What we often see, in early childhood development, according to Kleinians, is a splitting of consciousness, whereby negative or burdensome aspects are projected away from the person and onto some other entity — like the mother, for instance. There is a typical blurring of ontological boundaries at an early age, so that the child does not have a realistic idea of “where I stop” and where “the other starts”.
This lack of realism, however, can be faciliative of safety, since the mother ends up processing the difficult and frightening ideas that the child has, (in a sense, “digesting” them for him) and thereby she mediates with regard to these feelings and conveys their content back to the child in a safer — more “socialised” — form. (See Wilfred Bion’s Learning from Experience). So this early childhood lack of realism is faciliative of a sense of safety and well-being, which shuts out the sense of being overwhelmed by dangers, and thus permits the ongoing development of the child towards adulthood.
However, consider that adults still have the R-complex brain — even though the general movement of consciousness during the developmental process is away from reliance upon R-Complex and more towards the higher parts of the brain (neo-cortex).
Difficulties still arise in everyday life, and there is bound to be a lot of material that enters our consciousness that appears to be about to overwhelm it. In the case where sensations from the world register as overwhelming, R-complex comes into play again, even in the case of the “normal” adult. There will be a tendency to project the CAUSE of the horrible sensations (those that would produce a sense of fear, loathing, weakness and terror) out onto another group of people, in that instance. My very strong hypothesis is that this natural process of defensive “splitting” is what is behind racism and sexism. Ethically, one ought to really process these terrifying sensations in one’s own mind, and come to terms with them, oneself. Practically, however, most people cannot seem to do this ethical action. They feel overwhelmed, and the minute they feel that, they project. So, splitting of one’s consciousness into positive and negative sensations, and acting as if the negativity was coming at you from the outside, is a process facilitated by R-complex.
This very common process defends one’s sense of identity against a feeling of overwhelming danger, but at the cost of distorting the truth. When such splitting and projection is codified as the norm, we meet cultural “truisms” such as “women are weak and frail and full of negative emotions” and “blacks are lazy, deceitful, and full of wildness.” These are projections of some of the qualities of one’s own that one doesn’t want to own. One wants to identify only with the positive aspects of human nature — and if one is positioned well enough in the social hierarchy, your society itself may help you to feel good about yourself, by encouraging splitting your identity and projection of the negative parts of it onto another. This is what happens when sexism and racism are socially enshrined as cultural norms.
Most humans, it would seem, are biologically adapted to sacrificing truth for the sake of a feeling of safety and well-being — that is, for the sake of their sense of psychological survival in the short-term. (This adaptation might mean a sacrificing long-term survival–that is, in not facing the issue of global warming squarely, but in seeing it instead, as an idea that was produced by certain nefarious others to frighten one). The curious thing about these splitting and projective processes is that they do not merely help short-term reality distortions, but rather, facilitate long-term “adaptations” (which can look, from the point of view of the oppressed, and silenced, as if they were long-term maladaptations).
“Competing masculinities” might be viewed in this light as a struggle for power, to project different qualities of mind away from oneself and to project them onto other groups of men. R-complex doesn’t take into perspective “individuals” as such, but takes into its perspective the idea of the sphere of humans as a mass with permeable boundaries. This allows the negative aspects that one wants to disown to be projected onto others. But, oppressed groups also experience these permeable boundaries of consciousness, and this causes them to be imprinted with the notions that have been projected onto them from the outside. So, they may start to identify with the nefarious characteristics that they have been said to have. They may start to genuinely embody those negative ideas and characteristics, since society at large (or large groups in society) are so convinced that they have them. (When what was merely projected onto someone is accepted by them as having emanated from them, this is called ‘projective identification’).
So, all of this that I have described portrays a primitive struggle for power at the level of the subconscious. This struggle is practically linked to a struggle for an identity that isn’t nefarious.
In my work I present the view that shamans such as Nietzsche, Bataille and Dambudzo Marechera are very concerned with understanding the level of consciousness that struggles for power in this way. In different ways they all seem to have the view that one should struggle, very much against the biological grain, for the kinds of insights that enable us to transcend these crude biological mechanisms — or, alternatively, we should struggle to put them to work in better ways.
