This reflection will be relevant for both A4 & A5 but are primarily driven by thoughts about A5 – What is reality?
In the post titled Project 4.6(i) there were several references to a book called Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires by Will Black. It is one of several books referenced across projects and assignments in this particular UVC blog that explore terms used to describe a type of behaviour. What is interesting about these books with relation to UVC studies is the terminology and the way we categorise people, character and personality as well as behaviour, i.e. semiotics. However, what is most relevant here is the way in which such people shape and form society, existing in the higher echelons of our striated systems. People revelling in dangerous power-based relations can help to form the way we view what is right and wrong, what is best for all of us. And disturbingly the underlying REAL of a situation is often quite different to the imaginary or the symbolic way in which we manage and navigate reality. (Zizek, 2012)
One of the most critical paragraphs for this purpose in Psychopathic Cultures and Toxic Empires is;
“It is entirely possible that the environmental influences on sociopathy are more reliably linked with broad cultural characteristics than with any particular child-rearing factors. Indeed, relating the occurrence of sociopathy to cultures has so far been more fruitful for researchers than looking for the answers in specific child-rearing variables. Instead of being the product of childhood abuse within the family, or of attachment disorder, maybe sociopathy involves some interaction between the innate neurological wiring of individuals and the larger society in which they end up spending their lives.
This hypothesis is bound to be disappointing to some people, because though altering the conditions of pregnancy, childbirth, and child treatment on a massive scale would be no small project, changing the values and belief systems of an entire culture is can even more gigantic undertaking, with a time horizon that seems distant and discouraging. We might feel a little less daunted if we were to identity a set of child rearing practises that we could try to correct in our lifetimes. But perhaps society is the true parent of certain things, and we will eventually find that, as William Ralph Inge said in the early twentieth century, “the proper time to influence the character of a child is about 100 years before he is born.”” (Loc 860)
George K. Simon, another writer about disordered character agrees with Black that the effects on society as a whole going forward are immense. “…character disturbance is one of the most pressing psychological realities of our age; it’s becoming increasingly prevalent….” (Loc 82) But he does not look at society when considering the reasons behind the formation of such individuals. He tells the reader people who have been bought up within perfectly benign circumstances sometimes grow up to be disturbed and there is little obvious reason, totally ignoring that what often looks benign and ‘normal’ may in fact be considerably influential, contributing to shaping and forming highly stunted egos. The fact he overlooks a societal role as one of the key reasons behind an ‘increasingly prevalent’ concern makes his book more difficult to trust than Black’s although that too sometimes seems overwhelmingly polemic.
Simon does however suggest that narcissism and especially psychopathy require a radically different approach in relation to treatment, and he may be absolutely right. Time will tell. He also points out a really important issue surrounding the way in which terms or words are created and used. “The constructs of neurosis and character disturbance are themselves only metaphors. Each attempt to describe a psychological reality we cannot adequately or completely define; but we have to attempt to give it some structure if we’re to understand them at all. There terms themselves are not reality; they’re metaphorical ways we attempt to describe some aspects of reality” (Loc 211) This sentence may prove exceptionally useful when looking at Lacan’s imaginary, symbolic and real.
If we accept that looking at society rather than individuals might be more useful when examining trends then we have to also accept a greater level of collective responsibility. In recent years there have been many stories in the press about high-profile celebrities who are revealed as dangerous individuals. The most well-known lately has been Jimmy Savile. He now symbolises a time when the BBC not only enabled a pedophile to operate relatively openly and at will, but also fostered an environment in which Savile and others could exist. He is in danger of becoming a scapegoat and the established order that made such a paradigm possible almost gets away scot-free despite appearances with investigations and reports. An article that questions Louis Theroux’s recent soul-searching documentary about his relationship with Savile highlights how despite good intentions, an old order is so deeply entrenched that yet again the ensuing narrative is that women are in some way responsible. “There is nothing macho about Theroux’s self-examinations, but in choosing to only place women in the dock alongside him over a 75-minute documentary, he has inadvertently contributed to a culture in which women are held responsible for men’s violence against them. It is a horrible misstep. It suggests there is still a lot of work to be done to unravel the unthinking sexism which helped him to abuse with impunity.” (Boyle, 2016) The so-called ‘mishap’ certainly does not appear to have been consciously made on Theroux’s part, who seems genuinely overwrought about his blind complicity, but he somehow continues to uphold an established reality. Rather than blame him it seems more useful to see this as an example of how extremely difficult it is to break down structures that have prevailed for so long. The same story can be said of so many Others who are dismissed, blamed and overlooked in our collective consciousness – of course, it is not only women. All of us, even or especially the most well-meaning of white middle class men are up against a monolithic task when trying to break down the established order which shapes our reality.
Which is why it behoves us all to to do our utmost, to question, to refuse to accept the status quo. Even if it means certain failure. It’s the attempt and desire to dismantle and query archaic institutional thinking that matters. There is unlikely to have been any Edenesque idyll where life and reality was better than it is now. The reality of western existence for many is (for now) free healthcare, free education, greater opportunities for all, despite the current hysteria and apparent moves towards a period of darkness for humanity as described by a writer on Medium, an online user-generated magazine, called Tobias Stone. And nostalgia is a lovely thing to cuddle up to (and quite good for us too according to an interesting article, Wistful Thinking, in the 24/09/2016 edition of New Scientist, by Teal Burrell). We cannot look back and hope to find a better more fruitful place in the past. We can only head forward and take risks, and so our best to peel apart and dismantle the assumptions about what is better or best or ideal.
Black, W. (2015). Psychopathic cultures and toxic empires. [London]: Frontline Noir..
Simon, G. (2011). Character disturbance. Little Rock [Ark.]: Parkhurst Brothers.
Burrel, T. (2016). Wistful Thinking. New Scientist, (3092), pp.36-38.