Saturday, May 12, 2012

The rise of an army of "aunty" voices....dangerous and needing quieting

In William Golding's novel, "Lord of the Flies," one of the central characters, Piggy, with the thick glasses used for making fire by magnifying the sun's rays, frequently wonders out loud, "What would auntie think?" In one cogent interpretation, Piggy, and through him his auntie, represents what Freud called the super-ego.
The installation of the super-ego can be described as a successful instance of identification with the parental agency," while as development proceeds "the super-ego also takes on the influence of those who have stepped into the place of parents — educators, teachers, people chosen as ideal models."

The super-ego aims for perfection. It comprises that organised part of the personality structure, mainly but not entirely unconscious, that includes the individual's ego ideals, spiritual goals, and the psychic agency (commonly called "conscience") that criticizes and prohibits his or her drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions. "The Super-ego can be thought of as a type of conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt. For example, for having extra-marital affairs." . Taken in this sense, the super-ego is the precedent for the conceptualization of the inner critic. The super-ego works in contradiction to the id. The super-ego strives to act in a socially appropriate manner, whereas the id just wants instant self-gratification. The super-ego controls our sense of right and wrong and guilt. It helps us fit into society by getting us to act in socially acceptable ways.
The super-ego's demands often oppose the id’s, so the ego sometimes has a hard time in reconciling the two. (From Wikipedia)

Words that have come to be associated with the super-ego include: parent, mentor, coach, conscience, and internal critic, that voice that keeps repeating itself in one's head, whenever one faces a conflict and hears the voice of "I should"....
In therapy, we learn that the word "should" is not always a reasonable nor a responsible answer to the question, "What will I do?"  Living a life of "shoulds" is merely colouring by number, on a canvas that could have a real, authentic, individual picture as its cover. It is, in effect, pandering to the super-ego portion of the personality, thereby rendering other parts less active, less muscular and less effective.
Living a life of "shoulds" while strictly conforming to what others expect, and thereby fully fitting in, also generates the danger of a "break-out" from the prison that one has imposed on one's own life.
As a child in a family, because the parent can and often does impose penalties for "not conforming" to the standards s/he has set, one learns the meaning and the boundaries of the external parent, often through some painful experiences like physical punishment, ostracising, missed meals, or "time out" when a favourite activity is planned. In schools, and later in organizations like the military, and more recently many corporations,  one learns that the voice of authority is very similar to, if not identical to, that "should" voice from the over-protective, perfectionistic, parent.
The development of rules and regulations, in any organization, is another expression of the super-ego, in a management/leadership/perfection-seeking mode, that can bring, for some anxious to fit in, conformity, and for others, rebellion, merely because the rules make no sense, or the manner in which they were imposed was offensive, or for some reason they were seen as a "power-trip" for its own sake by those expected to conform.
It is not that rules and regulations are not necessary, to make any organization function effectively and appropriately; however, worshipping the rules, like worshipping any idol, sacrifices both real thinking and any opportunity for authentic relationships.
Not only is one's inner critic voice needing to be "quieted" (not silenced) but, from what is observable from this corner of the universe, the perfection-seeking voice, in any field, needs less power, so that more voices can be heard, and so that perfection is not the goal/idol/standard that is being expected.
Supervisors who enforce the rules, to make themselves important, are doing so because they are weak, insecure and perhaps even neurotic. Rules, in fact protect many supervisors, who are afraid that if they relax on the expectations, the place will fall apart. They could not be farther from the reality. Most people prefer a modest, mature and even sensible and willing conformity to the rules and regulations, not a conformity imposed for some ideal of perfection and proof of the power of the supervisor.
However, those who need an inordinate amount of control will inevitably hide behind the rules, regardless of the impact on those "under their thumb".
"Aunty" as a word to personify the super-ego may, to some, sound sexist; however, comparatively, women, it seems are more likely to conform to any organization's rules than men. In elementary school and in secondary school, for example, discipline is imposed much more frequently on boys than on girls. And the class develops, girls are more likely to proceed to university or college than boys, and one of the potential reasons is that they are more willingly adaptable to whatever requirements will come with the intense period of study, concentration, home work and professorial standards. On one level, some could argue that boys need to "shape up" to compete with their female cohorts.
However, that misses an extremely important fact. Boys are hard wired to challenge authority, to question, to seek change and to seek to do things better, when "better" includes not merely a superficial measure of perfection by a holistic equation including health relationships, and not only perfect performance.
In the last two or three decades, at least in the west, and perhaps elsewhere also, we have moved to a world measured in nano-seconds, in digital bytes, in the rise, not only of the 1% of the society, but the rise of the voice of the super-ego, seeking, demanding, and addicted to perfection.
Our political debates are infected with accusations based on imperfect presentations of data, and not on the kind of debate that seeks an exploration of the principles behind a decision. In popular parlance, that means we have chosen "process" over "content" because, it says here, that process can be shown to be flawed more easily than content can be demonstrated to be "misguided"...
With our digital capacity to store information and to bring it forward whenever we seek to demonize the other, we have arsenals of information at our disposal. And linked to our "aunty" voice, we seek to demonstrate our "perfection" compared to our opponents "imperfection," in some kind of holy war, no matter whether it takes place inside or outside a place of worship.
The super-ego is not the voice of God.
The super-ego is not the voice of any responsible leader, but rather the voice of the most needy leader, who simplifies all the complexities into a neat package.
The super-ego thrives on obeisance, compliance, conformity and chokes the breath and life out of many innocents in the process.
Our complicity in a cultural addiction to the super-ego renders us less likely to oppose, to generate new ideas, to create new ways of doing things, and makes us prisoners of the addiction to perfection and control of those in authority.
We will never change the tax structure, the debt and deficit ratios, the need for sustainable environments and health care and education, so long as we worship at the altar of the super-ego. We will fossilize, along with all of the other previous empires that fell on the hubris of their own addiction to the voice of the super-ego, maintaining that such a stance upheld the traditions and the values "that we hold dear"...based on whatever historic document we are attempting to reduce to its own fossil by our perfect interpretation, fitting as it must our super-ego voice that we have sacralized.
We no longer tolerate anything that smacks of untidyness, messiness, disorder, imperfection...and we have become an army of super-ego's that will inevitably strangle all the creative imaginations and all the authentic searches for truth, for originality and for non-conformity.
This week, an artist whose work hangs in the National Gallery in Ottawa, stood on Parliament Hill ripping up his own art in a dramatic, silent but nevertheless highly public protest against the abuse of power by the current Canadian government...and in opposition to all the other abuses inflicted under the umbrella of the super-ego of perfection that can only be maintained with the silent complicity of the public.
Let's examine the ways each of us falls victim to the voice of the "aunty" no matter whether it comes from within, or from another person, and ask ourselves if that voice provides the answer or merely another example of giving in to the culture of the moment.
A few more protesting "artists" would help to quiet the blare of the "aunty" voices in every organization, including those purporting to represent and honour God.

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