Conference, Audio, Video or Powerpoint Presentation
Title: The madness of an election
Authors: Mark Argent
This paper arises from the experience of being a candidate in the 2015 UK General Election. It is not primarily about that experience itself, but is about the insights into the electoral process from that perspective. Central to these was the dilemma of how far to engage with the worldwide global context, which puts the UK discussions in a very different perspective and interconnectedness: does speak from a more global viewpoint and get fewer votes, or hide that understanding in order to get elected and then use it in government?
The starting point for the paper was a radio documentary broadcast the day after the election, on The Glass Delusion, a seventeenth-century phenomenon of people thinking they were turning into glass. I found myself thinking about some of the delusions of the election campaign: climate change, globalisation and the European Union are probably the three most important things facing the UK in 2015, but barely figured in the campaign, as if they were being actively avoided. I usually think of awareness of my dreams and of urges to write music or paint paintings as important to my being open to my own unconscious content, and was shocked at the same time to realise that this territory had been almost out of sight for most of the campaign, and I hadn't noticed.
Other delusions included the Conservative leader promising a renegotiation of Britain's membership of the EU to repatriate some powers followed by a referendum on EU membership, and continuing with this even after the House of Lords committee commissioned to work out what powers should be repatriated advised that it was against the national interest to repatriate any. There's also evidence that both Labour and Liberal Democrats engaged in displacement activity to avoid recognising the extent of their likely losses.
The paper will explore:
• The swirl of conflicting promises and claims brings an air of unreality which invites a language of collective psychosis, as if this is part of our collective being that we need to engage in chosing our government.
• Pressure for the “10 second sound bite” reduces most arguments to something not rooted in reality, which asks to be heard in terms of an anti-oedipal rejection of reality1 (the paternal function).
• Elections as fights, with echoes of the days when rulers were chosen warfare2 The fighting/campaigning is surprisingly addictive, as if tapping into something that needs to be expressed, but prioritises the capacity to fight over the capacity to rule wisely and asks to be heard as baF/F getting in the way of the task of chosing a government.
• The idea from Terror Management Theory that this is a way of evading the fear of death.
• This makes sense of negative campaigning, and the power gained by finding ways to mobilise irrational fears of one's opponents.
1 Schwartz, H., Revolt of the Primitive, an inquiry into the roots of political correctness, New Jersey, 2003
2 Morris, I., War, what is it good for, London 2014
• The narcissism of being a candidate – which invites associations to narcissists as poor father figures and as being in touch with the omnipotence of the infant, both of which invite anti-oedipal language.
• This also invites thoughts around what is projected onto candidates, and the ethical dilemma of how far to carry what is being projected, to work with it, or to resist projections.
• Large group dynamics3, including how political parties, social groups and nations form
overlapping “large groups”which take on some of the functions of an idealised mother who repairs narcissistic wounds, and also a context for chosen traumas to be held onto, so present voting intentions are influenced by memories of past wounds or anxiety over identity. Support for the UK Independence Party makes sense in these terms.
• The media as mirrors of society. An example is Gordon Brown's gaffe in 2010, when he left his microphone on after being heckled by Gillian Duffy and called her a racist bigot4 had his star been in the ascendant this could have been spun as a good leader who
detests racism, but the media correctly mirrored the national mood.
• An alternative way of reading this is that the media's failure to engage with the reality of politicians acts against the Lacanian mirror stage in a way that undermines the symbolic register and creates a collective psychosis5. Another possibility is offered by the idea disarroy6 – usually taken to speak of incoherence in a large group, but also with overtones of meaning “without a king”, and in this case being in the failed dependency of being effectively between governments while a new one is chosen.
• Denials of reality play a large role, and invite processing in terms of basic assumptions
– for example, painting the EU as bad, and therefore to be left, but actually on a fantasy of how the world looked many decades ago.
• Another layer of this makes sense in terms of sado-masochism – such as people adversely affected by austerity chosing to blame immigrants and vote for the Conservative party which seems most wedded to austerity.
• Yet effective government involves considerable pragmatism. One way to read this is those we elect are then required to move from a paranoid-schizoid to a depressive position way of working.
• Another way to read this is that globalisation greatly reduces the capacity of national governments to act unilaterally, so the election process becomes a regressed fantasy of independence /omnipotence, where what can't be acknowledged is how little power individual national governments now have to act unilaterally.
• Under all of this is the thought that globalisation reduces the influence of national governments, so that perhaps the big influence is collective national and international group processes, engaged with pramatically by civil servants.
The abiding ethical dilemma is how much to say. Responding to someone acting out of fear by saying “your fears are groundless” is not likely to achieve much. The big issues around seem to be to do with globalisation and different groups' responses to this – which mostly seem to be
3 Volkan, Vamik D, Psychoanalysis, International Relations and Diplomacy, London 2014
5 Vidaillet, B.,The “need for recognition at work”: non-problem or mission impossible? , keynote address, ISPSO 2015
6 Lawrence, W. Gordon, “Beyond the Frames” in Pines . M. (ed), Bion and Group Psychotherapy, London 1985
about denying it. Can a psychoanalytically-informed approach offer a way to engage with what is behind people's fears, or is an election a faustian pact where one sells one's soul to be elected?Can a psychoanalytically-informed offer a way into the new globalised paradigm, or…
Name of Event/Conference: 33rd ISPSO Annual Meeting
Sponsoring Organization: ISPSO
Corresponding author: Mark Argent
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