Modern men and women go about their lives without really knowing why. Why do we work for such a long time every day? Why do we finish one war only to fight another? Why are we so obsessed with technology? Why do we live in an age of scandal? Why do we feel compelled to honor those, like the victims of the Holocaust, who have been murdered for an unjust cause? If we had to explain these things, we would say “it just makes sense” or “it’s necessary” or “it’s what good people do.” But there is nothing natural about any of this. People don’t naturally do any of these things. We are compelled to be this way.
We are not anywhere as reasonable or rational or sensible as we would like to think. We still lead lives dictated more by unconscious than conscious reason. We are still compelled by feelings of the heart and the fearful instincts of the gut.
Abstract Systemic Logics as Causal Processes
America and its allies are waging today a war against terrorism. This is said to be necessary and rational, a means to attain the end of safety. Is the war against terrorism only this, or even primarily this? No, for it rests on fantasy as much as on fact. The effort to protect the people of the [highlight background=”#3F51B5″ color=”#FFFFFF”]United States and Europe is shrouded in the rhetoric of good and evil[/highlight], of friends and enemies, of honor, conscience, loyalty, of God and country, of civilization and primeval chaos. These are not just ideas. They are feelings, massive ones. Our leaders evoke these rhetorics in solemn tones, and we honor the victims of terrorism in the most rhetorical of benedictions.
These rhetorics are cultural structures. They are deeply constraining but also enabling at the same time. The problem is that we don’t understand them. This is the task of a cultural sociology. It is to bring the unconscious cultural structures that regulate society into the light of the mind. Understanding may change but not dissipate them, for without such structures society cannot survive. We need myths if we are to transcend the banality of material life. We need narratives if we are to make progress and experience tragedy. We need to divide the sacred from profane if we are to pursue the good and protect ourselves from evil.
[quote cite=”Jonh Pantau” url=”http://www.karatok.com”]Of course, social science has always assumed that men and women act without full understanding. Sociologists have attributed this to the force of social structures that are “larger” and more “powerful” than mere individual human beings. They have pointed, in other words, to the compulsory aspects of social life.[/quote]
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The Idea of a Strong Program Carries with Agenda Suggestions
But what fascinates and frightens me are those collective forces that are not compulsory, the social forces to which we enthusiastically and voluntarily respond. If we give our assent to these, [tooltip data=”without knowing why” position=”top”]how tooltip works?[/tooltip], it is because of meaning. Materialism is not forced on us. It is also a romance about the sacrality of things. Technology is not only a means. It is also an end, a desire, a lust, a salvationary belief. People are not evil, but they are made to be. Scandals are not born from the facts but constructed out of them, so that we can purify ourselves.
We do not mourn mass murder unless we have already identified with the victims, and this only happens once in a while, when the symbols are aligned in the right wayThe secret to the compulsive power of social structures is that they have an inside. They are not only external to actors but internal to them. They are meaningful.
These meanings are structured and socially produced, even if they are invisible. We must learn how to make them visible. For Freud, the goal of psychoanalysis was to replace the unconscious with the conscious: “Where Id was, Ego shall be.” Cultural sociology is a kind of social psychoanalysis. Its goal is to bring the social unconscious up for view. To reveal to men and women the myths that think them so that they can make new myths in turn.