IN THE PAST OF THE PRESENT

Each day, I find myself waking up to different events, news and realities. Sometimes I laugh at the things I hear and see. I do wonder if the absurdities – that characterize so much our daily life – would be treated with the same importance and seriousness; if their declarants did not possess some skill in oratory, power, and a public eager for applause and idealization far from any kind of reasoning.

The ability to think, that distinctive quality about which humanity takes so much pride in and entitles itself to be in the center, and to feel superior to other living things, seems already to be under the sway of the absurd, as far as possible from the reasoning that it was supposed to represent. Therefore, the question arises: why?

Why is the reason overwhelmed by absurdity?

 

Perhaps a brief return to Freud’s ideas would help us shed light on the reign of the absurd. Before doing so, let us first examine a sensational event that has occurred in our country (Albania) which is central for our return to Freud. In the summer of 2022, a cyber-attack took place which resulted in the release of citizens’ personal data, in the malfunctioning of the e-albania portal and the temporary closure of online services. Immediately, the relevant institutions made reassuring statements minimizing the seriousness of the attack and the damage caused while denying any kind of negligence on their part. The validity of their claims has been persistently challenged by hackers who continued to reveal further sensitive data such as; the list of employees of the State Intelligence Service, the state of the bank accounts of various companies, etc. [1]

Naturally, the data revelations and the course that this event took have provoked concerns and debates. However, in this essay the focus will be on the reactions and approaches of the citizens by permeating into their inner world, in order to understand why such an important event has been treated by us as if it had no real importance or value.

An important event has taken place, an event as a result of which our data has been made public; data which imply the right of each of us to have a personal identity, to enjoy the sense of belonging as part of a society, a state… In short, the symbolic embodiment of our human rights; data that was supposed to be protected from any kind of aggression and abuse… However, today each of us has witnessed how this data has been compromised. This is exactly where the absurdity begins. On the one hand we are dealing with a reality that cannot be denied; on the other hand, we are dealing with the unrealistic denial of damage by the representatives of the respective institutions. While on the other side; we have other citizens who in the face of this event seem as if they have fallen under the clutches of an inexplicable lethargy, where nothing makes any impression.

After this brief summary, we can now begin the gradual examination of the absurdity that characterizes this event.

From a developmental point of view, each of us passes through a phase of inevitable egocentrism as a result of dependence on parental care and the gradual development of cognitive abilities. The helpless child can survive only through the attention shown to his/her needs and their fulfillment by caring figures such as parents. Insufficient cognitive development makes it difficult for the child to fully perceive what is happening around. Therefore, it often happens that the child sees himself/herself in the center, as if he/she was the source of every event that occurs around him/her. In this manner, childish omnipotence also serves as a psychological defense for the fragile child against overwhelming reality.      

With the growth of cognitive capacity and through constant exposure to society, the child becomes familiar with the external reality when he/she slowly begins to understand that he/she is not omnipotent, but needs others. Moreover, in order to live in harmony with them, he/she needs to respect their needs and the established norms of society. During this process, the child faces losses and disappointments that hurt his/her pride, suffers an injury to the self otherwise known as a narcissistic wound. Confronted by reality continuously, the child’s egocentrism gradually fades. Despite this, according to Freud, the remnants of the original narcissism never completely disappear.

As we all know, institutions are fundamental for the proper functioning and fulfillment of the needs of a society. Precisely for this reason, their representatives possess access and tools that are necessary to fulfill their responsibilities. Although a necessity, access is a privilege that ordinary citizens do not possess and thus can instill in its holders a sense of power and authority. When institutional representatives are excluded from accountability for the consequences of major failures in carrying out their responsibilities, we can easily observe a reinforcement of childish omnipotence in their statements and attitudes. (It is here crucial to emphasize that according to report from Microsoft, the cyber-attack started in May 2021. However, respective institution has persistently stated that it has fulfilled its responsibilities. Needless to say, the outcome of their work is not an indication of success!)

