Christchurch and the Id of government

18/09/2012 § 6 Comments

Yesterday’s post on Hobbes and Locke started me thinking about a psychoanalytic mapping of the same concepts. In particular, the Christchurch rebuild is a physical manifestation of governing will. In ordinary times, social and institutional inertia put a check on the will of government to impose its vision on a city. Christchurch is not in ordinary times, so the checks aren’t there.

The new decision about Christchurch schools reveals just how much the Id is in charge. A conservative government is supposed to be guided by a few key principles, and these should form its Superego. Some of these principles are local control, smaller government, personal responsibility, and rewarding individual effort. The decision to merge a large number of schools, to develop large-scale campuses, and to push through changes over local opposition, are all contrary to such principles. The disconnect between the expectation and the practice is obvious in this quote:

Principals are also upset they still have no idea about the rationale behind the proposals to close, merge and relocate their schools.

But there is no rationale behind the proposal, because the Id is in charge. We expect the Superego to be strong with this one, but instead the government is trying to take the place of the Superego. All of this was signalled even before the earthquakes, with the take-over of ECan. That move — regardless of whatever fig-leaf of legality was artfully arranged — was completely contrary to what should have been conservative principles.

What we see, instead, is that whatever the Ministers in charge decide to do is A Good Thing because they decided to do it. That kind of behaviour — disordered, impulsive, unreflective — is characteristic of the Id.

It is also the world of Hobbes, in which I do what I want because I want. The control is from outside:  a stronger Id places a limit on mine, and our Egos sort out some rational balance of power. The Lockean world has more of the Superego: we internalise the relationships and order of our society, and they limit our impulses.

All of which makes Christchurch vaguely post-apocalyptic. Instead of relying on the Superego to see the city through, the government has established a rule of the Id. Hobbes and Mad Max are united by the Avon.

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§ 6 Responses to Christchurch and the Id of government

  • Craig P says:

    Nice psychoanalytic take on the NZ Government’s recent school reorganization ‘earthquake’… but for me there’s always a little Machiavelli at the core of the state that would take merciless advantage of people when they were at their least organized. . . the ID might be in charge but the ID is not quite as disorganized as suggested – which makes it even more worrying. For me what we are seeing here is not the disorganized ID but Lacan’s master simply saying: ‘I’m in charge!’

    • Bill says:

      Great comment — thanks! I wonder what ‘I’m in charge’ has to do with the supposed principles of a conservative party. It should recognise the phallus as the master signifier, and yet that’s not the way its seems to be playing out.

  • I’m not sure we should start psychoanalyzing governments. If we want to do it properly, we just note Arrow shows intransitivity; intransitivity at the individual level is a diagnosis of insanity, so we consign the State to the asylum.

    There here be much madness though, even given all that.

    Love the last line.

    • Bill says:

      You always go to the core of the matter, Eric. But if governments are insane, shouldn’t we investigate their insanity? Or maybe start teaching courses in Abnormal Economics?

      And I’m happy that my last line was entertaining — thanks.

  • Andrew says:

    You know I have to comment here Bill ;-)

    @EricCrampton – are we not all always psychoanalysing governments? It’s just that most will think/talk about it only. It’s great that Bill is willing to write it down and formalise his thoughts via the logic of Freud. This means he takes the time to ‘know’ Freud and the time to take seriously his logic. We need more of this, it might give us better insight into the illogic that seems to be driving Brownlee, Joyce and Bennett (just the obvious targets :-)) Also – I have to agree, that last line is pure gold, Zizek himself would be proud!

    On the organisation of the Id and the discourse of the master. If we agree that the Id is primarily narcissistic in terms of neurosis then the government’s organisation is along the lines of the oral drive. This means that their master signifier here is, as Craig P says, “I’m in control”. Specifically and particularly this means driving change for the sake of change. They feel an unconscious need (as in the Id) to appear to be in charge of something that is primarily beyond their control (as in post-apocalyptic narcissism). What this probably means for the people of Christchurch is permanent change for the sake of change, until of course we can get a government in another of Freud’s stages – Anal would likely give us the Clark/Cullen obsessives and perhaps Phallic might be a true conservative government as per your principles above Bill: Jim Bolger springs to mind…

    • Bill says:

      Andrew, I was hoping you would drop by and help with this. Your point about the master signifier is a good one. I had been trying to think of what the primary principle/master signifier could be, especially for Paula Bennett’s work. ‘I’m in control, no really, I am!’ seems closer to it. I’ve been reflecting on the ‘adult in the room’ trope/meme. It seems to operate from a child’s view of what an adult is. A child’s view is that adults make and enforce the rules; an adult understands that rules are made — the Superego operates. The child thinks, ‘when I’m big I’ll do what I want.’ And that is what the rampaging Id seems to be doing.

      And the Zizek comparison is very flattering (*blush*).

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