Against Despair, Towards Desires

This a work both of self-analysis and of theoretical considerations about the psychological nature of human beings. Given the immense amount of work and time it'll require, I decided to split it in parts, and slowly go about updating and completing them, as my own capacities and time permits. As such, I do not know when it'll be done; still, I feel that even in its incomplete forms it might be of interest to others.


I.

People do things. And they do things for particular reasons. Obviously, this is a self-evident fact, and as such it seems like a waste of space to point it out. On the contrary, this assertion is perhaps the very core of what I'm interested in thinking about: yes, people do things for particular reasons, but this flies in the face of actual lived experience. If all actions are taken with a purpose, how come there are so many times when we ourselves act without the slightest understanding of the reasons for doing so? To say that actions have motive behind them is not the same as saying that such motive is necessarily either rational or conscious.

I say this as a strong critique of my previous attempt of writing about the subject, which was, though earnest, rather naive. There, I attempted to solve this thorny problem of explaining why people do seemingly incomprehensible things through the mechanism of the "gap", that is, a discrepancy between a person's desires and the fact that a cruel capitalist world impedes their realization. This is, I believe, not wrong per se, but woefully incomplete. Yes, there are plenty of times when such a fact is the case, and in particular conspicuous occasions (the broken soldier drinking to forget, the alienated worker feeling miserable, etc.) this is sufficient enough explanation, if shallow.

The problem is, and what I had not realized, is that the world does not work merely like an immense pressure crushing the person; the truth, rather, is that if the external world is the primary cause for psychological misery, it is not the only one; or, to be more clear: we tend to internalize and to make such suffering our own. An example ought to be put forward: say, a child grows up in a authoritarian household, and as a coping/self-defense mechanism starts to preemptively appease others or put himself or herself down in order to avoid brutal "punishment". Under my previous interpretation, when the child eventually gets out from the authoritarian household, they would quickly get better and drop these noxious habits—something which, indeed, does happen sometimes—, but the problem is that quite often they'll keep this behavior well into adulthood, and which at that point it has become a strong neurosis.

As such, the sad reality is that we tend to (many times unconsciously) make our symptoms our own, that is, to make them part and parcel of ourselves. And in such a case can we really keep saying that the cause of the symptom are the authoritarian parents? Not really. If they have the original blame, the continuation of the toxic behavior on the child becomes a matter of the internal making of the child, something which is much harder to "treat" than merely ensuring the child gets actually decent guardians. Under such circumstances the idea of the "gap" is entirely useless; it is not that the child desires something impossible, but rather that the mechanism which protects their psyche and which makes them desiring subjects has become irrevocably distorted, and any real attempt to cure the child of their ailment must take front and center their internal mechanisms, not only their external situations.

The more philosophically inclined may have noticed that this scheme seems to follow a particularly (Hegelian/Marxist) dialectical scheme: the original phenomenon is external, but the process by its own impetus becomes its opposite, namely, an internal phenomenon. Obviously this is not a call to ignore the outside world and pretend that a capitalist world is just; but rather to understand that the brutal oppression caused by this world is far more complicated that it seems at first glance. Still, I still stand by a lot of what I've wrote before, but it must be taken as an incomplete interpretation, bound to fail to explain too many things.

II.

Given that my previous interpretation was unsatisfactory, I feel bound to put forward a new attempt to understand not only addictions (the main theme of the previous article), but psychological conditions in general. This is obviously an immense subject, and an article would never be enough to even scratch the surface of the question. Still, it seems to me that the attempt to grapple with this theme is not only an interesting intellectual exercise, but a very helpful aid in dealing with my own difficulties, neuroses, and the like. This is, as with everything else on this website, a rather personal matter.