I have been reading some of the blog posts reporting the violence in Greece this past week. I was struck particularly by the stark contrast between two adjacent posts on Stavros’s blog, My Greek Odyssey and decided to play with a few ideas that flew out of my reading.
The first post was a biographical post about Elder Paisios, an ascetic Athonite monk in the Russian Orthodox church who crucified his health in his relentless quest for spirituality and whose words are a comfort to many loyal followers. The post described a daunting pattern, one which I revolt against, but one which represented, I thought, the victory of the superego, the conscience, over less saintly primal urges.
A YouTube clip of one of Elder Paisios’s homilies shows him warning us to mistrust our thoughts. For just as some of them may originate in God, others may be the work of the devil or the barren fruits of our own endeavours and discernment is needed to distinguish the first from the others. The tri-partite summary of the origin of thought seemed to me to fit neatly into the three divisions of our personalities which Freud labelled our id, our ego and our superego.
I left this comment on the post with some trepidation as my overly active superego worried about upsetting Stavros:
I’m in awe of Elder Paisios’s sacrifices, and admire the tradition of Elders which is much less prominent in our church. I was thinking about your final video clip, and comparing Elder Paisios’s three origins of thought (devil, man, God) with the division of the personality as conceived by Freud. For the devil, think “id”, for man think “ego”, for God think “superego”:
“According to Freud, there are three components to a human’s personality. The three components are the id, the ego, and the superego. To him, a person’s behavior is determined by the interactions among these components.
The id is the primitive, instinctive component of personality that operated according to the pleasure principle” (Weiten 2005). The id is the reservoir of psychic energy- it houses the fundamental biological needs. These include eating, sleeping, defecating, copulating, etc. All of these aspects energize humans. The id demands immediate gratification, and it operates according to the pleasure principle “which demands immediate gratification of its urges” (Weiten 2005). It operates within the parameters of primary process thinking which is primitive, illogical, irrational, and fantasy-oriented (Weiten 2005).
The ego operates according to the reality principle and is the decision-making component of personality. The ego is a mediator between the id and the external social world. The ego delays the gratification of the id until it is socially appropriate to satisfy the id. The ego is interested in social and personal success and happiness, but it has the means to delay gratification for those purposes (Weiten 2005).
The superego is in control of our conscience. The superego involves social standards which represent right and wrong. The superego strives for moral decency, and people with an overactive superego will easily experience feelings of guilt (Weiten 2005).”
That Freud made a similar distinction in no way takes away from the truth or otherwise of Elder Paisos’s division – though Freud’s explanation is more prosaic. What is perhaps more challenging is to wonder whether the saints amongst us are just those whose superegos have become the controlling force in their personality for reasons of environment, if not faith…
The second post was a response to the reports of the rioting in Athens, and was the first of several posts I then read on other blogs I visit regularly, all of which responded the unravelling events.
Two adjacent posts. The Good and the Evil. The two aspects of humanity that war within each of us. I wonder if that is not why the reports are so upsetting; that each of us struggles – to a greater or lesser degree – to keep the wanton urges at bay, that we are appalled by the riot within ourselves when it rises from its subconscious slime, the ugly id being given free rein to run amok.
The violence has been like a volcanic boil, lancing the unspeakable forces that can no longer be kept invisible, that the ego has vainly tried to control. Shame, turning away our eyes. It happens.
Interestingly, each of the bloggers I selected seemed to adopt a different approach to the problem as each suggested how one might try to stem the flow of violence. [Links to each blog in the sidebar soon, or in previous post but one]
Hellenic Antidote appeals to reason, to a heavy handed logical thinking solution that educates the id into submission. A heavy handed parent. My Greek Odyssey prays to God for help restoring peace as if nothing else but the supernatural will work and in doing so absolves us of the ability to solve the problem ourselves in our humanity. Others criticise the parents for having let these boys on the cusp of manhood out of their sight and one imagines the critical parent tut-tutting at other more liberal parents at the school gate, at those who are disorganised and turn up late with unkempt hair. Kat at An American in Athens gets in touch with the dark side in an attempt to understand the forces involved, interviewing both one of the feared MAT police officers and a revolting youth. Her interview with the police officer uncovers his humanity, the daily difficulties he faces, and through the frank engagement, we begin to see his point of view, to be kinder to him, to be less judgmental. Others rewind through recent history in a search for an explanation, a prior event to learn from, or appeal to a sense of justice or fairness, a very engaged ego to mitigate between the opposing sides.
Each in his or her own way seeks to control the unruly forces, and I wonder if they don’t reveal their own personal way of being when it comes to internal problem solving, when temptation to sin, to give in to our animal natures, rears its ugly head. I wonder whether our responses to the crisis reveal quite a bit about our parenting styles, or about the way we were parented.
Boils come and go. They are embarrassing and shameful and they may leave scars behind. We worry what people will think of us when they see the boil – we fear their disgust and their teasing. We turn our face away. We hate having our less than perfect side on display. But we survive. Afterwards we can see it wasn’t the end of the world. Just a boil: we all get them from time to time. And we love the people who loved us when we were lepers. We probably try to improve our diet, cleanse our skin more carefully, remove some of the stress from our lives, and, if all goes well, our skin stays clear.