The Oedipal Fantasy: Staying Alive

It’s not sex, it’s violence.

Your genes, your ‘primal urges,’ your nature – don’t mean a damned thing when you’re dead. I’m sorry, but whoever told you sex was the foundational thing, the driver of all things, they were morons. Yes, Freud, Dawkins, and the biologists, they share this stupidity with the religious fundamentalists, the idea that sex and reproduction are the most important things, like sexual things are the most important sins. Sunday school survivors, probably. Cultural Christians, or cultural some kind of religious.

We don’t kill to propagate our genes, we don’t have these incredibly annoying Nazi blooms with their apparently increasing virulence because we’re all too damned sexy, it’s our efforts for security that cause this, violence is a response to violence, not some fractal outpouring of sex drives. Sometimes a bludgeon is just a club, and despite all the fascinating magic of genetics and despite our semi-religious upbringings, the club is often simply more powerful in its most basic sense than in any symbolic one, or lovers would rule the world and not violent hammerheads instead.

It’s sort of too big to talk about, an open secret that can’t be helped, and that to be always going on about it is just rubbing salt in a wound that can’t be healed, so we don’t like to talk about it – I mean we do, a lot of the time, talk about violence – but any time we do spend talking about anything else, the threat doesn’t go away. Violence, death, these things must be avoided first, that’s what ‘foundational’ means, especially for a species that has a decade or more during which it may die before it can reproduce. During this precarious period, your combination of genes can be destroyed, and then all the forces of life and evolution in your line can fail, if we fail in our personal security, which for us is a part of group security. The failure of an individual isn’t the end for a gene as often as the demise of a group is, so sure – gene security is group security. I imagine it was Dawkins, among others who suggested that gene survival is a higher design priority than individual survival, I haven’t yet gleaned who may be talking about groups as gene pools or suggesting this, that the survival of a gene may be less loosely tied to the survival of an individual than to a group of them, but it seems reasonable and sounds decades old, in line with a lot of other stuff.

Maybe that’s the two prongs I’m looking for: gene propagation, but also gene security, expansion but also contraction, feast but also famine. Meaning, of course, reproducing but also not getting wiped out, protecting our asses.

It’s a protected area of thought. If we are surviving, we don’t question our survival strategies. Of course, humans and all primates, most mammals are curious, inquisitive creatures that don’t respect boundaries, so protecting areas of thought is an active process, something like not thinking of the word “banana.” It’s a self deception, and it isn’t free, but since we have walled it off, it’s hard for us to count the costs.

Whatever the costs however, as a species, the same as for an individual victim of violence or abuse, your survival strategy hardens; you don’t look so closely at the thing that kept you alive, and you don’t take it apart to see how it works, because there may be another attack at any time. Of course, that’s exactly what I want to do.

What I am proposing is not an integration – yet – of these drivers, sex and violence. Where I am going with this, what I would establish is simply a second line of inquiry, with violence as the driver, with our security as the prime motivator of our behaviours directly, before we ever start to worry about reproducing ourselves. Sex is a distraction to this conversation. I think the violence we trade in all through our lives, beginning long before sexual maturity, is causative of much of our behaviour. A simple thing to remember as a backdrop to all this sort of knowledge is that our most formative time is something like a decade before our breeding time, and that every year we are less teachable than the year before. Sex, reproduction, the new First Cause, is almost an afterthought in a human life in real time, despite the way we’ve been thinking about it.

It’s a misdirection, a major component of the protection around our unconscious behaviours. We would notice a large, empty spot in our awareness if we didn’t explain it to ourselves somehow, and security works best in layers. Meaning, if we are going to manage not to see the prevalence and function of violence and abuse in our lives, we need theories within theories, feints within feints. Somebody, some number of these clever devil-apes are going to see through the first level or two of bullshit.

If we’re alive, if we have a minute to think about sex, then we have looked after the security aspect for the time being, and our attention can afford to go to sexual matters, human conflicts, attempts to make sure your kids are yours, and those concerns require their own complexity, competing memes and useful fictions – I’ve been saying ‘mimic memes,’ but I’ve been hearing ‘useful fiction’ from some science types – which would seem to be protecting some basic truth, so we think some basic sexual truth must be the end, the final answer or the First Cause. Alas, no, that underlying mimic meme is my opening, only an injunction to that effect – sex is the end! Go no further! Freud is the guy Dylan was talking about in Positively 4th. Street: the one who tries to hide what he don’t know to begin with. You’ve got a big, hostile world to deal with before you worry about mating with your mother; there’s still that little matter of your father, for starters. Were the two things supposed to be connected?

