Monday, December 30, 2013
The Id and the Superego Walk into a Bar, or What the Freud am I Thinking?
“We approach the id with analogies: we call it chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations… It is filled with energy reaching from the instincts, but it has no organization... but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs of the subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.” –Sigmund Freud
If you knew something was wrong and yet could bring satisfaction and happiness, would you do it? Would you take into consideration all of the people your actions would affect—either by benefiting or hurting them, for in any instance, whenever a choice is made, the numerous variables at play have the ability to affect those involved differently—or would you focus on self-satisfaction? What would enter into your mind as you weighed your options: your past failures and the times you were hurt? Would you try to convince yourself that your actions were for the best, even if another was hurt, someone you didn’t even really know? Would you give in to the id—that instinctual drive toward pleasure—or would you allow your superego, that moralizing voice that begins development around the age of five or six and is formed by the norms and mores of society, the lessons and ideas of parents and associates, to talk you out of your actions? I suppose the answer given is dependent on the person being asked. For me, I’ve tended to rely on my superego to dictate the choices I’ve made in my life, silencing that preternatural urge for pleasure and self-satisfaction and self-gratification, that animalistic urge to do what I want.
I was accused recently of being a good guy, for I found myself in a situation in which it would have been very easy for me to not be a “good guy,” instead taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves, opportunities that are quite enticing. And I have to laugh, because as I think about it, I keep hearing all the pastors of my youth talking about the attractiveness of sin, how glamorous it promises to be and yet isn’t, but I’m not really focusing on sin here. Okay, so maybe I am, but after a while, everything becomes a sin: stealing a pen from your coworker at work, not cleaning your room when your mother tells you to do so, speeding, wearing clothing of mixed fibers (just seeing if you’re paying attention—I know that’s Old Testament.) Not helping those in need when you can, ignoring the hungry and afflicted. Not tithing.
But what I’m talking about here is more about a moralistic sense of what we do in our everyday lives, aside from religious affiliation and doctrine, those choices that define us. For our choices do define us, maybe not wholly, maybe not as though each decision was emblematic of you as a person, as our character is defined by the culmination of numerous choices made throughout the course of a life, yet they do determine our character and how others perceive us, how we perceive ourselves. And oftentimes we do care how others perceive us, whether we admit it or not. We may claim that we don’t care what others think about us and what we do—and maybe to an extent there is some truth to that—but I would contend that sometimes our actions are dictated by how we think others will perceive us based on them, whether we intend to let their voices guide us or not, and we find ourselves thinking, if I do that, then I become a… and you can insert your word or phrase of choice into the preceding thought. If I’m caught having a drink, I’m a drinker. How will my church respond to that? If I tell one little lie to try to save myself, I’m a liar. How will the person to whom I lied ever trust me again? Will they? Is this line of thinking unique? Of course not, but I’ve been reminded of this lately in certain areas in my life. If I do this, I become a… and someone gets hurt in the process…
Knowing that this is the case doesn’t make it any easier to ignore that instinct for desire that tells me to do something I know I shouldn’t. Sure, I can claim a moral victory, stand tall and say that I fought the demons of temptation and won, and some days that’s a good feeling. One would think that it should always be a good feeling—and perhaps it should—but sometimes claiming a moral victory doesn’t give you the immediate satisfaction that giving in to temptation would. But then you have to live with the guilt of having given in to temptation, possibly hurting someone in the process. Is the immediate satisfaction, likely short-lived, worth the internal struggle of guilt? Likely not. But that’s a decision made only by those in the moment, those faced with the decisions before them.
One would like to think that a lifetime of moral victories would amount to something. And sure, it does—it makes you a good person, at least in the eyes of those around you. And when presented with my recent decision, when accused of being a good guy, I jokingly said it was either one of my greatest faults or greatest attributes.
Obviously, I’ve refrained by detailing my situation here, unusual for me, I know. I’m usually brutally honest on here. One reader said of my writing: you’re so honest on your blog, not really sparing anyone’s feelings. Ironic, it seems, given my lack of expression during the conversation at hand. This time, however, I chose generalities, morality without specificity. Though I’m sure some of you can read between the lines.
Am I a purist? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Yet I find myself watching my id and superego fight for dominance, however slight, in certain situations, something to which we can all at times relate. So is there a moral message here? No, not really. Just something to think about.
So the Id and the Superego walk into a bar. And let’s hope they get hammered, cause they already put up one helluva fight.