Sometimes its only when you pull something apart that you can really see how it works. So, thanks for that Brexiteers.
There is a macabre fascination to see the country falling apart. Perhaps its even a collective national version of Freud’s death drive. For Freud, deep in the human psyche was a vestige of our origin state of pre-organism, a chaotic collection of material yet to become coherent life. This unconscious memory manifests itself, Freud speculated, as a “death instinct, the task of which is to lead organic life back into the inanimate state”.
He suggests that this is an opposite force to Eros, the life force that drives us not only to survive but that “civilisation is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one great unity, the unity of mankind.”
He goes on to argue that these apparently opposite instincts are consistently negotiated through life, and that they intersect to create a particular form of masochistic pleasure. That, at a national level, is where we are.
Nobody, I think, actively wanted to destroy things. Like the 2011 riots, Brexit isn’t really ‘about’ something in the traditional sense, in the sense that computes with logical political process, activism, media narratives. Its a subconscious physiological urge, one best explained through dreams, rages, manias, despairs and so on. It’s masochistic wanton destruction, driven by a desire to turn all of civilisation back into its pre-organic state, the state from which it originally came. Just as Croydon set itself of fire in 2011, Ebbw Vale did the same to its future by rejecting the very same EU that had been ploughing in millions of euros in regeneration investment – last Thursday. Both are totally illogical acts from an objective point of view. Yet both full of meaning in a physiological way.
From the vicious campaign itself, to the result of the vote, to the following collapses of parliamentary parties, stock exchanges, credit ratings, social behaviour and more, all the usual manifestations of civility are in free fall. And as we keep F5-ing, we shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’re suddenly experts in global finance, complex treaties, parliamentary procedures or whatever. All of us metropolitan elites are – somewhere deep down – thrilled at the spectacle of collapse, the pleasure of seeing the country fall apart.
This pleasure is derived from seeing everything returned to its inorganic state, to see the nation and its institutions in pieces, non-functioning, incapable, drained of life force. All that talk of ‘control’ (super ego) giving way to utter chaos (id).
On one side, the desire to do exactly the wrong thing was a throwing off of a repressive Freudian super-ego (of political and economic arguments – which might explain the rejection of ‘expert’ here cast as the Freudian father). On the other, with everything lying around us, we have the perverse pleasure of seeing the end – a final end of Empire, end of economic security (such as its been), end of a particular vision of Britain. Perhaps thats why there is no plan, no idea of what to do or what Brexit actually means. In seeing our own ‘death’, can we also see our origin? And in seeing this chaotic collection of material yet to become coherent life can we also imagine the life that we, Britain, could possibly become?