Military

It seems like a lack of teleology leaves an empty, unsatisfied desire for “direction” in one’s life (or a repressed need, even?). The goals in your life are vague, and filled with doubt: “I need to go shopping…but why? I could just forget about it all”, etc, etc. We don’t believe in our own goals, and I wonder, does this bring a thirst for authority and strict orders given to follow? If a master tells you “you must do this”, “go shopping, it’s an order”, you do it. And there is no doubt, no vagueness. No existential dread. Is this the effect of repressing teleology in our culture? Not everyone is in the military; but is everyone “in the military”, emotionally? Do we crave external authority to tell us what to do, because then, at least then, we have a goal in life? We feel driven in life? We know what we must do? What can we learn from this sublimated relief-mechanism?

Could we, perhaps, read the They Live (1988) plot as a repressed wish-fulfilment sort of movie? Of course, Zizek has already touched on this topic, but I’d like to offer my perspective on this: maybe the “orders” given by capitalism are not a prison to its prisoners — or, not only a prison — but also a “comfort zone” which provides meaning. As Zizek says, culture doesn’t say “you could enjoy this if you wanted!” or “you could do that if you feel like it!” but instead “you must enjoy”, “you must have fun, and seek these ways of doing so!”. So the hedonism of culture is an order. Ah, but, as such, it satisfies (in sublimated fashion) the repressed wish for “ path to follow, a direction in life”. The hedonism culture proposes is aimless, goal-less. It is a pleasure which says: “there is no meaning in life, so we’ve got to enjoy ourselves”. But there’s a catch: in the very fact that it is instructing you, ordering you, to have fun, the fun ceases to be aimless: the fun includes the “aim” of having fun, within it. This is the true “pearl” which the ego desires: not the pleasure, but the order to have pleasure, and the following out of that order. Capitalism then satisfies our needs not through material consumerism, but through offering an purpose to our existence, a militaristic purpose: “I must reach this goal, because something bigger than me, something solid and certain, knows what I need”.

They Live

Of course, as I said in the last few posts, my position on this issue is that this “supreme, militaristic authority” which we crave to follow is, in fact, our own heart; but that, since culture has taken all credibility, all authority, away from the heart, we don’t trust it — we want a stronger external will, the will who defeated the heart, thus, the external world. Exclusively the external world, “facts”. We want to do what facts tell us to do. I don’t read this issue exclusively through the lens of “people tell us what to do”, but in the sense that “objectivity” tells us what to do. That objectivity has a pretended reign over subjectivity. If we find out that, objectively, this diet is “bad” for you, then we don’t do it. Again, the key idea here being that we follow facts exclusively. A very bold statement, and one that generalises / strawmans reality to the nth, but which will serve a mythological purpose, in the same way that myths of good conquering evil let go of much of the complexity and chaos of life, of the grey areas, and use a simplistic framework; not as a way to avoid the complexity, but as a way to approach it. As Zizek says, dreams are not for those two can’t handle life — life is for those who can’t handle dreams. The mythological character of dreams is a honey-coated door, which tempts the ego with sweet simplifications of “good vs evil”, but which, once you’ve crossed the threshold, plunge you into the realm of dreams and the inner world — a world where limits between things are not so clearly defined. It’s as if “myth” uses the external structure of “culture” (this alchemical separation of differences, “good and evil”) as a way to direct the ego towards a quest for good, which leads it inward, where the alchemical unification takes place, where everything is connected to everything else, and no responsibility is capable of being avoided. In this sense, saying that, as a culture, “we follow facts exclusively” is a clear generalisation, but precisely because of that, it’s no realistic — it’s mythological, and a gateway to the dreamworld in my opinion. We do things if they make sense, if they are “facts”. We don’t follow our subjective intuition, or should I say, “I”, don’t follow my subjective intuition? How far out can I extend my subjective exploration? After all, culture is the opposite of the subjective, so I don’t know if it makes sense to say “culture isn’t subjective enough”. Of course it isn’t! But should it? Can it? I don’t have an answer to these things. In any case, one thing is clear: this is, paradoxically, an inner process of mine, as well as being a generalisation of the collective state. I feel as if we mainly follow facts, we want to know what we’re doing. We don’t want to feel why we’re doing it. A war is, perhaps, a culmination of this militaristic sublimation of the desire for meaning: an era where entire nations, not just individuals, approach a sort of “orgasm of purpose”. The purpose becomes simpler, more direct, more immediate, exactly what the world wanted: the purpose is to kill the “other”. Once the other is gone, things will be “good”. Now, things are bad because of the other. If we kill the other, they will be good again. It’s the militaristic impulse at its purest state.

The Magic Mountain (1924) is a perfect example of this.

Hans Castorp is up in a sanatorium in the mountains with his cousin, Joachim Ziemssen. Joachim wants to be a soldier, it’s his dream in life. At one point in the novel, he gets told that the fervent desire to join the army is akin to a religious calling: he wants to practice self-discipline, abstinence from worldly pleasures, his only pleasure the striving for a goal greater than himself, far bigger than himself. His life as a soldier is, basically, the life of a monk. Life in the sanatorium is aimless, time flies without any importance, any value given to it. And yet, it is also “too” aim-ful: nothing in the sanatorium is just leisure. Even going for a walk is part of a strict routine. Why? Because one feels like walking? No, because facts tell us that walking is good for healing, so we must walk. Do we eat because we feel like it? No, because the fact is that it is good for us. All is factual. All is “pure aim, pure goal”, but simultaneously, there is no “point” in this life. It is a meaningless series of rituals leading the protagonists nowhere other than towards death. This is the ideological soup that is brewing in their worlds, until it takes complete hold of them, and the Great War begins.

