Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Unconscious

-  I haven't read your latest, "War". The subject is too depressing.
-  It's about a research study that concludes that countries make war when they can. The more opportunity, the more war.
- See what I mean!
- No I don't. The more we know the better.
- Not if we can't do anything.
- That is something we don't know. Why do countries want to make war on each other? Is the behavior shown by those in control of countries the same as behavior in personal life? Or is it something different, the result of what is called institutional pressure coming from demands of their groups?
- Aren't they the same? In our personal life we have our groups too, family, friends, work.
- Then if we know better how in our personal lives we allow our groups to send us into battle, as it were, and assuming changing individual behavior is more in our control that changing the behavior of groups, and changed individual behavior would change the behavior of our groups, we'd have some positive means of action.
- A lot of assumptions.
- Yes. Should we try anyway?
- Why not.
- To make use of an old word, let's say group behavior, as distinguished from personal behavior, is based on ideology.
- Defined as what?
- Unconscious belief with social function.
- What is social function?
- The agreement that creates or maintains the society as a group rather than a collection of individuals with nothing in common but being in the same group. Are you going to ask next what is meant by unconscious?
- I was.
- Good. I think that unconscious behavior is the product of our lives in a group.
- You don't think it is part of our fundamental psychological make-up?
- I don't. If it were fundamental psychology it would be mysterious and inaccessible. Since it is a product of living in a group we can account step-for-step what we did in a group to produce it.
- Produce the account.
- Last week I heard an artist who creates performances with robots talk about how to make robots walk. If you try to program the movement of each part of the body separately you get the robot to walk, but with an awkward not very human walk. Another way to do it is to work without any programming at all. Set motors on each leg going continuously to move each leg back when in contact with the floor and design the robot frame such that the whole robot falls first on one leg, then another. That produces a recognizably human walk.
- Amazing.
- The idea is that what we think involves intelligence often does not. It occurred to me that here was a way to describe where the unconscious comes from. In our lives in a group things are arranged such that we can continuously fall like the robot as we repeat certain fundamental movements. For the robots, motors pulled back their legs. For us, fear, and hatred. the passions, do the same work of driving us forward. The ideas of the group are learned without self awareness in our childhood and youth. We acquire these "motors" under threat and with reward. Society gives us the push that sets us into the fall, and society makes the level ground for us to walk on.
- The level ground is the ideology, which our motors have been adjusted to make our fall agree with.
- Yes. Do you see the implication? As the robot has no programming, so we have no consciousness of what we are doing. "Capitalism is the only alternative"? Fall, step, fall, step. "There is no truth"? Fall, step, fall, step.
- So we say these words, but in fact, they have no personal meaning: we can't account for why we are saying them.
- That's right.
- How does a society provide the level floor to walk on?
- Rules, rituals, customs. Anything regular to elicit a regular response.
- So we are whipped and bribed into our falling. We acquire unconsciously the ideas of the society and we hold these ideas unconsciously, as long as the floor stays level. Wars, I think you are going to say, are to make sure the floor stays more and more level. Am I correct?
- You are.
- And, as I always ask, what are we supposed to do about it?
- In a second. First I want to say that there is another kind of unconsciousness that is not ideological, is not group behavior but individual thought: the unconsciousness of self in contemplation of the world. After doing the work of learning what goes on in the world or in a lover's life, we rest in the world's or a lover's beauty. But in ideology, there never is any rest. Ideology can be immediately spotted using this distinction.
- You mean that if I say there is no alternative to capitalism, I don't see anything out there? No person, no world. Actually I am just falling, leaning my leg motors into action one after another as I lean down on one side then other.
- Exactly.
- What are we going to do about it?
- If unconscious behavior is not a fundamental of group life, but an alternative to individual conscious behavior, then it is a reasonable project to work to discourage the one and encourage the other.
- And you find having the benefit of that conclusion encouraging, despite the fact that wars are becoming more frequent?
- I do. You don't?
- Education. It is a very old story. It doesn't seem to be working very well for us. We've been educating mostly in the very technical knowledge, social organization and machine making, that allows countries to make wars more frequently. You imagine a future of the kind of education that would allow us to fall into beauty rather than on the face of society. Alright. I'll let you have your dream. At least it's not unconscious.

Further Reading:
Philosophy Of Ideology And Perpetual War