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Hating government and voting against one’s interests: Self-Transgression, enjoyment, critique Jason Glynos Department of Government, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ, UK. E-mail: [email protected]

Abstract The psychoanalytic contribution to our understanding of hating government and voting against our own interests can be appreciated by invoking the categories of fantasy and enjoyment. Essential to the psychoanalytic enterprise is the idea that there is no necessary relation between a subject’s investment in a fantasmatic narrative and how faithfully this narrative reflects a consensus reality. As a prominent narrative element in political discourse, ‘big government’ can thus play for the subject two analytically distinct roles: an ideological role (linked to our fantasmatic investment in the world) and an epistemological role (linked to our understanding of the world). I argue that an appeal to fantasy not only helps us better grasp this difference in roles, but also enables us to appreciate its social and political implications. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society (2014) 19, 179–189. doi:10.1057/pcs.2014.2; published online 6 March 2014 Keywords: self-transgression; enjoyment; fantasy; ideology; orthogonality; critique

Hatred of government and the political classes may certainly lead to calls for pared-down political institutions and a smaller state. It may also help secure citizen support for private, for-profit market-based solutions to pressing social and economic problems. However, many academics and political commentators, especially in the US, claim that this can generate a paradox: such hatred often points in a policy direction contrary to the interests of many citizens voting for such measures (see, for example, Frank, 2004, 2012; Lakoff, 2008).

Self-Transgression The paradox of voting against one’s own interests resonates with what Michael Rosen, following the sixteenth-century French political philosopher

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Etienne de la Boetie, calls ‘voluntary servitude’: ‘a puzzling but frequently observed feature of political life… [whereby] those who are maltreated – oppressed, exploited, even enslaved – do not always reject that treatment.’ (Rosen, 2000, p. 393) Voluntary servitude can be understood in terms of the more general ‘problem of self-transgression’, which aims to capture an intuition about those kinds of situations where an individual or group appear both to affirm an interest or ideal, such as freedom and autonomy, and simultaneously to subvert it (Glynos, 2003, 2008). There are a number of different ways we can account for, or resolve, the problem of self-transgression. We might offer an account that casts the agent as a hypocrite, or as someone suffering from weakness of will: I may vote for a mandate to cut taxes while espousing the ideal of the common good because I am a hypocrite or because I am not strong-willed enough to resist succumbing to selfish motivations (for example, my desire to maximize disposable income). Or we might cast the problem of self-transgression in terms of coercion: I am forced to transgress my affirmed ideal directly through physical force, or through threats of a physical, financial, or other sort. A role-conflict hypothesis would suggest that one reason subjects transgress their ideal is because a competing ideal requires a course of action which, from the perspective of the first ideal, constitutes a transgression: my professional career might be compromised by taking parental leave, or my social life might conflict with my work ethic. From a rational-choice perspective, the problem of self-transgression is transformed into a collective action problem: we transgress our publicly affirmed ideals, many of our eco-friendly ideals for example, because there is no practical way of overcoming the co-ordination problems associated with the free-rider effect. Then there is the popular false-consciousness hypothesis, to which I will return later. This suggests that subjects subvert their ideals unbeknownst to themselves because they are ignorant of what ‘in fact’ advances their interests, or because they are mistaken in their interpretation of their ideals and ‘real’ interests.

Enjoyment How then might we approach the problem of self-transgression from a psychoanalytic perspective? One way is to be found in the enjoyment one derives from this transgression, that is, unconscious pleasure – what the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan called jouissance (Lacan, 1992, p. 184). In the field of clinical psychoanalysis, it is widely attested that analysands ‘enjoy’ their symptoms (Fink, 1997). Freud used the expressions ‘flight into illness’ and ‘gain from illness’ to evoke the idea that subjects unconsciously enjoy their symptoms as a means of escaping deeper psychical tensions (see Laplanche and Pontalis, 1988, p. 183; see also p. 165). In these cases the affective investment in the symptom always appears 180