Carl Jung speaks of this process in his Red Book. The Great War was a symbolic event that was “meant” to occur inside our souls, as an inner war. But it wasn’t allowed to occur inside because the inner world was rejected and not taken seriously, so the only place where “serious” things could occur was outside. The problem is that the external world of time and space is not fit for symbols to play out, because symbols are the language of the unconscious, a place where there is no “space and time” as we know it (how big is a symbol? What is the distance between two ideas? etc). Symbols come out into the physical world when they have been repressed in the subjective world, for instance, the symbol of the “enemy”. For Jung, the only way of stopping a war was to fight against the enemy in yourself, not the enemy in the “other”. But this was the hardest thing to do, and so we tend to project the shadow outward. It is easier, but the consequences are much harder. Following one’s heart seems to imply this: doing what feels right usually implies a certain displeasure at first, and a greater pleasure with time. Doing what is immediately “pleasurable” but not following your heart may feel good at first, but leaves a terrible bad feeling with time (a hangover of the soul after indulging in whatever it lusts for). So, strangely, stopping a war is the easiest and the hardest thing to do, at the same time: it is the easiest because it is a process of following the heart. A simple case of following orders! But the hardest because the orders are harder to follow than “external” orders given by a leader, a captain, an external person. It’s almost as if war betrays its own symbolic desires: everyone is following orders, showing that there is a “general desire to follow orders”. It’s as if, during a war, the drive to follow one’s heart is the strongest, and yet it is completely misdirected outward. It is the best moment to do inner work, and precisely because of it it is the worst. The moment when inner work is the most difficult precisely because it is so close at hand. Like having a strong libido while fantasising, but not being able to have sex when the moment arrives. The proximity of the desired event is, paradoxically, exactly what the ego doesn’t want. I think this is why, for Hannah Arendt, totalitarianism is a “movement” which never stops “moving”. It doesn’t want to reach its goal — reaching its goal is the most terrifying thing possible! And yet the entire movement is built on a strong, fervent desire to reach this goal! The utopian future, the dream world where all problems fade away! War seems to be essentially totalitarian, even when it doesn’t include so-called totalitarian regimes. The very essence of war seem to be totalitarian in all possible cases, I think. It is always a sublimated desire towards a simplified goal (if we kill them, the grass will be greener on the other side), whilst also being a strong, desperate repression of the reaching of said goal (projecting the inner work outwards to ensure that it doesn’t get accomplished. Projecting the shadow outward to ensure that it doesn’t get integrated). War is simultaneously the closest we ever are to individuation, and the furthest apart, because you can’t be “close” to the Self, or “far apart” from the Self: the Self is the “present moment”, and as such, you can neither strive for it, nor run away from it. You can only repress your awareness of it. Repress the “fact” of your connection to it. There is nothing to connect, no goal to reach. It is a “symbolic” connection, a symbolic reaching, symbolically expressing the inexpressible process of “connecting to what you are already connected to”, of “unveiling what is already unveiled”. War pretends to solve this riddle through material means, which is impossible, and in so doing decides to ignore the “subjective” and its own personal meaning. The subjective goals, like going for a walk, or having fun, become means to an end: the end of individuation. By erroneously trying to pursue individuation in the outer, projected world, without awareness of the inner dimension (which is the key here: an alchemical attitude would also use the outer world as a projection space for inner dramas to play out in, but always with awareness of that inextricable union between the inner and the outer), by trying to reach the Self in the outer world in the form of “utopia”, it sacrifices all the “micro-teleologies” of the subjective, the reasons for living that matter to individuals, and one’s inner meanings that could, potentially, lead to a “symbolic utopia” — instead of the “grand pleasures of History”, so grand that no individual ever reaps their benefit; only the ghost of History, which culture demands we satisfy with our own blood. The drive behind this is a healing one, it is the drive to sacrifice ourselves for our Self. But we need to live this symbolically, internally, if it is to be truly carried out — anything else is a way of avoiding the process. War tries to separate the opposites, to separate death from life, to claim one and discard the other. It is the conjunction of opposites which frightens the ego the most. The Self is the eternity of death and rebirth, as in the figure of the phoenix. To say that this is symbolic doesn’t attenuate its force — it increases it. We are less afraid of physical death than of symbolic death, otherwise we wouldn’t be willing to engage in violent war before confronting the Shadow. The Shadow frightens us more than the blood-thirsty enemy we project it onto, that other human that wants to kill us because we want to kill them. Maybe the Shadow frightens us so much because we don’t believe in its reality. The shock is twofold: the shock of the repressed content, and maybe even more violent, the shock of discovering that the inner world is just as alive and as real as the outer world. Maybe this is the true kernel of fear that the ego (and by extension, culture) feels towards the Shadow. Not a fear of its disagreeable, hard to accept content; but a fear of the fact that symbol exists, and is not just a form of poetic language which writers use. The dreamworld exists, and is not just epiphenomena, less real than the waking world. The confrontation with the Shadow is more traumatic than its war-generating projection because in its non-projection lies a confrontation with the “reality of reality”. Reality becomes 100% real: not just one side, not just the other; both sides become real, and there is no place to hide. No place that is just “imaginary” any more. This is simultaneously what the ego craves the most, and what it is most afraid of. So we endure any physical torment, no matter how big, before confronting the consequences of the inner world on our outer world. It is through art, I think, through Self expression, that one enters most smoothly into this encounter with the symbolic reality. Art seems to be the “honey” that lures the fly into the spider’s nest, no other way seems to work. Once it’s there, it realises it’s not so bad: it is the threshold which is the problem. Dipping your feet into an icy cold lake. Once you’re in, it’s what you were craving the most: an inner struggle, an inner war. A meaning, an aim, the aim of Individuation.