You Shall Know Them by Their Ideals
An analysis of the ego cannot occur without simultaneously discussing the Ideal Man (at least implicitly). Because if the ego is what is wrong, we must have some idea or model of what is right.
This is only true of human beings, by the way. There are no good or bad animals. You can’t tell a pig to stop acting like one, which is why all those visits to the Clinton White House had no effect on Arafat, and Obama's craven appeasement of the Iranian thugs will only encourage them.
Human beings come into the world seeking role models to emulate. Oddly enough, we don’t “know” how to be human, so we imitate and internalize the behavior of those who are immediately at hand. But clearly, not everyone we internalize is noble or praiseworthy, to say the least.
In his formulation of the superego, Freud outlined two distinctly different aspects, the conscience and the ego ideal. Most of us have at least a rudimentary familiarity with the conscience, Arafat or Ahmadinejad to the contrary notwithstanding. It the “internal sentry” that rewards or punishes us for our thoughts and behaviors.
But the superego must not be confused with morality per se. It is extremely common to internalize a superego that punishes good behavior and rewards bad behavior, as we see throughout the Muslim world. (I addressed this problem in a previous post entitled Conscience, Superego, and Huk al Berri.)
It is also common to have a “corrupt superego,” which, as you might imagine, is similar to having a corrupt police force or military. It may technically believe the right thing, but will be unable to enforce it in a consistent manner. It is often at the basis of what we call hypocrisy, although it is completely unconscious.
As I wrote in the post linked above, “The problem with Freud's conception is that the superego will reflect the particular family in which one grew up and the particular culture in which one lives. As such, the superego is not necessarily moral at all. It is essentially amoral, in that it may well punish the individual for morally good behavior and reward him for morally bad behavior, depending upon the culture.
“Here we can understand why the emphasis on truth is so vital. For in the Arab Muslim world, they are so inundated with vicious lies about America and Israel that it would be immoral for them not to hate us. In a racist or anti-Semitic society, the superego will actually demand that its members be racist and anti-Semitic. For example, the nazi movement in Germany was animated by perversely 'high ideals,' without which they couldn't have engaged in their project to exterminate the Jews. Once the lie is established as truth, then the superego takes over, impelling the individual to act in a ‘moral’ way, consistent with the implications of the lie.”
The other dimension of the superego is called the “ego ideal.” Whereas the conscience punishes or restrains, the ego ideal “spurs” or encourages. You might call it our “destiny drive,” as the trajectory of our life can be measured in terms of how effectively we close the distance between ourselves and our ideal.
A person’s ego ideal speaks volumes about who they are “deep down.” However, it also reveals a great deal about a culture or nation, because all groups have collective ego ideals who act as a telos or “north star” to guide them. There are political ego ideals, religious ones, and other kinds.
One of the problems we face in our war against leftist fundamentalism and radical Islam is that we have entirely different and irreconcilable ego ideals. In the case of Islam, their political and religious ego ideal is the same man. But by the standards of the West, Mohammed was not a model worthy of emulation, what with his warlike behavior, his pedophilia, and genocidal attitude toward "infidels."
One of the baleful effects of the secular left has been to “deconstruct” and undermine the heroic and virtuous ego ideals who have always guided the United States. You know the tedious drill -- the founding fathers were just slave holders or self-interested businessmen, capitalism is exploitation, America is hotbed of racistsexisthomophobia . Instead of celebrating Lincoln’s or Washington’s birthdays, we merely have “President’s Day,” which is to conflate a quasi-divine being like Abraham Lincoln with a creepy, sanctimonious, petty, egomaniacal, Jew-hating, and all-around morally reprehensible weasel such as Jimmy Carter.
But this type of moral leveling is always at the heart of the leftist project, because it goes hand in hand with the assault on standards of any kind. For the left, all hierarchies are bad, because some people will fail to meet the ideal and therefore feel bad. But their entire philosophy is a fine example of a collectively corrupt superego, because there is no one so secretly elitist and superior as Leftist Man.