Declarations filled with illusions of success for every ‘achievement’, as well as those blaming others for failures are characteristic of their attitudes. The unwanted is abstracted from the self and projected onto another external object. As long as one possesses an indisputable power, that is not questioned by reason and limited by external reality, a split will be observed in the subject itself, between two sides of the same coin, as well as a projection of the unwanted outside.

In fact, splitting and projection are among the first defense mechanisms that the infant’s fragile ego utilizes, as is omnipotence. Otherwise, these are also known as primitive defense mechanisms since they are the first to appear in psychic development and precursors to a more organized ego in the future. Over time, more mature and advanced mechanisms take the place of such primitive mechanisms. Since the institutions were born as a result of advancements in the development and civilization of humanity, it is sad to see today the condition and operation at an infantile level of the respective institution. Meanwhile, it is important to note that sometimes the aforementioned primitive mechanisms can be deliberately utilized to serve other needs and goals. The restriction of the media during crises in autocratic societies is a typical example where “to prevent misinformation and panic”, the autocrats find a pretext to take control of the media (the party that usually deals with inconsistencies and shows the reality that challenges autocrats’ delusions of success) in order to necessarily maintain their power by changing the perception of the reality of the external world in others.

Though frustrating and frustrating, the external reality is necessary for further growth and improvement; as adapting to it enables us to equip ourselves with the right tools to survive. The more we grow, the more we understand that not everything we want can be realized at the desired moment and there are many times when our desires are simply unrealizable. Despite this, man does not stop searching; instincts and desires seek to be fulfilled. In order to satisfy these desires, ego operates according to the reality principle which aims to achieve satisfaction in accordance with the demands and reality of the external world.

Although the external reality, essential to keep our feet on ground, is not apparently in our hand, it can remain under the pressure of the childish desires of individuals who do not want to accept the boundaries or the frustration that it imposes on us. Then, the boundary between the reality of the external world and that of inner world of people is clouded. As a consequence, we find ourselves within the absurd which cannot be understood if we base it only on external reality while avoiding the internal reality of individuals. The childish desires of a single party are insufficient to fall into the abyss of absurdity since the cooperation of the other party is needed as well. In the story of the cyber-attack, the party that cooperated with the irrationality of the institutional representatives is the ordinary citizens themselves.

The disclosure of data from cyber-attack naturally constitutes a serious issue for each of us as individuals and for the state. What makes this situation even more disturbing is the fact that we do not fully know what is the extent of the data breach (now, it is more reasonable to ask what is left unreached?!), in whose hands did these data fall and what are the dangers awaiting us as a consequent? Even though we are dealing with such a real and threatening problem that has affected our rights and boundaries, the apathy that characterizes the ordinary citizens is astonishing. The expression of concern is made by a small group of people and due to the lack of visible support from other members of society, the reasonable voice of concern is forced to die down.

How is it possible that today we enjoy more rights than our predecessors did, and yet in the face of such injustice we are so idle to demand what belongs to us?!

Boundaries are psychological demarcations that serve to protect our integrity and well-being in relationships and society. The breach of boundaries, as in the case of the cyber-attack, is normally supposed to trigger an emotional response; like anxiety or anger to alert us that something is not going right. Meanwhile, what is seen in the majority of citizens is an extraordinary indifference; as if the boundaries between them and others did not exist at all, as if the process of separation and subjectivization had never happened. (Such disregard was also present during the pandemic. The rules for protection against virus were not strictly followed and despite the high number of deaths, the existence of the pandemic was still doubted by the majority of the public, as if it was a fiction rather than a reality.)

