Tag: ideology

On Xenophobia during the Pandemic – A Lacanian Perspective



The aim of this article is: (a) to argue that the UK governments’ authoritarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic is inciting a qualitative shift in discourse structures that are transforming xenophobia into a radically totalitarian force; and (b) to demonstrate that even ostensibly voluntarist libertarian discourse also creates conditions for the psyche that incite the same totalitarian xenophobic transformation. I use two approaches to the relation between authoritarianism and xenophobia in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and the debates over the benefits and harms of ‘lockdowns’ (state-enforced, legally binding restrictions on social interaction to reduce infection transmission). First, I use Lacanian theory in a socio-cultural critique to explain the on-going shift, during the pandemic, towards an increasingly totalitarian psyche, that is intensifying and transforming xenophobia. The anti-democratic imposition of new laws induces agencies and civilians to over-zealously report and punish violators. I present xenophobic activities that are signs of a developing totalitarian psyche that over-represses and ultimately negates the humanity of the other and feels a duty to punish the ‘other’ as a moral good. Second, I use Lacanian discourse analysis to analyse an example of ostensibly libertarian anti-lockdown discourse. The analysis disorganises and disentangles the underlying non-sensical symbolic values and structure of words or signifiers. This reveals how these signifiers: (a) create discrete identities for social groups of ‘minority’ non-sensible others; who are (b) blamed as the cause of harm to the sensible ‘majority’; and (c) function socially to effectively demand that the ‘minority’ groups isolate themselves, as if voluntarily, and are to be isolated, actually and metaphorically, by the xenophobic ‘majority’. The apparently liberal democratic discourse is shown to be performative of a totalitarian system of mastery and xenophobic attitudes and behaviours.

The ‘Abstinence’ rhetoric and the Pathological Heroin-Thieves

I argue here that Addiction Services that are abstinence focussed inhibit therapeutic change.

A broader perspective needs to take into account the client’s relationship with the culture of addiction as one possibility for what is an essential socialisation, but a possibility open to alternatives and change. In other words if the client does move away from the culture of addiction, how can it be replaced by an alternative and does this require some fundamental changes in the client’s sense of their place within the new culture or symbolic network., i.e. a change in subjectivity or neo-subjectivity.

The ‘addict’ can present as an ‘underground hero’, with a degree of ambivalence and ambiguity, with The Prohibition creating jouissance, a sense of hard to symbolise pleasure/excitement derived even from pain, from the act of doing something prohibited, officially illegal. This creates various not exclusive possibilities: the ‘need’ to use to prevent withdrawal symptoms and the nature of the possible symbolic relationship(s) that the addict has with the drug itself,

This sets up two extremes neither ever wholly and solely true but both always materially effective, namely two gendered possibilities. The psychoanalyst Lacan describes the individuals power relation to an ideology as a gendered ‘sexuation’ that is not bound to a biological sex. The masculine is wholly enflamed by the symbolic structures but feels powerless and strives to have power by feminising the ‘Other’. The feminine is not wholly enflamed by the symbolic and is ‘not-all’ an object of mystery for the masculine, and who feels a desire to be of service to the masculine. The gendered relationships her firstly, is with the drug as an object of value for the addict, “I enjoy it….” or secondly, the addict as an object of value for and working for the drug: “it’s holding me back…”. The relationship with the substance misuse service is judicially determined by the abstinence rhetoric and feminises the client as external to (or at least not fully captured by) the symbolic network and pathologised judicially as an ‘addict – criminal or patient’. Alternatively the client can be given gendered options by the service, (which is a Lacanian psychoanalytic approach) to examine the nature of the relationship with the drug and the service. The relationship with the addiction is one with a socialised intersubjective culture, and also one with its own phantasmic structure and relationship with an Other, a Look (Sartre), as part of a scene as if observed. The behaviour may be perceived as pleasing for the Other accruing admiring praise, or it could be perceived as creating pain anxiety or anguish for the Other. The behaviour is part of a human drive emerging from the constitution of subjectivity as it emerges through language as either a masculine complete submission to the symbolic resulting in a powerlessness, but ‘with its escape clause’, a fantasy that there is an Other, the primal father who does have all the power; or a feminine emergence from the oedipal process as not completely contained within the symbolic,  a part has escaped, so that she does not fully exist within the symbolic and is structured against the masculine for whom (?stereotypically) she may desire to be an object of value.

Clinically an early key issue is the nature of the client’s relationship with the addiction, what is addiction? are they ‘addicted’?, is the drug of value to them? e.g. do they control the drug (and why?), or, are they of value to the drug, does it control them? An issue is whether losing the addiction will lead to its replacement with a different object of ‘addiction’. Is the relationship hystericised (feminine, repressed and disavowed, which is common) or is it perverted, the role played of the ‘underground hero’, the masculine role of the Father of Enjoyment who knows the things to be known but who may also paradoxically be acting out rage against his or own femininity, by feminising others. Is the aim of analysis to disrupt or to stabilise the client within the symbolic network or culture of addiction.

The ethos of the service may demonise the addict as the Heroin-Thief, who has metaphorically stolen our enjoyment, stolen our Heroin, who must pay us back, by providing us with their alway assumed to be heroin infused urine, so that, in the process we feel a libidinal gratification.

