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Violence: Dialogue Between Sigmund Freud and Michel Foucault

The following is what would have accounted for a hypothetical dialogue between Sigmund Freud and Michel Foucault on the subject of violence’s intrinsic subtleties. Both thinkers were presented with the statement that “Violence is a mundane, everyday part of our lives. So much so we are largely immune to its consequences”. Here is how they addressed this statement while indulging in conversation with each other:

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Freud. While agreeing with the thesis that violence constitutes an integral element of people’s lives, I do not necessarily agree that, while being continuously subjected to different forms of socially motivated violence, individuals eventually grow to accept such a state of affairs as natural. On the contrary – it is because people’s repressed sexuality never ceases seeking opportunities to manifest itself, despite facing social oppression and even physical violence, which accounts for these people’s inability to attain happiness.

What are the different forms of institutionalized violence are being primarily concerned with? They are being concerned with adjusting society members’ behavior to correspond to what I refer to as “existential conventionality” – that is, people are expected to act as if they were anything but sexual beings. However, as we are all aware – our individuality is nothing but a reflection of our fixation on sexual experiences we associate with oral, anal, and phallic stages of our development. Therefore, the more behavior of a particular individual corresponds to the notions of conventional morality, the more intense is the degree such individual’s deep-seated psychological perversity. Why do you think the overwhelming majority of serial killers, who commit the most horrendous and savage crimes, are being strongly associated with socially constructed stereotypes of “middle-aged white males” and with Bible-thumpers in general?

Foucault. I understand where you are coming from. However, the problem with your theory of psychoanalysis is that it idealizes human sexuality to the degree that your followers deny even a possibility that there are might be other motivations behind an individual acting in one way or another, besides sexually animalistic ones. In the same way, Marx idealized economy, while trying to explain the essence of socio-political dynamics in just about any society. I, on the other hand, suggest that the concepts of sexual and economic oppression, extrapolated in different forms of violence, cannot be discussed as a “thing in itself”. Violence is nothing but one among many emanations of power. In its turn, the very concept of power automatically implies its interchangeability, which actually explains why sado-masochists derive a supreme pleasure out of physical pain being inflicted upon them, as well as in inflicting such pain on others. Therefore, violence cannot be discussed as something necessarily negative.

Freud. What do you mean by “violence is not necessarily negative”? Are you trying to tell me that there can be any good in people being denied an opportunity to explore their existential uniqueness, as the result of them being subjected to socially constructed rules and regulations, associated with the application of violence as the form of social control?

Foucault. Yes, this is exactly what I am trying to tell you. It is not “violence” per say, which causes us to perceive it as something necessarily “evil”, but the fact that presently existing social discourse regards the application of violence as an outdated form of social control. Do you think that the reason why today’s cops are being forbidden to torture arrested suspects, as the ultimate mean of extracting confessions out of them, is because Western societies continuously grow ever-more “progressive”? No. This is because there are no objective socio-political circumstances that would bring “violence-oriented” social discourse into existence. Actually, I shouldn’t have said it. After the events of 9/11, more and more people in Western countries begin to think that it would be in order to institutionalize tortures, as an instrumental tool of law enforcement agencies. In other words – if people were strongly opposed to violence on a subconscious level, as you have suggested earlier, their rationale would never prompt them to think that application of violence is Ok. Therefore, your outlook on the subject matter cannot be considered seriously.

Freud. I will dare to disagree. The only reason why people seem to have grown insensitive towards violence is that they have been subjected to it ever since their childhood years. I admit you are being quite skillful while operating with such non-existent terms as “social discourse”. However, this does not add validity to your suggestion that socially motivated violence is not being perceived by people as something utterly negative. Please tell me, why do citizens never skip the chance not to pay taxes when the opportunity presents itself, for example? This is because they can never bring themselves to believe that it is in their own interests to pay these taxes. Do you know why the movie “Postman” with Kevin Costner proved to be an utter commercial fiasco? It is because it suggests that people would actively strive to re-establish an oppressive government on their own – complete nonsense! It is in our nature to resist just about anything we associate with religious, governmental, or social oppression, especially when such oppression is being linked with violence.

