Like I said, this could really be the fundamental difference between being brought up in the type of colonial society I was, and being brought up in this much later, more advanced form of civilisation I am living in now.
In Totem and Taboo (1913,1955) , Moses and Monotheism (1939) , Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (1922; 1959), [Freud] put forth his primal horde theory, in which the sons’ rage at the primal father’s freedom to exercise his sexual and aggressive instincts without restraint leads them to murder the father. The ensuing sense of guilt ushers in a more egalitarian, but at the same time a far more repressed version of society, in which no one is allowed to enact the primal father’s instinctual freedom. In this model, neurotic conflicts are primary in determining the form of a society, whereas in the model described earlier, society is the prime cause of neurotic conflicts.
It would explain a lot. The attitude of the white colonials — and indeed the blacks I went to school with — was quite overtly one of ironic distancing from the primal father (and would-be authority) and his claims.
In practical terms, we did not internalise a relationship of guilt towards the social system and its claims on us. We mocked it rather — not altogether with malice, but rather with a passion akin to an impulse for self-preservation. (That mockery is present and self-evident in Marechera’s writing, right up until his death — yet it was not unusual for a subordinate to take this attitude. In the same way, when a British emissary came to Rhodesia to talk the colonials out of their rebellion, the practiced ironic distance was maintained, leading to no political discussions whatsoever, but emissaries and colonials alike dancing on tables (according to what I can remember of the historical report.)
The sense was that if you could keep the sheer capacity for force of the primal father at bay, there was nothing more to do — and certainly nothing to feel guilty about. Thus, the colonials were often characterised as disenchanting children by the miffed members of the elitist British regime.
So much for colonials and their attitudes towards authority. One allowed the father (the authorities) a certain amount of freedom to do as he would: One was “authoritarian” up to a point, in that one did not deny that there was a necessity for the powers that be to take control. The difference between modern and colonial society was that one had barely internalised the necessity for the father’s will, except in a situation where he was directly and practically exerting it. Apart from that, one escaped it and its authority as best one could. That was considered the only reasonable or worthwhile way of playing the social game.
The internalisation of the guilt at (ostensibly) “father murder” — the overthrowing of a system of society based on the practical force of pure, physical power rather than on the inwardness of self-monitoring practices — was something I would not encounter until later. I consider the society I live in today to be largely (although not completely) geared towards the later order of things described above. The band of brothers concept describes the advent of a self-monitoring morality in society. This is more repressive and harsher all round – except for the proviso that sudden acts of physical violence to assert paternal authority are less likely to occur. Apart from the difference that physical violence is less a feature of this later kind of system, one actually becomes more internally authoritarian under such a pervasively moralistic system. [This is a real paradox, which I had sensed before, but never had the conceptual terms to describe it until now.]
The difference between living under a society of the primal father and living under a society of the band of brothers is huge. For me to understand this difference explains a lot to me about my own experiences. Why did I feel such a complete sundering of my life into parts — the part before I came to migrant and the part that emerged after I had landed in a very different society? It was as if I had to learn the rules of living all over again, right from the start. Instead of an ironic distancing of myself from authorities of all sorts, I had to learn to have an ‘identity’ and an ego — private property all of my own that needed to be watched over by me, and constantly defended.
Before this — and as strange as it will sound — I didn’t have much of an ego as such. What I defended against was not a guilty conscience for failing social standards, but rather something more immediate and practical — my own physical susceptibility to pain. The mechanism I used most to defend against pain was my sense of humour — always keeping the primal father at a distance through my sharp wit.
This was how I grew up in a colonial setting — and it took me many years upon arrival in this new place to discover even part of the reasons why my schoolmates looked and acted so subdued (so much for them to live up to — so much group guilt to recompense.) By contrast, I had always been quite light on my feet.
It still takes me a while to adapt to the new order. I still do not really understand it. When I am with those of a lower working class order, who acknowledge their real relationship to power (and are ironical about it), I feel quite normal. When I was in the military, where power was not so much a matter of internalisation but of external force, I also felt within my element. (So long as one knows where the power is, one can be ironical about it.)
I can understand the logic of refusing to be ruled over; the logic of resistance. Yet what I cannot understand it the wilful conformity I am supposed to adopt, from the heart. Would it be that I had the attitudes and ways of thinking of an actual masochist, I’d still have trouble complying.
What I have found: when Westerners want you to conform, they do a little bee-dance. This bee dance can occur in academia or in the workplaces considered most professional. The key here is that it is supposed to be non-coercive. So a Westerner who thinks you’re not attending enough to something that is supposed to be a part of group spirit will do this dance. It will look for all the world like a really awkward and impromptu shadow boxing display. They will do their bee dance for you as a demonstration, and after that it will be taken for granted that you are compelled to do the bee-dance too. It is your moral and social obligation, since it is the pattern that has been approved by other bees as being the true bee dance. If you fail to do it then it will be taken down and noted as failure to conform to true group spirit. The band of brothers says so. There will be costs here and there — but you never know just where until the cost is thoroughly revealed to you, and then you’ll know. This is what the band of brothers hath commanded.
So throughout my adult life, I have had sundry westerners do their funny and predictable forms of “anti-colonial” rituals on behalf of me. I always can’t believe that human beings are acting like bees — because I’m waiting for something far more tangible and palpable. I’d like to see some palpable sincerity, some palpable directness and some palpable humanity, for instance. But all I get, despite my needs, is this funny little bee dance, telling me of the community’s objective standards and how I have the obligation to conform to them.