Hmm. Maybe it was us, not Sigmund. Can someone weigh in? Did he write as much about killing Dad as about fucking Mom and it’s all his interpreters since, or just my high school psych teacher between him and I that were the sex-obsessed ones? Doesn’t matter, the point is how people generally think, not just one person.

Lay literature never questions punishments, rewards, or deterrents, never seems to wonder what those things are. They are tools, a sort of selective pressure in evolution talk, they are a force for us to use in whatever direction we please – but this is only half of the story. Unwanted consequences have their own consequences, pain and abuse have their own consequences, and not only when administered at illegal doses, either. And it all goes to one direction.

Those consequences, those are not an unfortunate accident, and not some aberration to “normal” human development, they pretty much are human development, in the sense of development that is specific to us. I have been pondering this puzzle for a long, long time and it’s only very recently that I’ve seen more than the empirical evidence for the developmental power of abuse, but also the self-driving function it has, the dynamic explanation. It’s not always true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – but it’s more often true that what doesn’t kill you makes you wish you were stronger. That is the function of abuse. If you didn’t like to fight before, maybe now you do.

It sets you on a path, giving you more than an effect for a stimulus, but a direction for life: be tougher. It becomes a principle to invoke when in doubt, when making decisions, a bias that simplifies every choice, and choices in the other direction are relatively rare and often dangerous. When too much love and kindness are said to spoil a child, it is this process of acquired toughness that has been spoiled, derailed. Word (and data) is getting around these days, it turns out we have some of these coddled children about and despite dodging this process, they still learn to read and use the toilet, so learning is not the vector that gets altered: you’ve spoiled their potential for toughness, meaning as soldiers, I think is the point, behaviourally.

Sorry, not you, well, maybe some few of you – but I meant me. I did that, or I sincerely tried to, because I can’t get past this insight, this feeling, I just can’t get around it and it seems clear I’m the only one who can’t – “good” strength and “bad” violence is the same thing, one and the same. Not Yin and Yang, not two sides of a coin, not some balancing act – both the same, both the same side of the same coin. Your skeezy, sociopath rapist and the strong, upright fellow who saves you from him, I’m sorry, fighting is fighting, and violence is violence, both those fellows are utilizing the same bunch of violent genes and processes – my apologies for the cold, brutal presentation of a few scientific ideas. I’m sorry and afraid to say, but there is truth in this: swap those guys around, move them into one another’s social groups, perhaps different phases in their lives . . . I know, I’m sorry, but again, same genes, same evolution, same processes. I can’t even say it, apparently.

Those guys are interchangeable.

Ouch. You know, just because I see no other path for myself doesn’t make this one easy; it doesn’t make saying that easy. It means I’m one of them, for starters, but perhaps there is hope in the idea that half of the guys out there are “good” guys for regular people, but I’m sorry again, not for this guy. What has taken my hope is listening to people all day long decry crime and violence in “others” while selecting our own for those very traits, sexually and every other way. The world is a scary, violent place, so we vote for hawks and psychopaths to protect us and so the world is a scary, violent place.

This is the world while the religious obsess about virginity and minority sexualities, about their individual genes (which, hardly any such thing in the first place) and where the infantile fantasy of patricide is seen to be a driving myth while the very real problem of the infanticide that spawned it is, what? Like I’m suggesting, our violence is an open secret, either ignored or accepted as just too big to be talking about all day. The Oedipal fantasy is about security. The urge to kill the father is not our innate aggression, it is our innate insecurity. The patricide – clearly, that is our second thought, our proposed solution to our infant selves to the bigger, universal problem of personal security. This is where there is something to learn, and I suggest there is nothing sexual about that entire dynamic.

Our basic life’s concerns are staying alive.

THAT is what is driving us, that is the organizing principle in our lives and our society’s. We have a lot of very high level stuff going on, but I think we make a point of not quite understanding the most basic stuff, I think there is a whole world of causation in the security and violence issues that are fundamental to us all, and the most important stuff isn’t anything about the difference between men and women, black and white people, sexualities, any of the things that make us diverse. We have all agreed to “be strong,” and I know it sounds good, but it’s not. It’s violence.

 

Jeff

March 23rd., 2018

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