Humans 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.