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Foucault. You now sound like an anarchist of some sort. But if you say that anarchic mode of existence is natural for people, then how come there has not been even a single instance in history of Anarchy serving as the legitimate form of social governing? Do you think if what you refer to as people’s “subconscious unacceptance of oppression” was strong enough, they would not be able to overthrow their governments, which continuously subject these people to different forms of socially motivated violence? It only takes five thousand protesters armed with “Molotov cocktails” to shake the government’s authority in just about any country. Yet, social uprisings rarely bring governments down. Even if they do, as we are all aware of from the history of revolutionary movements – every time “progressive” revolutionaries take over the political power, they turn into oppressors themselves! Every revolution eventually ends up being turned into a counter-revolution. And, this would not be the case if people did not derive pathological pleasure out of oppressing others. Therefore, society has nothing to do with the fact that, throughout their lives, people are being continuously exposed to violence – the utilization of violence is what allows people to explore their full existential potential.

Freud. Not necessarily. Throughout the course of my psychiatric practice, I have dealt with many cases of people being set on the path of mental destructiveness, due to the fact that they could not go about acting in the way that seemed the most natural to them. The fact that people are incapable of addressing their deep-seated anxieties, because of societal restrictions, causes their subconsciousness to serve as their alter-ego. This explains the mechanics of how we dream while asleep. Obviously enough, you are quite incapable of thinking about one’s existential motivations outside of the societal framework. Yet, as my observations suggest – people think of themselves as “sovereign beings” first and as “social beings” later. Therefore, you could not be more wrong, while implying the intrinsic nature of violence as such that derives out of what you refer to as “power” – “power” is nothing but a socially constructed category.

Foucault. Can I ask you a simple question – what would you be if you were born in 17th century Europe?

Freud. I would be myself.

Foucault. Really? And how do you define “yourself”? You perceive yourself through the lenses of society’s opinion as to who you are. For example, you are now being considered as the “father of psychoanalysis”, but had you been born in 17th century Europe, you would never be able to proceed with studying psychiatry, simply because there was not such a thing as “psychiatry” back then. Given the particularities of your ethnic affiliation, you would probably end up becoming a money-lender or a rabbi – every individual is nothing but a tabula rasa, which historically predetermined circumstances provide with the sense of perceptional uniqueness. This is why I refer to what you consider to be an individual’s identity as an “illusion of identity”. And, since there can be no one’s identity, as an objective category, independent of historical circumstances, we cannot discuss “inner” factors that account for the creation of such an identity. This is why it is utterly inappropriate, on your part, to imply that men have always wanted to have sex with their mothers; thus, becoming the subjects of socially imposed violence. This could not possibly be the case, simply because the term sexuality had only come into existence in the late 19th century. Yet, it is namely the violence, which the era of the Middle Ages is being closely associated with. If men’s suppressed sexuality did not account for violence back then, what did?

Freud. What do you mean “there was no sexuality in Middle Ages”? People did not know how to make babies?

Foucault. No, I did not say that. It is just that sex has not been perceived as “thing in itself” back then – people resorted to sex as the mean of making babies, rather then as the mean of attaining a sensual pleasure. Yet, they nevertheless never stopped waging religious wars on “infidels”, as their full-time occupation. This can only have one implication – apparently, Western civilization’s strong affiliation with violence cannot be explained by the existence of socially constructed taboos, regarding the sexual matters, but by the fact that White people are being biologically programmed to act as both: rational and violent beings. Moreover, given the fact that it is namely the Western civilization, which now enjoys a complete geopolitical dominance over the rest of the world, we can conclude that these people’s “violence-mindedness” caused them more good them harm. This is why I say that we should not consider violence as being something inconsistent with the concept of “virtue”. It actually brings me back to the topic we were asked to discuss – yes, I fully agree with the thesis that “Violence is a mundane, everyday part of our lives. So much so we are largely immune to its consequences”. Moreover, I would say that the concept of violence is quite inseparable from the concept of scientific and cultural progress. Violence is enabled by inequality, but the existence of inequality is absolutely necessary to insure the survival of civilization, as we know it, simply because social dynamics within a society are subjected to Second Law of Thermodynamics, just as the chemical and physical processes within material bodies. The absence of oppressive violence within a society would signify such society becoming truly egalitarian. However, the concept of equality is nothing but nicely sounding euphemism for the concept of energetic death – when there is no oppression, no violence, there can be no flow of existential energy between society’s members. Look at Australian aborigines – the reason why these people were never able to advance beyond a Stone Age on their own, is because of their non-violent “closeness to earth”.

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Freud. I bet you think that this argument of yours will effectively shut me up?

