3.Toward a Psychoanalytic Explanation of Social Events
History, myths, and social unconscious.
History, myths, and social unconscious.
In preparing to write this part of the issue of the Social Unconscious I went back to Freud’s paper on Family Romances. I wanted to refresh my memory of how the individual creates his individual history from his earlier childhood experiences. I was struck by a statement that I missed in my previous readings of this paper. After describing some general childhood experience and how they are remembered later Freud said: “These consciously remembered mental impulses of childhood embody the factors which enables us to understand the nature of myths”. Reading this sentence brought to my mind a book I read few years ago by Ray Raphael entitled: The Founding Myths. The book was proving in a methodical way the fallacies of some of the held beliefs about certain historical facts regarding the American revolution and independence. At the time I read the book my thoughts were that history is more important than the facts that created it, and making myths out of actual events is essential in turning events into lasting facts. Without those myths’ history would not link with the present and it would become meaningless. In other words, Jefferson declaration of independence is the issue and not whether he copied and improved Mason’s prior daft of the document or not.
My point is that the facts and myth that comprises history constitute together the core of a nation’s identity. A similar process is behind the individual conception of our history. Whatever embellishment or correction made to any history it remains what people have created, accepted as the doing of real people in their past. British democracy is worth its value because it is connected to the myth of the Magna Carta! The Magna Carta is a fascinating document that was going to be ignored just few months after signing it, but it was brought back by the initial people who created it, thus it represents the resilience of democracy.
History is very much like dreams; it is there for interpreting. They are also phenomenon of wishful thinking, and that is enough to legitimize a nation’s ownership of its own history. Historians could vet history but people who will decide to accept it or reject it. The notion of history as the embodiment of a nation’s wishes is important in another aspects. Nations’ wishes change over time and relative to circumstances, but historical facts do not change. Therefore, nations could change the narrative of their histories to pronounce a certain wish at a certain time and give it work- over to express another wish. History is the reservoir of the nation’s wishes and is very much made of primary process mechanisms.
It is not difficult to accept and agree that history consciously tells of the past wishes of nations. Because history is the conscious story of those wish therefore there must be corresponding unconsciousness of the wishes. This is where we encounter the puzzle of social unconsciousness: There is no history that articulates the same wish all the time. History is recalled by nations according to existing circumstances, and the wishes keep changing accordingly. This means that social unconsciousness is not an entity (like in the case of the individual). The unconscious of the conscious wishes is the frustration of not fulfilling them. in other terms, history continues telling about a social wish until a leader or a group of individuals come along and fulfill the wish. Then history stops to start from a different point or with a new wish.
I can talk concretely about this idea in regard to the history of Egypt, which I know reasonably well. In 1882 England invaded Egypt, and an Egyptian general gave the British a fight but lost. They occupied the country and it became a colony in the British empire. The history of Egypt at that point became a series of mythical attempts of conquering the occupiers and regaining independence. There were several revolutions and some ineffective trials to outsmart the British politically. In 1952 a group army officers managed to liberate the country. Egypt was the first Middle Eastern country to break away from the British empire. The history of liberating the country stopped then. But suddenly a new wish to liberate all other occupied colonies in the middle East and Africa became the new history of Egypt. And once again an Egyptian leader with that ambition appeared to become a mythical character in the area, because he expressed a wish that pertains to the whole area of the middle east. His name was Nasser. He is still after half a century of his death represents the old wish of liberating the middle because its total liberation is stil in the making and the wish is fought against by internal and external forces.
History is the consciousness of nations and embodies their wishes and aspirations. Those aspirations that are conscious have their unconscious counterpart, which is not always easy to define. However, frustrated wishes get their definition and surface to social consciousness in an unusual way. A leader or a group of dedicated people emerge with a vison of change that is the social unconscious pronounced. Leadership is the voice of the unconscious in a society. There are implicit dangers in the transformation from an individual or a group leadership to a social will. It happens more frequently than desired the a leader distorts the unconscious wish of his society, or expresses the wishes of a minority and run with it if the majority is looking for, high jacking an unconscious wish and changing midway, and other possibilities could be found in Modern Democracies. Leaders do not create history, they only pronounce it. Studying the history of a nation is done properly by putting its leaders in the context of its circumstances. Because misleading and being followed after changing the unconscious wish has a more encompassing meaning. People follow their leaders but they also affect other people around them in ways that could change the whole political scene. This need a separate section of this topic. As we know in individual psychoanalysis, the patient’s change cause changes around him.