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excessive because there is something else at stake: the attempt at all costs to avoid a more painful confrontation with some basic ‘ontological truths’. Enjoyment thus draws much of its energy from our transgression of these ‘truths’. Returning to the collective aspects of the problem of self-transgression, we could say that what binds a community together is often not simply identification with a common ideal like ‘justice’ or ‘freedom’, but also an identification with a common form of enjoymentin-transgression (see Žižek, 1994, p. 55). Various coded political communication tactics – populist ‘dog-whistle’ politics for example – could be readily understood in this light (see Connolly, 2008, pp. 54–56). The psychoanalytic contribution to our understanding of the problem of selftransgression sits alongside, and combines with, a set of explanatory hypotheses and normative impulses derived from other disciplines and traditions of thought. We might start by getting a preliminary fix on the dimensions in play in each particular case: dimensions of enjoyment, hypocrisy, weakness of will, role conflict, coercion, rational choice, and false consciousness. Clearly, the relative importance of each of these dimensions and how they combine with one another will vary as a function of our interpretation of the dimensions and the specific context of the case at hand. Consider the case of voting against one’s own interests. Adopting a psychoanalytic perspective might very well train our attention on the tenor of the hatred directed at big government, showing how this hatred is not simply an emotion born of legitimate anger and resentment but that there is something disturbingly excessive in the way this hatred is expressed and lived. We might then read this hatred as an affective investment that is enjoyed in the precise psychoanalytic sense discussed above. This is where things start to get messy, however, as the enjoyment dimension here comes into contact with other explanatory dimensions. One tempting way forward involves thinking together the enjoyment and false-consciousness dimensions: subjects enjoy their hatred of big government and this enjoyment blinds them as to their ‘real’ interests. Thus voting against government initiatives such as a stimulus package designed to reverse the economic downturn, or thwarting efforts to create a government-sponsored universal health care system, or helping to dismantle an existing one, is a bit like shooting oneself in the proverbial foot. Perhaps this way of combining the enjoyment and false-consciousness dimensions is too easy. Perhaps its plausibility relies on our taking for granted a common set of presuppositions (broadly shared by left-leaning progressives) that are descriptive, explanatory, and normative in character. In other words, it presupposes a particular account of where we are today and where we could (and ought to) be: for example (to take just one hypothetical but readily imaginable account), that a set of economic policies over the course of the last few decades in the US and UK, coupled with a dramatic decline in the power of labour unions, has resulted in stagnant average wages relative to productivity and ballooning private debt, amplifying inequalities in income and wealth in an uprecedented © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1088-0763

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way, enabling the rich to entrench those inequalities even further by exploiting their financial clout in the domains of politics, the media, education, and so on, thereby leaving government as the only plausible countervailing force that could fight against an increasingly blatant plutocracy on behalf of the average citizen, assuming, of course, that it is not already too late. Enjoying our hatred of big government blinds us to these ‘facts of the matter’, enabling the taking root and stabilisation of a false consciousness. It is not so much that the progressive account illegitimately combines the enjoyment dimension with other dimensions, such as the false-consciousness dimension, but rather that it elides two things in particular. First, it elides what is distinctive and troubling about enjoyment. I will explain this in a moment with reference to what I call the ‘orthogonality thesis’. Second, it elides the complex way that each one of a number of dimensions can come to depend on one another in different ways at different times, and I elaborate on this with reference to what I call the ‘overdetermination thesis’. I will now say something more about each of these two theses.

The Orthogonality Thesis: On Radical Contingency and the Ideological Dimension of Critique The first thing that the above attempt to articulate different dimensions elides is the distinctive character that psychoanalysis ascribes to enjoyment: what is distinctive about enjoying one’s hatred of government is that the efficacy of this enjoyment appears to be largely independent of – ‘orthogonal’ to – the question of whether such hatred is actually justified from a descriptive, explanatory or normative point of view. The plane of ‘psychic reality’ associated with such enjoyment is orthogonal to the plane of ‘reality’, in the sense that the relations between elements in each of the two planes are governed by distinct logics. While psychic reality is governed by the logic of fantasy, linked to the subject’s stance toward desire and anxiety, the plane of reality is animated by logics of epistemological validation and normative justification. This means that the discursive element under scrutiny (‘big government’) can play a double role when it finds itself at the intersection of the two planes. It partakes both of ‘reality’ (that is, it points to something in reality, namely, a ‘really existing government’ that is understood to be worthy of our support or condemnation), but it can also serve as a site of ‘fantasmatic enjoyment’ (that is, it assumes a role in the fantasmatic narrative of the subject, and thus the logic of its desire). The appeal to ‘psychic reality’ aims to capture something about how a subject is fantasmatically invested in a discursive element (psychic truth), while the appeal to ‘reality’ aims to capture something about the intersubjective meaning of that discursive element (epistemological truth and normative significance). 182

