED OUT for transgression… Here we enter the realm of the transgressor as activist, trailblazer, hero. In my youth I committed may perceived transgressions which as you so rightly point out were committed by an anxiety-fulled desire to transgress – but I also committed “transgressions” such as dating Protestant boys, guys from really dodgy housing estates, physically walking along streets I wasn’t meant to be walking… Positive transgression? The transgressor as warrior and indeed, witch?

    Of course, this mindset can also be at work some criminals: those that are the most frightening are those who genuinely believe their monstrous acts are ‘good work’…

    Another point, as my wee one has just joined me, is the inherent idea of passing down behavioural and authoritative norms from parent to child: again, this can be disrupted in a postive manner. An example is our decision to home educate our child rather than send her to school. On hearing this, a lot of people assume we had ‘bad experiences’ ourselves at school – which definitely isn’t the case. We’ve made a decision to disrupt the norm of schooling, but in response to a lot of positive as well as negative factors, most of which have absolutely no bearing on our own life experiences.

    I have digressed a lot here – there is the huge issue of our current model of criminal justice here. But I would raise a glass to the POSITIVE transgressors: adhering to our current societal ‘rules’ may keep down prison numbers but it don’t make for a happy populace. I wrote something recently referencing the 11th principle of permaculture – we need to value the marginal, allowing acts of independent, possibly even state-destabilising behaviours and in the process perhaps defusing some of that underlying anxiety?

    I should really go: four days of paraflu and painkillers have omletted my noggin somewhat. But what a delight to see the witch’s silken tent pitched once again, her glossy-flanked desert horses drowsing in the sun.

    • D'arcy

      “…those that are the most frightening are those who genuinely believe their monstrous acts are ‘good work’.”

      Ah, so true. For many violent criminals the act is actually a solution or a justified course of action. The offenders I interviewed at Belmarsh last year felt morally inspired to commit their crimes on the basis that their actions were justifiable ways of addressing a perceived wrongdoing by society (the Other). What can you say to a person who feels they were justified in setting a human being on fire? Many of these offenders feel like they are the victims who are seeking some form of retribution for the hurt that society has instilled in them. The dilemma very quickly becomes a philosophical and/or a neurological one.

      Psychopaths for instance know right and wrong (cognitively) but the problem is that they just don’t care. The latest research suggests that the brains of psychopaths are different from those of the rest of the population. They are ‘hardwired’ to transgress. And, because the brain of a psychopath is compromised you could argue that they don’t have full responsibility for their actions. So these findings can help our understanding of criminal behaviour but they also raise some hardcore moral quandaries about whether and how society should use this knowledge. YES to positive transgressors. Unfortunately, adhering to societal rules doesn’t keep down prison numbers at all. It is very much the reverse. Hope you feel better ASAP!

  4. The Ginger Peril

    Fabulous to be roaming the vaults of Endor again and thankfully, nothing but meaty intellectual gristle to chew on.
    I am interested by your initial question: “how stable is this image, and what happens when the framework that holds up our psychological structure ‘malfunctions’?”

    But does it ever really malfunction?

    We have never existed as unique, separate individuals IMO, we have only ever existed within varying sizes of “society” (family, tribe, village, city, nation whatevs) and we have most likely always existed within co-constructed social contracts. Society is merely a reflection of us, our behaviour and needs, it responds quickly, as and when, the needs change. I think we have a somewhat delusional and hubristic tendency to envisage ourselves as having more agency and free will than we really have. That most of our behaviours and needs operate subconsciously in a form of symbiosis with the rest of our species and wider environment without our conscious minds ever really having a scooby doo. Much as you suggest. Furthermore, culture/ society (and the human needs, behaviours and fashions it reflects) appears to have remained remarkably constant within a continuum of conservatism and liberalism, pretty much since we first put marks to clay. Certain environmental factors seems to engender swings between these social norms and I would say much of the world is almost certainly swinging the pendulum towards a more conservative social mindset again at this time. No doubt creating or reinforcing taboos and forcing desire underground where it will brew and fester.
    And crime again, a tricky one. The modern legal system often struggling to keep pace with the social normatives, which change ever more quickly in a world of instant communication and information. Not to mention the ease of transport making a nonsense of one cultures laws and cultural normatives when across a few borders could exist a culture with wildly different laws, taboos and tolerances.