Understandably, when faced with serious threatening events, denial and a state of shock are expected since such events are startling for the ego and it needs time to adapt to the external reality. However, persistence in denial, failure in accepting the reality as well as significant detachment from it after the event took place for a long time are disturbing indicators. As mentioned above, such primitive mechanisms in childhood are widely utilized and succeed in protecting the ego, but their pronounced use in adulthood is useless; for unlike during the childhood, the individual is now supposed to be powerful enough to take matters into his own hands and become an active participant in the external reality that he/she could once only modify mentally. Even today, citizens do not seem to be aware of the tragic reality of the cyber-attack; moreover, their approaches are as apathetic as they were when other data breaches came to light in the past. So, as the years go by, a consistent passivity and ongoing apathy towards threat and violation of our personal boundaries as well as a distinct devaluing treatment of our rights and ourselves are seen to be present. By denying and devaluing reality, the ego is protected to some extent from the uncertainty that its acceptance would bring, however, it is forced to face the costs of its choice, since the reasons for having more uncertainty have already increased.

Freud shocked mankind when he stated: ‘The ego is not master in its own house’. If we take into consideration what has been said so far, we can say with conviction that yes, indeed the ego is not master in its own house. The ego is in a state of paralysis and passivity, neither in heaven nor on earth, stuck somewhere in between; as if it were not the protagonist in the theater of its life, but a spectator whose existence had no significance in the course of the play. Who is the master in its house, if not the ego? Through his work with his patients, Freud discovered that memories, early childhood experiences, emotional conflicts, repressed impulses are present in our psyche. Although seemingly forgotten and lost, not easily accessible to consciousness, they are active in our unconscious and exert great power over us. Where the absurd begins, we are confronted overtly with the unconscious and its ruling power in the present.

Narcissistic wounds, traces of disappointment as we grow up, under good enough conditions turn into allies of the ego by empowering it. The creation of the right conditions is realized through the parents. Their abilities to understand the baby’s distress, to soothe his/her anxiety and to meet his/her needs contribute to the formation of a safe space for the baby. The experienced disappointments are no longer so catastrophic and overwhelming for the baby; therefore, the external reality is no longer as threatening as it used to be. In this manner, the child gradually develops his/her own abilities to carry out the functions that the parents once performed.

What happens when the good enough parent and safe enough environment are missing or they exist but are not strong enough to withstand the great dread that the child feels?! A compromised perception of reality (not being able to perceive the outside world as a whole), having issues in self-soothing and self-management skills are among the consequences of such shortcomings. Consequently, despite growing up, the individual may operate with infantile adaptations that once were successful. Then, the individual resembles to a child stuck in the body of an adult, between the wounds of the past and the challenges of the present. Certainly, the individual can choose to overcome such injuries, in order to achieve this he/she must first understand that something is not going right, and of course this happens when his/her ego is capable of perceiving the external reality. When narcissistic wounds, difficult experiences are so painful  and hard to cope with, the pathological adaptations that have been used against them have the risk of being passed on to future generations through processes of internalization and identification. (Psychoanalyst Ilany Kogan, from her work with Holocaust survivors and their children, has found that when overwhelming trauma is not processed and disrupts the individual’s ability to integrate the loss, pathological adaptations arising from the trauma can be passed down through generations which can cause the crippling of society.)

If we examine the attitudes of the majority of citizens in the light of the data we have mentioned, we can reach to the following conclusions: (1) perception of reality is incomplete, (2) the defense mechanisms used are immature, (3) when faced with the threat of personal data disclosure, a persistency in passivity and helplessness is observed and (4) there exists an evident devaluation of the citizens towards themselves and the things that belong to them. These undoubtedly serve some function for the ego, namely to protect the ego in the face of loss. The disclosure of personal data is indeed a great loss that shows how insecure and vulnerable we really are to aggression. Meanwhile, the institutions that are supposed to have the means and skills to prevent this aggression choose to be equally helpless.

So far, it can be observed that there are similarities between the attitudes of citizens and representatives of   

 

            institutions. The common feature is the marked devaluation that is observed in boundaries and personal rights, which is equivalent to the devaluation of the self. If we were to treat these two groups of people as a single body, it would not be wrong to say that this body is being extremely aggressive and self-destructive. Despite the rights it enjoys, this body behaves as if it has none, and allows itself to be mistreated. What is happening inside this body that it cannot manage to find life but only destruction?