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The essential kernel of fantasy is its capacity to organize desire, not to represent reality in a faithful way. This is what, in my opinion, makes fantasy a more apposite category than knowledge when thinking about ideology. ‘Big government’ can thus play for the subject two distinct roles: a psychic-cum-ideological role and an epistemological-cum-normative role. From this point of view, key to understanding ideological enjoyment is the subject’s capture in a logic of fantasy and desire, regardless of whether or not the fantasmatic content coincides with a given reality. In other words, a psychoanalytic perspective insists upon a separation between the epistemologico-normative and ideological roles of a discursive element, and an appeal to fantasy helps us see this. The epistemological role of ‘big government’, for example, involves linking the subject to a shared universe of meaning: big government is meant to correspond broadly to features of our intersubjective understandings of it. Here the issue is whether our understanding of government is actually ‘true’ (or ‘false’), in the sense of conforming (or not conforming) to ‘the facts of the matter’: Is ‘big government’ really ‘big’? Does big government actually foster relations of dependency? (And is dependency normatively undesirable? Under what conditions?) Am I, unbeknownst to myself, a receiver of government benefits? In what ways, precisely, is government the cause or solution to which problems? And so on. The psychic role of ‘big government’, on the other hand, is to keep the anxiety associated with the radical contingency of social relations at bay, that is, to close off from view the idea that there is no ultimate law governing our social world. By partially enjoying our hatred of big government, we betray how government functions not simply as an obstacle to an ideal – an ideal of individual selfsufficiency for example – but also as a condition for idealising this ideal, conjuring in this way the promise of a future full enjoyment. Hatred of big government is necessary because it appears to guarantee the integrity of our identity and forestall threats of disintegration. I would argue that this psychic role also serves an ideological function, where ideology is understood as the attempt to pass off as necessary what in fact is contingent (Laclau, 1991). The excessive character of one’s subjective investment in big government has a precise ideological function: it blocks from view the contingency of social relations in a rather straightforward way, namely, that our social, political, and economic identifications and ideals could be otherwise. This contingency, moreover, is radical in the sense that it points to an ontological impossibility that characterizes subjectivity as such: the constitutive failure of any social objectivity to attain a full identity (Laclau, 1991). Appearing in a range of theoretical guises (‘split subjectivity’, ‘lack in the Other’, ‘structural undecidability’, ‘irreducible negativity’, etc.) such radical contingency goes to the root of the subject’s sense of being. The fact that confrontation with radical contingency provokes anxiety accounts for the degree of fantasmatic investment in one or another discursive element: without this guarantee or promise of ‘full enjoyment’, the subject would be ‘lost’, his or her identity destabilized or dislocated. © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1088-0763

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The sense and significance of the ‘orthogonality thesis’ can be further appreciated by looking at two different ways the epistemological and ideological functions of a discursive element can intersect. In a first sweep, we could say that a statement may be no more ideological for being false. In other words, the false character of a claim is not in itself sufficient to transform it into an ideological statement. For example, a CEO may falsely insist that his company’s financial accounts have not been ‘massaged’ to boost its shareholder value (as Jeffrey Skilling and Kenneth Lay did in the heydays of Enron), but a lot more work would be required to show that these false claims and accompanying deceitful practices are also ideological in the psychoanalytic sense. It would involve showing how they relate to broader social and cultural ideals that structure individual and collective forms of enjoyment. To more firmly grasp the sense in which the epistemological and ideological planes are orthogonal to each other, we can take a second step: not only is the falsity of a claim not sufficient to transform it into an ideological statement, it is also not necessary. In other words, a statement may be no less ideological for being true. Consider Lacan’s claim that just because his wife is found, as a ‘matter of fact’, to be sleeping around does not mean that a husband’s jealousy cannot still be treated as pathological-cum-ideological (see Žižek, 1989, p. 48). What makes something ideological, in this view, is not linked to the issue of whether or not it corresponds to an intersubjective understanding of reality so much as to how it is caught up in a fantasmatic narrative governed by a logic of desire. Translated into the political field, these observations resonate with the basic intuition we have that people on the left can be just as ideological as people on the right. Consider, for example, substituting the term ‘big government’ with ‘free market’ to yield the expression ‘hatred of the free market’. What fantasmatic investments are revealed in these particular hatreds? Or, to put it slightly differently, one could consider substituting ‘hatred’ with ‘love’, yielding ‘love of big government’ or ‘love of the free market’. The ideological force linked to fantasmatic enjoyment can be mobilised in any number of political and normative directions.