But in fact, it provides me with insight on the true nature of your preoccupation with “violence” and “power”. It appears that you cannot fully associate yourself with a society you claim to be an integral part of. And the reason you cannot is because you are a typical European decadent-intellectual, totally deprived of a will-power, despite your sophistication. You think I don’t know where your admiration of Nietzsche (who was also obsessed with “power”) comes from? It is nothing but a reflection of your powerlessness in real life. This also explains your homosexualism and racist attitudes. But you need to understand that unlike yourself, many people do not necessarily think of the prospect of being violated from behind within a context of what you refer to as “power interchangeability”. My theory of psychoanalysis continues to be practiced by many psychiatrists even today, whereas only comparatively few Starbucks-addicted sophisticates like you can define the actual essence of your “philosophy”. So please, spare me of your references to “socially constructed discourse” as such that explains just about everything. Even though you strive to distance yourself from Bible-thumpers, you appear to have essentially the same mentality with them, while suggesting that application of violence is not only appropriate but also objectively predetermined.

Foucault. Had you paid closer attention to what I was saying, you would realize that I do not idealize violence. All I suggest is that there are absolutely no good reasons for us to condemn violence on the ground of some ethical considerations, because ethics are being formed by currently existing public discourse. However, given the fact that violence’s ultimate agenda is to decrease the levels of plurality, within a particular society, the practitioners of violence should never be allowed to impose their will upon everybody. And the reason for this has been outlined earlier – it is of crucial importance for a society to insure the free flow of energy between its members in both directions – from oppressors to oppressed and vise versa. If oppressors realize that the oppressed had ceased resisting the oppression that is being imposed upon them, this would initiate the process of such society crumbling down due to the forces of energetic entropy. Well, I guess what I am saying is a bit too complicated to be understood by someone who is being solely preoccupied with exploring people’s sexual depravity.

Freud. Do not assume things about me friend end never forget you are talking to a psychiatrist here. Do you know what I have noticed about you, during the course of this conversation? You have a hard time expressing your thoughts in clear and comprehensive manner, yet it does not stop you – you continue on with trying to substantiate your point of view, with the thought that you cannot stay focused on the subject of discussion, while doing it, never even occurring to you. Initially, I have gotten an impression you were a “pro-violence” type of person. However, now you seem to retract from your original statements, while suggesting that the application of violence might not be as “objective” as you have originally stated. Let me guess another thing – you have always had an overwhelming desire to write just for the sake of doing it, while being lucky enough to have a lot of naïve people out there, who confused your graphomania with some sort of “philosophical revelation”?

Foucault. I do not appreciate you resorting to personal insults. We have been discussing the subject of violence and I think I have made a very strong point, as to the fact that the phenomenon of violence is too complex, in order to be given either positive or negative connotation. I am not an expert on how vaginas and penises affect one’s reasoning, but I think it is quite inappropriate, on your part, to suggest that the only reason why people often behave violently is because their latent sexual desires cause them to act that way.

Freud. Let me ask you something – do you believe in cultural and scientific progress as being historically predetermined?

Foucault. I do believe that every historical era represents its own microcosm, quite unrelated to other historical eras (microcosms).

Freud. In other words, there is no good reason for us to think that cultural progress necessarily results in reducing the severity of violence’s emanations within a society?

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Foucault. No.

Freud. But objective reality points out to something entirely opposite – are you aware that nowadays, there is no way for the parents in Western countries to buy gun-toys for their children, because these toys are believed to “incite intolerance”? Don’t you think that such situation came into being as the result of citizens becoming more responsible? As the result of Western society becoming more progressive?

Foucault. Nonsense. The more “progressive” social scientists anticipate Western countries turning into “multicultural utopias”, where citizens would be solely preoccupied with “celebrating diversity”, without experiencing any form of social or racial oppression whatsoever, the faster these countries are being turned into Third World slums. Are you aware that nowadays, the majority of White Americans would not even consider stepping out of their houses, after it gets dark, not even to mention venturing into ethnically secluded “ghettos”? And here you are trying to tell me that modern Western societies have become less violent as compared to what it used to be the case, even as recent back as twenty years ago?

Freud. Now you have revealed your true colors – that is, color White. I guess you simply cannot accept the fact that you are no better then those who you refer to as “brutes” in private conversations with your friends, while lacking the courage to tell these “brutes” what do you think of them to their faces. I think I have heard more then enough. You clearly need to undergo a psychiatric treatment. Maybe you would change your opinion of violence, after such violence has been applied to you personally.


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