One of the purposes of leftism is to fool the conscience into thinking one is a good person just because one supposedly cares about “the little guy,” or about global warming, or about the evils of Walmart, or about being nice to terrorists. This is why studies always show that conservatives are personally much more charitable and giving (not forgetting happy) than liberals.
Imagine the immense appeal of this corrupt philosophy to the typically narcissistic Hollywood celebrity who has never even attempted to master himself, much less succeeded. But all is forgiven so long as he believes in high taxes and a massive state.
I don’t know about you, but I can look back at my own life and see a series of used and discarded ego ideals who have formed the “stepping stones” to my own true self. Some of them might appear trivial, but in each instance, I can see how they represented an external model for a part of myself that endures to this day.
For example, I remember when the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came out, it had a profound effect on me. I totally related to R.P. McMurphy, in that he represented sanity or the “life instinct” amidst the dreary world of totalitarian, life-denying conformity. I didn't see it at the time, but the messianic parallels with Christianity are obvious: McMurphy is actually the sane one in an insane system, so he must be crucified, i.e., lobotomized. Today we call it “political correctness,” which represents a collective mechanism for lobotomizing the sane and killing the truth. The New York Times, the MSM, and academia all represent the oppressive and tedious Nurse Ratched.
Now, just as the Islamist hates America or Israel because he believes lies about them, the pernicious idea that “all you need is love” inevitably leads to an assault on truth and the death of the mind. Thus, Obama's rush to non-judgment about how much he respects the sovereignty of the Iranian government is rooted either in self-deception or outright lying. The most he could say about the evil murder of Neda Agha-Soltani was that it was "unjust." I know how he feels. The other day I unjustly received a parking ticket from the state.
We must only love and respect what is good or what is true, not what is false and indecent. To say “all you need is love” is to say that love is worthless, because it is incapable of discerning what is worthy of being loved. Yes, God is love. But love is not God, for God is also Truth, Judgment, Justice, and even Divine Wrath, and each of these is an important dimension of love.
Yes, there are saints and mystics who ascend so high that these distinctions disappear. But that path specifically involves an upward journey through the God-willed hierarchy, not an iconoclastic downward escape into egalitarian mush. (Speaking of multi-dimensional love, I like the way Mysteress Joan put it the other day, regarding our thankless attempt to lead a hapless young troll to the Light: "You can't really rip his throat out because he's too young to appreciate the gesture.")
We have both a celestial archetype and a worldly one, and it is critical to bear this difference in mind. When Adam fell, he fell from the celestial archetype of “man as such” and became “such and such a man,” as I have heard Schuon express it in a different context. He became a hardened “ego” as it were, closed off from the higher world. Now, an ego can be a prison or it can serve as a means of escape, largely depending upon the ego ideal.
Or perhaps we should draw a distinction between an “ego ideal” and a “celestial ideal.” An ego ideal helps us to discover our own relatively unique way of being who we are, our “soul fingerprint,” as it were. But the celestial ideal leads us back to our pre-fallen state. You might say that the ego ideal is the particular in the universal, while the celestial idea is the universal in the particular.
At some point -- if we are lucky -- we will graduate from being a mere individual (which is itself an accomplishment, since it is freedom lived) to being a “mode of the infinite.” And once that we have attained our precious individuality, we will have something of value to offer up to the divine. For a sacrifice is only worthy to the extent that it is of something valuable.
And here we return to the hierarchy of being and the importance of “being somebody before you can be nobody.” It matters not for an ant to sacrifice himself to the collective, because one ant is just like any other. For the same reason, I suppose it is easy to be a suicide bomber, because there is so little opportunity in the Islamic world to actually become who one is -- to achieve one's potential and be “somebody." So these worthless nobodies escape history “from below,” by blowing up the train and the tracks, and hope for the most worldly forms of egoic gratification in the afterlife. As our own left has everything backwards, the Islamists have it upside down.
Related @ American Thinker: "[T]he most moralistic president since Jimmy [Carter] is also a moral coward. Not surprising, is it? Moralizing is just another way of propping up one's ego. Morality is making the tough choices when life presents us with a clear choice between good and evil."