Emotions always tell us something truthful about a situation, although they may lie to us when they are misdirected. If you imagine human society as being built a bit like an ancient Roman city, there are aqueducts that bring in water and refreshment and there are sewers that take away the waste material. A socially adapted person is one who adjusts to their manner and expectations to being serviced by the established methods of hygiene. It could be conventional to take one’s nourishment from certain established authority figures, including politicians or priests. One then must also excrete one’s waste in a particular established manner — that is, having received the blessings of positive emotions and sensations from above, one must also relieve one’s sense of negativity about the world. So suitably culpable victims are found, and one’s negative emotions are excreted onto them, so that they are taken away from us.
To some degree it doesn’t matter who the negative, sewer conduits are, because the issue is a structural one, one of needing to excrete waste, and does not have to do with the higher faculties of the mind, which are capable of thinking more deeply about identity. The need to take in pleasureful ideas and excrete unhappy ones exerts a hydraulic push and pull. To imagine there is very much intrinsic to your or anyone else’s identity that causes this to happen is a fundamental mistake, but a very common one. The issue is almost completely structural, and has to do with the power relationships that contain the whole of society, not its individual parts considered separately.
That is why it is pointless to engage in endless meanderings of thought about guilt and sin or worrying too much about individual distortions of reality. If you did not distort it yourself as an individual, the greater distortions will already be taking place within the overall structure of the society in relation to its hierarchies. Somehow one is on the sewerage end of the conduits instead of on the fresh water end. All that means is that you haven’t been well watered, but have become a victim of other’s unconscious emotional hydraulics. These people can have been parents, or acquaintances, or anybody at all, really. And the system is such that some groups are systematically victimised, for instance when the word “woman” takes on a negative connotation in minds within the culture as a whole.
Our emotions tell us that something is going ok, or something is going very wrong. I can make tremendous efforts to extricate myself from negativity, but if that situation is structurally determined, my individual efforts will not stand for much. It’s still good not to fall asleep and just accept that situation, though. One must move to get out of it.
Waking up means encountering these structural dynamics and figuring out how they are affecting us. For instance, I now understand the structural dynamics of patriarchy, which are designed to make me feel disgusted with myself. If some random or known person suddenly says something that makes me feel in despair of myself, I need to step back and notice that what they are saying isn’t real. They are merely trying to get rid of an unpleasant feeling within themselves, by projecting something negative onto me.
Emotions are useful, in that they warn you when something is awry, but you do not need to accept the imposition of other people’s distortions. Once you map the lay of the land, you realise that they are just trying to send their shit downhill — or what they perceive to be downhill, which might be wrong in some cases (send it back up to them, and see how they like it!).
To be able to map this tendency as a higher order of reality, is real transcendence. It takes a lot of learning, though, like developing a martial arts skill. Above all, one has to learn not to react to provocations, or otherwise, one immediately becomes a conduit for someone else’s negative beliefs.
Many people sincerely believe that they only chastise and morally reproach people who are fundamentally negative in-and-of themselves. They only take good ideas and good resources from those who are already, in their beliefs, fundamentally good people. Everything is as is should be. But this outlook, which seems accepted as appropriate and adaptive by conventional psychoanalysis, is a sleepy and unconscious state.
Transgression is to infringe against the boundaries that, in our sleepy state, we have taken for necessary and natural. We arouse anger and confusion in others when we do so, thus proving we have touched on something real and important. This mode of transgression helps us to learn the lay of the land so that we may one day transcend the sleepy folk who live in it and govern it.
They’re not malicious or damaging to us because they intend to be so, but just because they are yawn-inducing half asleep and can’t wake up if it kills them. They simply won’t wake up. You need to learn to walk around sleeping dragons, and to pick your fights extremely carefully.