Q: Can one ‘transcend’ the primal mother?
Transcendence of the pull of the primal mother is actually possible, but one has to become “shamanised” — that is one has to have a close meeting with this “primal mother” in a way that shatters one’s previous sensibilities and causes a total revolution of the personality. In my thesis, I argue that Marechera experienced this, as did Nietzsche and Georges Bataille — so they were all able to speak from a transcendent position. Those who do not shamanise are, of course, still unconscious victims of this primal mother — or more specifically of their own self-misunderstandings concerning her.
It is very likely that this form of transcendence is what Nietzsche was trying to appeal for with his use of the term “masculinity” to describe a genuine independence of mind and individualism.
How tragic, then, that his current followers choose to read the term as if it were to prove them in succumbing to the unconscious appeal of the primal mother. They lose themselves entirely when they project their unwanted aspects onto women; and they become the victim of their own unconscious forces.
Q. Isn’t it wrong to transcend your superego at its current level of development?
NO. It is the only way to develop a foundation for authentic ethics — which was really Nietzsche’s point all along. His writing is simply not an injunction to descend into regressive immoralism (the most common contemporary interpretation of Nietzsche):
Wouldst thou go into isolation, my brother? Wouldst thou seek the way unto
thyself? Tarry yet a little and hearken unto me.
“He who seeketh may easily
get lost himself. All isolation is wrong”: so say the herd. And long didst thou
belong to the herd.
The voice of the herd will still echo in thee. And when
thou sayest, “I have no longer a conscience in common with you,” then will it be
a plaint and a pain.
Lo, that pain itself did the same conscience produce;
and the last gleam of that conscience still gloweth on thine affliction.
But thou wouldst go the way of thine affliction, which is the way unto thyself? Then
show me thine authority and thy strength to do so!
Art thou a new strength
and a new authority? A first motion? A selfrolling wheel? Canst thou also compel
stars to revolve around thee?
Alas! there is so much lusting for loftiness!
There are so many convulsions of the ambitions! Show me that thou art not a
lusting and ambitious one!
Alas! there are so many great thoughts that do
nothing more than the bellows: they inflate, and make emptier than
Free, dost thou call thyself? Thy ruling thought would I hear of, and
not that thou hast escaped from a yoke.
Art thou one ENTITLED to escape from
a yoke? Many a one hath cast away his final worth when he hath cast away his
Free from what? What doth that matter to Zarathustra! Clearly,
however, shall thine eye show unto me: free FOR WHAT?
Canst thou give unto
thyself thy bad and thy good, and set up thy will as a law over thee? Canst thou
be judge for thyself, and avenger of thy law?
Terrible is aloneness with the
judge and avenger of one`s own law. Thus is a star projected into desert space,
and into the icy breath of aloneness.
Why is this initiation that changes the nature of one’s conscience even necessary?
Most people think they are oriented towards ethics, but their concept of what is ethical has already been circumscribed by their relationship to power. So you get the strange rationalizations (that seem, not in words, but in terms of actions and behaviour) that it is ethical to condemn the scapegoat, because it affirms the existing order of power. This seems to be the problem with superego, in general, that it counsels “it is only moral to submit to power, and not to oppose it”.
But superego seems concerned, then, with power (and not with ethics). It concerns itself with power, because it is concerned with self-preservation, and it interprets its relationship with power into a framework of ethics: “It is necessary to comply with authority, because it is good for me to survive.”But this is no basis for thinking about ethics at all, and it is why it is necessary to mentally and emotionally agree to death and to one’s mortality if one is to set up a foundation for ethical thinking at all. A shaman is one who “faces death” and thus conquers his superego — and in turn, conquers his blindness about the degree to which R-complex controls his mind. (For, R-Complex is also responsible for advising Superego concerning ethics, when the issue of personal survival seems to is at stake, even indirectly or symbolically).
Apart from a shamanistic approach to ethics, it seems very likely that R-complex will cause one’s perspectives to be limited by unconscious determinations linked to personal survival. One’s ethical positions will be severely compromised by ongoing interventions from R-Complex. Shamanic initiation makes visible that which was before invisible however. It reveals to the mind the true nature of its internal hidden persuader.