Everyday evil

Image: Maisa Borges


We suffer from the malaise of civilization, there is hope, but not for us, because, from the point of view of psychoanalysis, we are not programmed for happiness

The phenomenon of evil can be approached from different perspectives; through common sense, myths, religion, various sciences, etc. I am interested in approaching it in the light of psychoanalysis so that it reveals the emergence of new ways of presenting malaise in culture and, as culture, yesterday and today.

Em The malaise in civilization, Freud says: “Behold, in my opinion, the decisive question for the destiny of the human species: whether its cultural development will be able, and if so to what extent, to dominate the disturbance of coexistence that comes from the human drive of aggression and of self-annihilation. Our time perhaps deserves a particular interest precisely in this matter. Today, human beings have taken their control over the forces of nature so far that with their help it will be easy to exterminate each other, down to the last man. They know it, hence much of the contemporary unrest, their happiness, their anguished spirit. And now we can hope that the other of the two celestial powers, the eternal Eros, will make an effort to consolidate itself in the fight against its equally deadly enemy.

But who can predict the outcome?”

Is the notion of the banality of evil, forged by Hannah Arendt in the 1960s, enough to understand the contradictions in our society? Freud helps us in developing this notion into the concept of sociopathology of everyday life, in the text cited.

What is at stake in Freud's malaise? How does Freud interpret the civilizing process? The conception that man is not a pacified being is therefore in constant conflict. He attributes the genesis of the conflict to the opposition between the drives; Eros, life drive and Thanatos, death drive; uninterrupted struggle in our internal world.

Human aggressiveness, as a disposition, as a representative of evil, is not something that only presents itself in a spectacular way but, on a daily basis, in a banal way. It is not only directed at the external world, but at oneself, as self-destructive acts and does not only come from drives but also from social processes (inquisition, slavery, terrorism).

The conception that we are inserted in a hostile, inhospitable environment, which translates into a continuous struggle between our nature and culture, civilization. The conception that society is created at the expense of the repression of drives or another possible and acceptable direction for their satisfaction.

We have arrived at a paradigm of psychoanalysis: we are homeless individuals, we live in discomfort and we carry a stranger within us. Here the crucial problem of the relationship between the human being and the law arises, the primordial law, which marks the passage, the leap, from nature to culture.

This is the Oedipal model, where the relationships between the child and their parents represent the final stage of a progressive and painful process of alienation and separation. Oedipus leads us to overcome childhood, that is, our dependence on the mother and her desire, and the introjection of the law, the law of culture, represented by the father.

Oedipus is the cornerstone of the intrapsychic structure and the civilizing process. Oedipal vicissitudes, that is, any renunciation of drives, the omnipotence of desire, the principle of pleasure in favor of the principle of reality, takes place under the aegis of a two-way pact, an Oedipal pact, a social pact.

We lose and we win. In exchange for the required renunciation, we have the right to receive a name, a filiation, a place in the kinship structure, access to the symbolic order, in addition to everything else that allows us to develop and live. Thus, we identify with the values ​​of culture, enter the circle of social exchange and become, in fact and in law, partners of human society.

The primary pact prepares and sustains the second pact and vice versa. Poor integration of one or the other can generate problems, confirming or disconfirming one or the other, up to a breaking point.

This is the psychoanalytic key to understanding the violence that tears apart the social fabric. The malaise presents itself through violence, through chronic civil war: urban and domestic violence, each person's individual struggle. It is presented by armed military war: Russia versus Ukraine, Israel versus Palestine, to name just those that are currently on the agenda.

Here, a digression is worth it. This law is also enshrined by society. Modern societies are based on power structures. All power is violent. One can perceive, precisely, the mythical element that exists in the legal structure. The legal system is a pillar of this violence. The legal power must have a strong arm to enforce laws, inevitably and unfortunately. We see the ambiguity of the law: there are those who are above the law, they are precisely those who determine what the law is and, to this position, there corresponds another, opposite, those who are banned from the law, not covered by her, likely to be killed: indigenous people, black people, poor people. These are definitely homeless.

What can we do in the face of discomfort? Appropriating it, dominating it, displacing it is fundamental. Transform discomfort through a device that allows us to critically reflect on it; achieve an ironic and critical look to reveal our position on our being in the world, in post-modernity.

Transform it through a new, sublime creation: work, literature, the arts, a subjective solution, particular to each person.

It is about bringing together a system of fragments into a good work.

This is a way of resisting the violence that surrounds us in the XNUMXst century, and in all past centuries.

I end with a “prophecy” from the Czech writer Franz Kafka: “There is enough hope, for God, infinite hope, but not for us; sentences the writer. If the universe brings the agony of situations that oppress us and we cannot control; it brings the useless clash with laws and chances that absolutely escape us.”

We suffer from the malaise of civilization, there is hope, but not for us, because, from the point of view of psychoanalysis, we are not programmed for happiness. There are very few moments of happiness, when we change from a bad state to a better one. Our normal state is that of being thrown into discomfort. But we live by projecting hope, it is the last one to die.

*Andréa Pimenta Sizenando Matos is a psychoanalyst.

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