The Overdetermination Thesis: On Contestability and the Normative Dimension of Critique If it is a mistake to ignore the ideological force of fantasy, it is also a mistake to ignore its concrete normative implications. It is a mistake, in other words, to take the orthogonality thesis as justification for moving too quickly from the idea of ‘no necessary relation’ (between psychic reality and reality) to the idea of ‘no relation’ (between psychic reality and reality). Things become a lot messier once we refuse this elision: while enjoyment might be orthogonal to meaning, the fantasmatic narrative that makes enjoyment possible is not. This is because 184

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fantasy shades into reality in a myriad of subtle and not so subtle ways. In short, reality is overdetermined by fantasy. The way we characterize reality and the normative significance we attach to elements of that reality is often hotly contested. No doubt some of these perspectival differences can be put down to deliberate, systematic, but sometimes also inadvertent, acts of misinformation and disinformation that conceal what is really going on; and in a context of historically unprecedented inequalities of wealth and income this is a scenario that many argue is not only more likely but already fully realised. However, many scholars working in the fields of philosophy, the history of science and social science, and in political studies in particular, have for a long time recognized that the issue of contested realities goes much deeper than a ‘false-consciousness’ picture of the world suggests (see e.g., Gallie, 1956; Kuhn, 1969). Individual facts may indeed be contested and debated. However, the way facts are understood or the way significance is attached to them is a function of how they relate to other elements in a wider discourse. Given that people subscribe to different discursive frames informed by different ontological and normative principles, moral and political contestation cannot be understood in purely epistemological terms, as if appealing to the ‘facts of the matter’ could itself settle the case. It is for this reason that the false-consciousness hypothesis discussed at the start of this article can be usefully supplemented with another hypothesis when discussing the problem of self-transgression: let’s call it the ‘normative parallax’ hypothesis – a hypothesis that affirms the idea that one’s discursive position or identity shapes the way one understands and evaluates the world, including one’s own interests. What psychoanalysis adds to these now widely accepted ideas is that a discursive frame is shaped also by collectively shared fantasmatic narratives that have very precise concrete contents, appealing among other things to ideals, obstacles to the realization of these ideals, threatening Others, nightmare scenarios, and so on. Thus, while there is something important we need to hold on to about the force of enjoyment that is distinct from the specificity of normative content, we should also acknowledge how fantasmatic content, animated by logics of desire and enjoyment, can hook up with normative content in multiple overdetermined ways. One further aspect of the overdetermination thesis is worth noting here. Just as it may be important to acknowledge the mutually overdetermined character of the relation between fantasy and reality, so too the very identification of phenomena as worthy of fantasmatic analysis can, and perhaps should, be understood as normatively overdetermined. And since there will always be a range of ‘enjoyed’ symptoms populating the socio-political landscape, engaging with normatively informed explanatory accounts in social, political, and economic studies may help identify those enjoyed symptoms worthy of ideological investigation and critique. On this view, we – as psychoanalytically informed social and political researchers – would embark on our psychosocial task in tandem with, and informed by, such work. We could then point to the ideological © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1088-0763

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work that fantasy accomplishes in framing the way we invest in the world, including the descriptive and normative aspects of the world. In short, the vantage point that such a psychoanalytic perspective opens up might benefit enormously from engaging with, and perhaps taking up a position with respect to, social and political studies that offer critical explanations of key phenomena. This is one way to read Thomas Frank’s account of the rise of the Tea Party movement in the US in the wake of the financial crisis. It may appear strange that the most prominent agents to whom responsibility has been attributed for the financial and wider economic crisis in the US and UK are ‘government’ and ‘politicians’. From the perspective of the left on both sides of the Atlantic this appears so at odds with the ‘facts of the matter’ as to beggar belief. And yet there is an identifiable ‘logic’ to this development. Motivated to make sense of this otherwise paradoxical state of affairs in the US, Frank chronicles the shift in the target of populist blame from Wall Street to Washington, a shift accompanied by loud demands for cuts in taxes and government spending (Frank, 2012). From Frank’s own critical political economic perspective, this shift moves in a direction that can only exacerbate the situation, especially for those lower down the income and wealth ladder. Tea Partiers are clearly supporting measures that go against many of the interests and ideals they claim to be defending. However, Frank does not see this as a simple case of false consciousness. Although he may not use this language, he is clearly alert to the palpable enjoyment of Tea Partiers’ hatred of big government, leading him to suspect there is more at stake here than a mere misidentification of their ‘real’ interests and the ‘real’ role of government. What he finds instead is a potent narrative bolstered by certain strands of US history and mythology, not least with regard to the economy as seen through the prism of Ayn Rand’s novels, and triggered by key events (such as the famous ‘rant’ by CNBC journalist Rick Santelli on 19 February 2009, or the antics of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and others). Perhaps we could posit the operation of a fantasmatic logic in which the free market is elevated to the position of absolute ideal, whose purity is cherished and guarded so tenaciously, so religiously, that the smallest intimation of government intervention threatens the most horrific of apocalyptic consequences. At a deeper level one can perhaps also discern a rejection of the very idea of a ‘Caring Other’ on whom we can legitimately depend in times of need. Potent fantasies of mastery, control, and self-sufficiency crowd out all doubt about how we should comport ourselves in the world, thereby substituting confident certainty for radical contingency. A similar pattern can be discerned in the UK during the notorious Members of Parliament expenses scandal in 2009, which followed detailed revelations in the media about what politicians claimed on taxpayer-funded expense allowance schemes (Chang and Glynos, 2011). What was particularly revealing about this case is that while the hatred and rage directed at MPs in the press was shared across the political spectrum, the way this excessive enjoyment was buoyed up differed in meaning and significance as a function of the precise fantasmatic 186

