Lacan and masochists society: Indonesia’s addiction to suffering

Isti Marta Sukma, M.A.
Political Science and Others
5 min readFeb 16, 2024


Cato the younger, food for thought.

Indonesian 2024 election seemed to have come to an end, with a one-round victory for Ex- general Prabowo Subianto and Gibran, the bastard of constitution.

During the election, Indonesians were served with 2 other pairs who are highly capable, head-to-head with this pair alone. Anies Baswedan, the ex-governor of Jakarta paired with Muhaimin Iskandar, the leader of PKB. And on the other side, Ganjar Pranowo ex-governor of Central java and Professor Mahfud MD, the ex-minister of Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.

The official results of the Indonesian 2024 election are yet to be announced, but a prevailing sense of pessimism has already set in among the critical populace. Concerns about structural electoral fraud and alleged interventions by the current president have contributed to this growing pessimism.

The majority of votes going to the Prabowo-Gibran pair (irrespective of the legitimacy of these numbers) indicates a lack of appeal for Anies-Imin and Ganjar-Mahfud in Indonesia. I am left wondering why — they excel in debates, present promising programs, and actively engage in political discourse. What more do Indonesians want?

This contemplation leads me to the past. Five and ten years ago, a determined and vigorous Prabowo aspired for power, embodying the qualities Indonesia supposedly needed, and yet Jokowi emerged victorious.

Now, five years later, Prabowo, having aged significantly, no longer exudes the same qualities.

He is now empty. Banal.

And then there’s a sudden resurgence of interest in Prabowo?

Is this truly the influence of the ‘Jokowi magnet’?

Or are Indonesians subconsciously just looking for the worst candidate because they love to suffer?

In this article, I will be referencing ‘Masochism in Political Behavior: A Lacanian Perspective’ by Filip Kovacevic, published in the International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies in 2011.

Kovacevic argued, “masochism in political behavior is defined as any political behavior in which the protagonists willingly pursue self-directed pain and suffering in order to accomplish their political goals.”

Before Lacan, he introduced Freud’s concept of our desire for punishment, known as moral masochism. According to Freud, masochists find pleasure in self-punishment as a way to demonstrate their worthiness.

Nevertheless, Lacan dismissed the idea of masochists hurting themselves as a form of self-punishment. In Lacan’s view, masochists inflict pain on themselves not to punish, but rather to exert influence over others and establish a sense of control.

When confronted with the chaos of the social world, masochists find solace in carefully crafted rituals. Despite seeming passive, masochists are actively in control, aiming to shape the behavior of others.

Lacan observed that, no matter the extent of suffering and sacrifice, masochistic practices cannot address a fundamental flaw in the underlying structure, expressed by repeated rituals (self-inflicted pain and suffering).

Kovacevic emphasized, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, you need to get a new dog. The same analogy applies to politics.”

Kovacevic also brought up that Rancour-Laferriere discovered a blend of submission and self-harm in Russia’s history and present, particularly in politics and culture. He noticed that masochism wasn’t unique to Russians.

Russia, historically, has only shifted from one authoritarian system to another, attempting to prioritize the collective over the individual. Alternatives like Marxism-Leninism and Orthodox Christianity dominated the culture but never truly represented individuals’ desires for freedom from the authority of the Other.

  1. In 2024 Indonesia, after a decade of mediocre leadership by Jokowi, marked by failures in Covid-19 policies, evidence of a weakened KPK, and clear instances of nepotism involving his questionable son, the majority of Indonesians still lean towards choosing him over other highly qualified candidates.
  2. Many citizens have begun questioning the optimistic promises made by the candidates, particularly the main campaign pledge of Prabowo-Gibran: free food. The pairs have faced inquiries about this promise, and their response suggests that it won’t be fulfilled until four years later. Various media outlets have also underscored the challenges associated with implementing this commitment, emphasizing the potential need to cut gas subsidies to finance such an ambitious promise. The issue with this seemingly simple “free food” promise is that it hinges on a basic understanding — it was never financially possible, as clear as the sky being blue. Nevertheless, people still allowed themselves to believe in it.
  3. During the pork barrel politics right before the election, it was crystal clear, done in front of everyone’s eyes, that an enormous amount of funds were distributed to grassroots voters. Public servants received a raise right before the election, and yet, not many seemed to care. The majority still chose them.
  4. The overutilization of the UU ITE to restrict freedom of speech and freedom of research was exploited under Jokowi’s administration and yet the majority still chose his son.

Given these four obvious self-occurring pains, it would be easier to assume a Freudian perspective, suggesting that the majority engages in these actions as a form of submission to a figure, a way to punish themselves.

However, Lacan was right, I argue that they engage in this behavior for the sake of repetition, rituals of collectively inflicting suffering upon themselves, which they seek to make progressively worse.

It makes them feel in control, to maintain a status quo.

They are aware that they will never get that ‘free food,’ that they will never have a ‘decent leader,’ and that corruption and nepotism will become even more normalized. Yet, they choose the worst option among all, creating the Lacanian rituals of repetition.

Subconsciously, I argue, Indonesians seem to yearn for a non-democratic society; they harbor a dislike for freedom.

They aspire to have leaders who will not listen to them but maintain a distinct gap between ‘people’ and ‘leader.’ Discussions are not what they seek; political discourse sickens them.

They yearn for what Jokowi has been doing for the last 10 years — ‘blusukan,’ simply visiting the people as a kind of political act.

They are aware that their own choices do not represent freedom or anything collective that separates them from oppression or hardships, and yet they stand firm in their beliefs.

A society that seemingly loves to suffer.



Isti Marta Sukma, M.A.
Political Science and Others

Interdisciplinary researcher based in Warsaw. I write political science, tech, security, psychoanalysis and philosophy.