The current funding indicators and official policy promote abstinence, investing the service with a gendered masculine role in relation to the clients, this will either reinforce the hysteric, or set up conflict with the pervert; in either case it forecloses possibilities for change. This abstinence culture creates several roles for the clinician:  a role that is seen by some clients as a supportive ‘dealer’ providing something for nothing, or as an insurance salesman providing something for nothing, and/or as a policemen simply interfering with the addicts smooth symbolic functioning. None of these roles permits effective exploration of possibilities for changes in the client’s relationship with the addiction culture/society. Effective work with clients, at least work capable of promoting change if it is desired by the client should therefore avoid an abstinence driven culture, and focus more on exploring the client’s signification in relation to his addiction culture.

Fodder for Medical Perverts – Zizekian?

My latest work is exploring a Lacanian approach to the discourse analysis of Evidence Based Medicine. It is looking at a discourse of (and the site of struggle around) what was called Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (or FII now, Fabricated Induced Illness) where mothers (usually) allegedly cause symptoms in their children to ‘attract’ medical attention for themselves, so it is said anyway.

The basic idea here is that we can use psychoanalysis to explore notions of Prohibition, Truth and Enjoyment as a tool to tackle ideology (after Parker, I, after Slavoj Zizek).

The analysis focuses on the activities of ‘superstar’ expert Paediatricians Roy Meadow and David Southall. They accused many mothers, in the late 1990s, early 2000s, of harming and even murdering their babies, and provided ‘evidence’ for courts, but several cases have now been overturned (Clark, Patel, Cannings, and others) and both Doctors have fallen from grace, discredited (though with some champions still) , and were struck off the medical register at different times for giving e.g. extreme prejudicial stereotyping, ‘simply wrong’ information, ‘grossly misleading evidence’ and showing’ ‘deep seated attitudinal problems’..

An account I am creating suggests these individuals, (frozen psychically as objects of jouissance for The Other, and horrified by the (m)Other’s lack of The Phallus) demonstrate the acting out of the clinical psychoanalytic structure of ‘perversion’ (using Lacan’s particular use of the term) , and that their extreme grandiose lawlessness as ‘Primal Fathers’ exposes the anxiety and auto-erotic drives of Medicine (its ‘obscene superego underbelly’) itself functioning as a ‘stable’ discursive formation which, (as a gendered masculine agent), demands subjects to “Be Normal!”, and which disavows ‘not-knowing’ (e.g the cause of ‘cot deaths’), so that Medicine, through discourses, situates subjects (gendered feminised agents) as that which must be known (possessed or enjoyed), firstly: reified objects (patients) and secondly: as possessing objects of desire they must hand over: such as the ‘murdering mother’s baby’, ‘the intoxicated addict’s heroin’, ‘the cancer-thief’s cancerous tissue’, ‘the dis-eased patient’s pathology’ etc.

I argue that this process (Evidence Based Medicine under Capitalism) is ‘Feeding The Beast’: our infinite capacity for medicalisation (or overdiagnosis). The transgressive, unstable, uncertain-gendered, and perverted rogue doctors make the exploitation (The Real) in this process visible to all.

Are the ‘medical perverts’ a necessary production of the antagonisms of the ideology that is Modern Medicine under Capitalism? If they are where are they today?

The Sublime Object of Medicine

In the latest addition of the BMJ Margaret McCartney (BMJ 2015;350:h439) asks if : “All knowledge is Power”, and she critiques the diagnostic uses of genomic industries such as ’23andme’.  I think the converse is true and reveals a truth behind medicalisation.

“All Power is through the illusion of knowledge”

Medicalisation and the abuse of ‘diagnosis’ (using healthy people to create disease products for a capitalised Modern Medicine) is ensured by Medicine’s insistence upon ‘knowledge’ (and a consequent disavowal of ever not-knowing). This requires a ‘blindness’ to ‘not-knowing’ e.g. the inability to not-know or a blindness to the forbidden acknowledgement that the doctor simply does not know what a given test result means (the classic example is the borderline tissue representations in breast biopsy samples) – or even that a particular test might produce an uninterpretable tissue representation.

The ‘blindness’ to not knowing is the result of the way Power operates through the discourses through which individuals and the various Establishments (including Modern Medicine) communicate. To be a Medical Bureaucrat, a Doctor, Nurse, or Patient is to be a Subject-of-Medical-Science, living in a kind of dream world where to be Healthy is paradoxically forbidden. The Power operates because of our constant individual desire to a) find ‘love’ (to find the ultimate solution to the void within each of us) and b) in a magical way, have faith in a Big Other, who we imagine, guarantees that love. A faith that guarantees material behaviours that ensures our contribution to the continuation of the illusion and our blindness. How else can we explain why good people do such dangerous things?

How else can we explain what is likely to be a continued exponential growth in levels of medicalisation and the abuse of the diagnostic process on the healthy. What we can be sure of is that the continued appeal to rationality, transparency and science, eg more shared decision making and use of things like Subjective Expected Utility Analysis etc, will only perpetuate the particular problem of the medicalisation of the healthy, precisely because it perpetuates the illusory blindness to not knowing. If a test is likely to throw up an uninterpretable result and provoke a coerced medicalisation involving harms for sure and no known benefits, then why do it? The classic slogan that appeals to our libidinal desires is “Catch it Early” – its Power is in its Promise of All Knowledge. Medicine is making objects of the individual and treats the individual as if they are a thief, someone who has stolen Medicine’s enjoyment,stolen Medicine’s Sublime Object, an object that is always a mystery but manifests itself in the tissue representations brought forth by ever more deeply penetrating technologies.