Further Thoughts on Your Inner Pigdog from Plato, Freud and Zizek

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A couple weeks back TJ published an article called Are You Controlled by Your Inner Pigdog? - the Neurobiology of Choice. I was one of the editors of that piece, and I sent some resources TJ's way that ended up on the cutting room floor of the final article (you can't get it all in), so I'm going to pop them into a Bricolage here as a sort of extended footnote to that piece. chariot

When I read TJ's article one thing immediately sprang to mind- Plato's famous Chariot Allegory. In it a charioteer (us) has to keep a handle on two very different horses pulling his chariot. The first one "is noble and of noble breed". The other? Not so much. Here's Plato from his dialogue the Phaedrus

As I said at the beginning of this tale, I divided each soul into three -- two horses and a charioteer; [253d] and one of the horses was good and the other bad: the division may remain, but I have not yet explained in what the goodness or badness of either consists, and to that I will proceed. The right-hand horse is upright and cleanly made; he has a lofty neck and an aquiline nose; his colour is white, and his eyes dark; he is a lover of honour and modesty and temperance, and the follower of true glory; he needs no touch of the whip, but is guided by word and admonition only. [253e] The other is a crooked lumbering animal, put together anyhow; he has a short thick neck; he is flat-faced and of a dark colour, with grey eyes and blood-red complexion; the mate of insolence and pride, shag-eared and deaf, hardly yielding to whip and spur. 

Hardly yeilding to whip and spur. That sounds familiar. Ahem.

Some contemporary readers of Plato noticed the similarity of his second dark horse with Freud's notion of the Id (literally das Es, or "the It"). TJ's piece also very much reminded me of the Id, what Freud once freud_001called "chaos, a cauldron full of seething expectations". Here's a good pithy summary of Freud's thinking on the Id by Calvin S. Hall:

The id remains an infantile character throughout life. It cannot tolerate tension. It wants immediate gratification. It is demanding, impulsive, irrational, asocial, selfish and pleasure loving. The id recognizes nothing external to itself. (1)

Dang. I'll have to try and remember that next time I'm drunk and madly craving poutine before bed. Pull on the reigns of the dark horse there charioteer!

And lastly for this Bricolage, what would happen if we lived in a culture where the Id, our inner pigdog, was actually encouraged to come on out and run the show? Well, in many ways, we already live in that culture. TJ wrote an article early on at Beams called Escape, Avoidance andenjoy-life- Instant Gratification- The Culture of Spoiled Brats which explores this theme and works as a nice corollary to his pigdog piece. At the bottom of that article I added a footnote exploring some interesting things that the philosopher Slavoj Zizek has had to say on this matter. I thought it was a bit too long to reprint in full here, but I invite the reader to go have a look at that. Here's a quick sampler in closing:

We now live in “liberal-permissive” societies where there’s no longer any collective mode of conduct at all, no longer any meta-code to guide our behavior. We’re now individuals who are free to choose whatever we want. And Zizek famously argues that the postmodern super-ego injunction today is to ‘Enjoy!’ This is basically an injunction that emanates from a certain consumer capitalism; the secular individualism of our liberal democracies creates the conditions (the clearing away of the traditional big Other) for a particular form of capitalism that implores us to ‘Consume!’ It tells us emphatically and repeatedly (and seductively) to enjoy ourselves to the max because that’s now our right as modern individuals.

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2 comments

  • Comment Link Paul Duke Tuesday, 17 April 2012 00:08 posted by Paul Duke

    Not to be a gloomy bastard, but what does it mean to "enjoy?"

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Thursday, 19 April 2012 20:04 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Paul, sorry for the late reply, and good question.

    I'd like to hear more about where you're coming from on this, and what the "gloomy bastard" part is referring to.

    In the meantime, I'll offer a couple of thoughts from my end. So what is this 'Enjoy!' that Zizek invokes? Being that Zizek is critical of this "liberal-permissive" culture he's describing, I'm guessing that the enjoyment talked about here is something rather superficial. Enjoy here is something like frivolous pleasure, or something like that.

    One thought that came up for me was that Freud's somewhat odd, yet intriguing view of pleasure might be behind this notion of 'enjoy'. (With Zizek being a Lacanian, and Lacan a Freudian(+), there's a good chance this is operative to some degree). Freud thought unpleasure consisted in a build up of excitation in the body, and that pleasure was the result of releasing this building tension. So think of how many times these days we here people saying something like, "man, I'm totally craving" such and such, or "I'm so addicted to" blank. So, it might be like, "man I'm so craving some pizza right now" [build up of tension], so I gotta go get me some [because it's my right to 'enjoy!'], so I go hammer down a few pieces of pizza and get stuffed [and now lay in 'pleasure' because that tension is gone].

    I suspect that this is the type of 'enjoyment' being referred to. It's quite infantile in nature, hence it being very id like/driven. And of course, from something like a Buddhist point of view, this is a highly attached and unfree way to live. There's almost no patience with rising desires and cravings, and we live in a cultural setting that promotes this type of uncontrolled puerile activity.

    And then we can also compare this to the philosophy of someone like Nietzsche, where the 'good life' consists in growth, becoming and self-overcoming, and this often entails pain, suffering, hardship and endurance. Quite an opposing view to this culture of 'enjoy'.

    So that's some thoughts from my end. Any of that resonate? As I said, would love to hear more about what you were thinking on this. cheers, look forward to that, Trevor.

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