Freud and Post-Truth Politics

The idea that the world runs according to laws, and these can be comprehended, didn’t occur to the race until the Greeks a couple thousand years ago. Only then did we get “an edge of objectivity.” Why was science such a Johnny-Come-Lately? Aren’t our five senses tuned to the objective world? Isn’t that what they were designed for? After all, we have to read “reality” accurately, otherwise we won’t survive. That’s true for every animal.

So what gives with the Republicans? Paul Krugman observes, even though he knows they’d never admit it, “Events have proved their most cherished beliefs wrong. At a deeper level, however, what we’re looking at here is the impact of post-truth politics. We live in an era in which politicians and the supposed experts who serve them never feel obliged to acknowledge uncomfortable facts, in which no argument is ever dropped, no matter how overwhelming the evidence that it’s wrong.” Other political analysts, such as Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, have made the same observation, “The G.O.P. has become an ‘insurgent outlier… unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science.” The Republican denial of Climate Change is a case in point.

Suppose we have Freud examine Krugman’s statement. What he would jump on is the observation, “…obliged to acknowledge uncomfortable facts.” This is where Freud entered history. It’s the beginning of psychoanalysis. Freud subsumed “uncomfortable” under the concept of “Unpleasure,” a general term for Pain. We don’t like Pain. It hurts. True for every animal, but none is remotely as clever as we humans. Surely, we’ll figure a way out. And we do! Yes we can!

Freud discovered how we manage our escape. We come equipped with a power that overrides whatever our five senses tell us. It’s called fantasy. Well, that hardly comes as news. “It takes no ghost come from the grave/To tell us this.” We all know of Freud’s Unpleasure/Pleasure Principle. If growth and development proceed normally, fantasy gives way to the Reality Principle. Ho-hum!

There’s a deeper problem, however, that both Krugman and Mann/Ornstein recognize but are baffled by. From whence comes the thrust that hurls an entire political party into the domain of a far outlier? What enables politicians to disregard facts and not register them? I’m not talking about political corruption and sociopathy in high places, but a genuine point of view at odds with reality, like Climate Change, as mentioned.

Freud made a crucial discovery. Fantasy comes equipped with a remarkable power. It can produce “hallucination.”


Fantasy can storm our centers of communication. This is what accounts for the far-reaching consequence of post-truth politics. Hallucination is not merely a thought, or an idea. Hallucination takes over the sensory apparatus. IT REVERSES ITS FUNCTION. Rather than the five senses passively registering the objective world, hallucination turns them into actively creating one. Eyes spin out visions, ears voices. Man becomes a creator of worlds, Omnipotent. The forces of hallucination, revolutionaries, announce a reality shaped by wishes.

Hallucination doesn’t fool around. It doesn’t make us take a leap of faith. No conversion is required. It doesn’t bring a set of instructions. If we had merely a day-dream we were fed and the pangs of hunger abated, well, lots of luck. A dream is as fragile as a bubble. Not hallucination. That goes to the heart of the matter. Eyes see, ears hear, touch and smell and taste are the messengers of what’s real. They are the organs of registration. Without them, we’d be drifting in infinite space – no tools to carve out a piece of finitude, a place to land, like Noah’s dove after the flood. The five senses illuminate a niche for the human world.

Now hook the five senses to an invention made out of whole cloth, a mere wish, a chimera, messengers reporting this make-believe from “out there.” It doesn’t change the AUTHORITY of sense experience. Eyes seeing a vision are the same eyes seeing a sunset. When you route a wish through the five senses, what is “inside” comes from “outside.” Of course we believe. We get it first-hand. Paraphrasing Groucho, “Are you going to believe me or your eyes?”

It is the foundation on which post-truth politics builds its world.

(to be continued)

One thought on “Freud and Post-Truth Politics

  1. Tutor Mom

    The Republican Party has not always resided in the domain of a far outlier. The election of Obama clearly served as the slingshot that hurled so many members of them into the far-right stratosphere. Before Obama’s election, there was little concern or interest in voter fraud. By 2010—when many states had swung from blue to read and Republicans had wrested control of state legislatures—there was an explosion of voter-ID laws and the cutting of early voting or same-day registration. Since its passage 50 years ago, The Voting Rights Act has been under attack. The late Julian Bond—Georgia Senator/NAACP President / SNCC founder–devoted his life to fighting against these assaults. But, the ascendency of a black man to the presidency made many whites in America painfully uncomfortable, including the leadership of the Republican Party. It is a pain they are not going to tolerate.
    They are making damn sure it goes away. Thank you Roberts Court. Southern States that were previously held accountable by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act can change voting laws any time they want, right up to election day. And, their actions cannot be blocked. Ah . . . feeling better, G.O.P.


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