Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Hidden I

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Hidden I

Article excerpt

To become individuals in the fullest sense, we must accept an inescapable obligation: to respect that which is human in ourselves.

We each of us accept this "price that must be paid" in our own way, according to priorities fixed by our own imagination. For one person the priorities will be of a legal order--it will be important for that person to feel that he or she is a possessor of rights. For someone else the main thing will be to feel that he or she belongs to a group or has a task to accomplish-this person will see himself or herself above all as a "social actor". Another person may feel that the concepts of integrity and potentiality are essential--he or she will regard himself or herself primarily as an individual.

For the psychoanalyst, one of the aims of treatment is to induce the patient to escape from the grip of what might be called "narcissistic manicheanism"--a self-image that is either totally good or totally bad. From the time when we learn to speak we are obliged to master our impulses in order to serve the ideals of our community. Hence the ambivalence of our condition as creatures who are not good or bad, but good and bad, since our impulses (unless they are sublimated) are a priori opposed to these ideals.

At another level, that of the ethnic, religious, social or national community, this division between good and bad still persists, in spite of the so-called "collapse" of ideologies, in spite of geopolitical changes that might be expected to modify the images peoples have of each other. For Europe--the cultural cradle of psychoanalysis--the spectre of evil that came from the east has changed, but--there as elsewhere--evil is still perceived as something that originates in others. Nothing seems capable of shaking people's conviction that what is bad comes from outside them. However, it is through encountering within ourselves the other side of our idealized--or dethroned--image that we become capable of empathy with others.

Psychoanalysis sheds an impartial light on the human psyche. It does not seek to judge, only to define the unconscious mechanisms that govern our acts and our thoughts. This form of understanding of the human mind gives rise to the conception of an innate equality, since a priori it situates each individual in an identical position in relation to the real, the imaginary and the symbolic--a position that is only modified by the unique features of each case history. This idea of inherent equality is a fundamental link between psychoanalysis on the one hand and democratic ethics and thought on the other. …

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