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narrative within which MPs and government were embedded. Fantasies underpinned by ‘the Caring Other’ and ‘the Self-sufficient Self’ struggled against each other in the way they pressed facts into their service, resonating strongly with the typically dichotomic market-versus-state character of political debate (see also Layton, 2010). This focus on MPs during 2009 successfully installed them as the number one culprit for our present woes, displacing in a rather spectacular fashion bankers and other financiers who had held this position the year before.

Conclusion: Identifying the ‘Right’ Interests and Interpreting our ‘Enjoyed’ Symptoms My aim has been to situate the idea of voting against one’s interests and the hatred of government in relation to a more general problem, the problem of selftransgression, in order better to contextualize and foreground how the significance of a psychoanalytic contribution can only be appreciated on a case-by-case basis and in relation to other competing and complementary contributions to the general problem. I have argued that one way of appreciating the psychoanalytic contribution is through a focus on the dimension of enjoyment and fantasy, exploring how this dimension relates to other dimensions, particularly the false-consciousness and normative parallax dimensions. I suggest that a psychosocial approach to social and political phenomena might benefit from taking seriously both the ‘orthogonality thesis’ and the ‘overdetermination thesis’, both of which are essential to the task of delimiting the precise scope and contexts in which the enjoyment dimension plays a significant role in accounting for the grip of an ideology, whether left or right, the manner in which it buttresses policies and practices of domination, exploitation, and oppression, and how one might go about sapping its force. How one goes about sapping the force of fantasies, caring and self-sufficiency fantasies for example, is no doubt complex, speculative and experimental, especially when these have succeeded in dichotomizing large swaths of the socio-political sphere.1 However, these efforts at sapping the force of fantasy or, rather, transforming the subject’s mode of fantasmatic investment, can be amplified and multiplied by reconceptualizing these processes through an appeal to adjacent concepts such as mourning (see Glynos, 2014), by embedding them in psychosocially-informed participatory action research projects, by re-reading key cultural productions, artistic performances, and political actions as enacting such processes, and so on. Such endeavors are readily re-signified as ‘critical fantasy interventions’, suggesting we delimit a new field of investigation whose aim would be to inform and learn from such interventions: critical fantasy studies. In this article I have sketched out a psychoanalytically informed perspective that gestures toward just such an enterprise, combining descriptive, explanatory, normative, and ideological dimensions. © 2014 Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 1088-0763

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Hatred of government and the very possibility of voting against one’s interests clearly point to the power of narrative and the media in democratic polities. That some measure of assent by the public is required if state actions are to be granted an air of democratic legitimacy only highlights the crucial role discourse, storytelling, and fantasy play in shaping not only the way we see and participate in the world, but also how we come to enjoy particular elements of that world. Identifying our interests is not simple, as we have seen, because they are always discursively and fantasmatically overdetermined. Such a complex process cannot be reduced to an epistemological project that promises to uncover our ‘real’ interests; far better to see this process as a critical and collective struggle to construct and advance the ‘right’ ones.

About the Author Jason Glynos teaches Political Theory at the Department of Government, University of Essex. He has published in the areas of poststructuralist political theory and Lacanian psychoanalysis, focusing on theories of ideology, democracy, and freedom, and the philosophy and methodology of social science. He is co-author of Logics of Critical Explanation in Social and Political Theory (Routledge, 2007), and co-editor of Politics and the Unconscious (Special Issue of Subjectivity, 2010).

Note 1 Some Lacanian scholars, such as Slavoj Žižek, have approached this issue in terms of ‘traversing the fantasy’ (see Glynos, 2001, pp. 96-99).

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