    • D’arcy

      Intellectual gristle? Nah, I’ll be back to Joe Elliott’s arse in no time. 😉

      People identify with a particular social role or function which gives them an identity, an anchoring point. I am speaking of what happens when that identification breaks down. When the imaginary identification that stabilises us is challenged or put in question there is usually some disruption of that person’s symbolic coordinates. Something happens that affects the symbolic structure of their world. In extreme cases the ideal identification of self may be directly challenged and it is no longer possible to maintain the place that has been constructed. This is what I mean by ‘malfunctioning’ (note the quotations).

      Agreed that society is a reflection of us. The outlaw certainly harbours a delusional and hubristic mindset; they are convinced that they have worked out an ingenious way to live above the law, either through mimicry or conviction that they are something they are not. The vilest of criminals make a clear differentiation between ‘us and them’. They are seldom insane. Madness and normal life are compatible rather than opposed in most (by no means all) instances. But the mad and the sane share here a delusional idea, that there is a mysterious and malign inner agency that must be destroyed. For the killer, in the victim; for society, in the killer. It is such a complicated problem and I wish the media would stop simplifying/sensationalising it.

      I have interviewed many Class A offenders over the last couple of years and it is clear that rather than simplistic theories of fixation to a trauma we need a more complex model that includes how the real, symbolic and imaginary interact and what happens when they break down.

  5. Billy Garcia

    My parents were (and still are) distant, and my siblings and I pretty much raised ourselves. It was in school that I experienced the first encounter with the fear of punishment. Being the defiant little devil I was, I was expelled more times than I can remember and throught my teens and early adulthood, I felt invulnerable, and breaking the law was not only expected, it was fun too. It took a life changing experience to turn me back on the narrow. Punishment is not a deterrent until you got something to lose. When you do, the thrill are still there, but you think twice before pursuing it.
    Brilliant job as usual my darling, my fairy, my witch..

    • D’arcy

      “Punishment is not a deterrent until you got something to lose.”

      Very true. Even then it’s not much of a deterrent if a person is hellbent on transgressing. Point in case, Axl Rose’s early life in Lafayette. He didn’t have much to lose, only his freedom. This throws up all kinds of questions about whether the perception of his symbolic order disintegrated when he found out about his biological father. I believe this to be the case, because his short-lived career as a criminal started not long after. Interesting, isn’t it? I’m so glad you enjoyed this post. 🙂

  6. I could just say ‘She’s back, and she completely nailed it!’
    That would be too easy though, and far from a suitable celebration of your welcome return.
    Instead, I will agree with many of your conclusions, and offer examples from experience.

    When I was a child, with my father often absent, I was occasionally warned of retribution for naughtiness on his return. Despite this very real threat, and sure in the knowledge that I would be discovered, I went ahead with my (minor) transgressions anyway. It was the thrill of defiance that drove me, and the punishment was no deterrent.
    Fantasies realised are never as good as you expect. Imagination provides sweeter sensations, an enhanced sense of the pleasure of touching, and the total compliance of the partner of your desires. Many years lusting after younger nurses, rampant in uniform, proved to be a very hollow experience once it happened, in my 30s.
    Oh, and I have a fetish. It’s quite harmless. (And legal) But that would be telling…

    The blogging judge has banged down his gavel. The cry goes out from the court .
    ‘Case proven M’Lud. The Witch is back!’ X

    • D’arcy

      “It was the thrill of defiance that drove me.” That is absolutely key and precisely what I mean by anxiety being fundamental for the transgressor (be it a naughty child or serious offender) and act as the driving force in the perpetuation of their offences. Our prisons are terribly overcrowded and this feeds crime and creates more victims. Figures indicate three out of four men’s jails accommodate more inmates than they’re designed to hold so clearly, as you say, punishment is no deterrent. The criminal justice system is flawed and complicated and there are no obvious solutions. I’m so glad you enjoyed this entry and it’s great to be back! 🙂 x

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: