Thursday, 4 December 2014

15. The absent father and our quest for freedom

The sense of how the social order works -and how to penetrate it- comes with the male side in our family: our fathers or anyone fulfilling a father role. They are the ones that invite us to go outside the world of mum to conquer other lands, we learn discipline (love is expressed in "doing" and completing something) and to rule ourselves; all of which gives us the sense of self-mastery and freedom. In a home with an absent father (or father figure), it is more difficult to separate the children from the mother. This may result in extreme frustration, even disgust, particularly in males who unconsciously occupy the male role of the house.

Fatherhood, and absent fathers in particular, has been a topic President Obama talked about in several occasions (there are several videos in YouTube), speaking a lot from his own experience of the challenges of growing up without a father:

In the most extreme situation, an unbalanced masculine (its absence or uber-dominant presence) can be destructive over the unbalanced feminine (the mother, the system). History has seen this at social level in the form of fascism, which represents a violent response against the feminine principle. 

This is somehow told in Pink Floyd's The Wall: the protagonist goes through childhood with an overprotective mother (unbalanced feminine, unable to see and feed the individuality of the child), a rigid school and an absent father. In this context, his Ego creates an internal fascist dictator, seeking to counter-balance the oppressive environment in which he lived, that was extremely invasive. In the film Pink, the child, the ashamed, the wounded, the unseen by the people that were supposed to see him, unfed with attention to his individuality, and unable to separate from the mother, gets replaced by the unbalanced masculine, a fascist persona who performs this separation with violence, and in a twisted manner reclaims what he did not get as a child: the unconditional maternal love and attention (that's not the same as control) in the first place and the paternal order and notion of freedom later on. 

This persona incarnates the power without the love, "the all for one"  without "the one for all"; still merged with the maternal, he fears his own masculinity cannot be expressed and see 'queers' as a reflection of this fear (his shadow); it objectifies all (because he had been objectified), judging, labelling and discarding, particularly women that now should be at his service.

But this fantastical story was inspired by his (and Syd Barrett's) own life, with the anger he felt growing up without a father:

In this video (it's only 4:46 so, worth watching), the philosopher Slavoj Žižek speaks about Freedom and more interestingly for this post, false freedom. 

From this, I'd to highlight a couple of passages:
"The most dangerous form of non freedom is the non freedom which is not even perceived as such.
Then there is another form of freedom, which I think has a disastrous impact and we shouldn't underestimate. I met at some point in Belgrade in the late 90s, when Milo
šević was still in power, some probably ethnic cleansers, nationalists. And -I'm even ashamed now for doing this- I got in conversation with them. And they gave me a wonderful short lesson on how nationalist fundamentalism worked. They told me "We experience your western liberal world as over-regulated... you know, you are all the time bombarded by messages of be political correct, don't be a racist, be careful what you eat, disciplined yourself and so on and so on.". And they told me openly "I want to eat whatever I want, smoke, I want to steal when I want I want to beat women, rape them and so on. Becoming a nationalist, doing some ethnic cleansing gives me this terrifying freedom".
This is why I was not surprised when I heard that in the area of Irak and Syria controlled by Isis, it is not just religious fundamentalism, there are also gang rapes, tortures, freelance killings and so on.
You see. This is the problem with fundamentalism. It is not just that there is no freedom. There is also this kind of false freedom. The explosion of this obscene freedom. For me the highest form of freedom is love. Here I'm a pathetic old romantic."
In the mystery of how the Islamic state recruits so many Europeans, we need to start to recognise how this seed of anger is implanted to then understand why it gets attracted to a promise of false freedom, so we can treat it differently. On the one hand: either a toxic mother or lack of a soothing mothering figure, on the other hand the absent father so no one is negotiating a detachment with the development of self-sufficiency and self-mastery. When not in the extremes, the separation from the mother does not require violence, but it tends to require a "masculine" force. That's why Princesses liberation from the mother -the stepmother being the shadow of the actual mother-, requires finding a Prince with a spade -the prince being their internal masculine-. 

However, after so many dictators, orphans turned terrorists, destructive regimes, drug addicts; after so many philosophers, spiritual leaders, politicians, movies like Star Wars, and Lord of the rings -to name a very popular couple-, after so many artists who all talked about this very subject, we still don't fully recognise the anger into the spectrum of human behaviour. Afraid of it, we demonise it. And because of this lack of acceptance, we leave people with this anger to explode or what it is even worse we let them be led by people who promise to unleash it. 

Anger is an emotion that is very useful, in fact. In a culture where only the rational is good, emotions are not acknowledged nor understood. They are simply judged, normally as something of an inferior nature. However, anger helps us build the strength to defend ourselves and our limits. With this I don't mean to condone violence, but rather pointing out that anger is an important, valid and useful emotion if it can be fostered to energise a constructive purpose. 


When the official narrative is oppressive it is because it lacks self awareness (it does not see itself, it does not recognize its own failings),  and is fatherless: it lacks an equal force that limits the power of this mother-system to leave room for the individual to be and feel free. An oppressive system only leaves room to anti-system narratives and this initial natural anger to escalate into violence, the false freedom Žižek talked about.

Racism has long been unrecognised by the US institutions.

So it is probably because Barack Obama is the first black president, racism in America is more visible now than it's been for a few years. Most significantly, the racial tension and the bias of institutions against the African American community are being named, thing that did not happen for a while or at least not so clearly. 

First you see, then you name, both are significant and might be the first needed and painful steps towards a deeper change. 

However, while the system does not acknowledge this fact, and does not evolve into a father-led emancipation, it leaves room for the desperate violent separation. In Ferguson we can find a hint of this logic: one of the demonstrators -after demonstrating peacefully in August- concluded: "If we don't tear anything down, if we don't destroy anything, if we don't set fire to anything, they won't even pay attention"The New York protesters where highly allegoric too with their signs and chants "I can't breathe" these final words from Eric Garner quickly became their cry for freedom

The racial conflict in America won't go away, and won't be resolved but with the full transformation of society. We are all part of the context, we all build the "them, us" model. 

Here is where Obama in his symbolic paternal position could've helped to guide the change needed in the institutions, however, as the article in Der Spiegel "Racial divide: the tragedy of America's first black president" describes, the prevailing sentiment is of disillusionment.  

The final part of Slavoj Žižek video speaks says:  
"The lesson is true freedom means looking into and questioning the presuppositions of everything that is given to us by our hegemonic ideology. And by ideology I don't mean here, some explicit teaching, simply the way in our daily lives we experience our reality. To question everything including the notion of freedom itself."
In our own quest for freedom, we need to find the father within: the one that can separate us from the whatever is our construction of a maternal narrative (the ideology coming from the many mothers we adopted in our lives: our country, a political party, a company, our actual mother, etc); the one that can help us build discipline and self mastery and navigate the journey of "we love, we hate, then we become". So the systems we create and sustain will have also a father within, the one able to restrain the system itself and better negotiate the balance between the individual and the whole.

In this video, Russell Brand (another public figure highly critical of the system), who also spoke about his absent father, proposes his father to have a boxing match, but mainly his aim is to get some form of healing in this staged measurement of his masculinity. He also discusses it with the psychologist David Cohen (author of The Father's book).

Almost at the end of this 10 min part 1, David Cohen praises Russell and his mum. "Your mum did definitely something rather right as the main caregiver", he says. "You want to find out about yourself. You are taking quite a lot of risks". This example is particularly good for many reasons, because an absent father does not mean the mother is powerless, but the work is more subtle. And secondly, because the culmination of a "patriarchal drive", the emancipatory movement, is to beat the father. The father symbolically dies just to mark the end of submission and that the father role has been integrated.  

This is important because this first questioning is purely ours (sometimes with the help of self-aware mother). Following the path that leads us to the answers does not depend on anyone else, it does not depend on heroes or demons we find in the world. If it happens, if we find the father within, it will enable us to make new decisions, and then we are free(r), we become our rulers.
This process cannot be reversed and if many go through it simultaneously will emerge in society too, with better systems, that are self aware and have a Good Father within, to ensure that everyone has the right to feel safe, be cared for, looked after and free.

We might need a bit of resilience. 
And patience.


PS: did I mentioned that J.R.R Tolkien lost his father when he was 3?
PS2: A "dad" made it tenth most popular Christmas list request for children
PS3: Absent fathers in music: Papaoutai by Stromae (Papa where are you?)

Lyrics in French
Lyrics in English

If you liked this article, have a look at:

-The absent mother
-Women: invisibility or blindness?

External links:
Anne Manne, The Guardian: Narcissism and terrorism: how the personality disorder leads to deadly violence
Der Spiegel, Racial divide: the tragedy of America's first black president
Der Spiegel, Terror from the fringes: searching for the answers in the Charlie Hebdo attack

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