The importance of parents and creation of a safe environment by them were briefly mentioned above. Their care ensures that the child survives not only physically but also psychically. Depending on the quality of interactions with parents, an inner psychic reality, mental/psychic space and organizational structures such as the ego, superego of the personality are formed. By interacting with them, the infant gradually internalizes various parts of the parents into his/her psychic world which serve to form his/her ego. Internalized parts are good and bad, depending on the infant’s experience with the parent. Gradually, the infant begins to comprehend that the parent who fulfills his/her needs (the ‘good internalized object’) is the same as the one who can frustrate his/her needs (the ‘bad internalized object’) which is an essential and equally frustrating realization. If the parent and the environment are safe enough; the child manages to integrate these different parts within him/her which in turn strengthens the ego and creates a more complete perception of reality. If the parent or the environment fails to adequately protect the child from the horror it may experience as a result of the frustrations, then instead of integrating, the child may use splitting and other primitive defense mechanisms to protect itself from the bad object that it has already internalized. The result is a fragile, non- integrated ego and a compromised perception of reality.

In his essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’, Freud treats the two different responses to loss: mourning and melancholia. Acceptance and recognition of loss complicates the picture and separates the two processes from each other. Unlike melancholia, in mourning the loss and its experience are conscious. During mourning process, the individual realizes that the person dear to him or the object he has lost is truly gone and withdraws from reality. This detachment from reality induces despair, loss of interest, inability to love, and inhibition of activities. The same symptoms are present in melancholia, however, in mourning, the individual eventually accepts reality and slowly returns to his normal state.

On the other hand, melancholia is a more complicated process that occurs in the unconscious and is characterized by a significant low self-regard that the individual feels. Rationally, the individual can know whom he has lost, but not what he has lost in him. In particular, when the approach to the lost object is characterized by   ambivalence (mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something), the individual remains stuck in his loss since the separation from the object has remained incomplete. In an effort to preserve the object and the meaning it attributes to it, the ego internalizes the object and identifies with it. However, as a consequence of the ambivalent relationship (love/hate relationship with the object), the ego simultaneously desires the removal of the hated object with which it identified, resulting in an internal split in itself. This means that due to the ego’s identification with the object, the contradictory feelings it had for the object are now directed towards itself. As a result, the ego finds itself in melancholy, at war with itself on the battlefield of separation, unable to mourn. While in mourning it is the world that becomes empty and meaningless; in melancholy it is the ego itself. Therefore, Freud distinguishes between knowing ‘who’ we have lost and ‘what’ we have lost; the former is outside the self, while the latter is part of the self—turning the loss into a narcissistic injury. ‘Thus’ stated Freud, ‘the shadow of the object fell upon the ego’…

Now, let’s return for the last time to the devaluing and self-aggressive body, composed of the institutional representatives and the ordinary citizens. We have mentioned above that there is a lack of concern over transgressing of boundaries via data breach and disclosure (as if it were something quite ordinary) which is indicative of an ‘already occupied psychic space’. If we consider the           

self-aggression and the occupied psychic space, we can come to the conclusion that the absurd is a symptom of the narcissistic injuries of losses that this body has been unable to recognize and articulate. Unable to mourn the unknown within it, the body remains hostage of what preoccupies its unconscious, an unconscious that bears traces of our individual and collective history. Except that now the aggressor who attacks the body is no longer external as it used to be…

“Freud offers us a way of noticing the ways in which we don’t notice; he wants us to reconsider whatever it is about ourselves that we are so tempted to ignore. He invites us to be unselectively attentive. And then see what happens.” says Adam Phillips. If this body were to confront its unknowns, what would happen?

[1] https://lapsi.al/2022/11/14/kronologjia-si-u-dorezua- qeveria-perballe-pirateve-kibernetike/