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Freudian Concept of Ego

By Nadeem F. Paracha

27 Dec 2020

In his 1954 book Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan, H. Bolitho writes that, in 1920 when Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian National Congress and India’s pan-Islamists came together to force the ouster of the British from the region through protests, Muhammad Ali Jinnah was not amused.


Illustration by Abro


Bolitho describes Jinnah as someone who was steeped in the political and social traditions and ideas of British liberalism and constitutionalism. In 1916, Jinnah had worked as a bridge between the Congress and the Muslim League and invested a lot of energy in gaining some important political concessions from the British for the Hindu and Muslim polities of India. However, four years later, when Gandhi’s civil disobedience movement merged with the pan-Islamic Khilafat Movement, Jinnah wrote a letter to Gandhi warning him that these movements had the potential of unleashing religious and communal sentiments that would be hard to control and, thus, lead to chaos.

Jinnah concluded his letter by writing, “what the consequences of this may be, I shudder to contemplate.”

As opposed to Gandhi’s Indian nativism and performative ‘spiritualism’, and the religiously-motivated impulsivity of the pan-Islamists, Jinnah was a 20th century Indian extension of the ‘Age of Enlightenment.’ Also called the ‘Age of Reason’, it had evolved from various ideas and philosophies in Europe between the 17th and 19th centuries. It advocated the triumph of reason, science, individuality and democracy over religious ritualism, superstition, monarchism, feudalism and emotionalism.

Enlightenment ideas and narratives had triggered dramatic revolutions in the US and France and ushered in ‘modernity’ on the backs of rapid industrialisation, market economics, the rise of science and of philosophies which claimed that mankind’s well-being lay not in its chaotic passions and impulses, but in the evolution and maturity of man’s ability to apply reason and logic in whatever he did.

The resultant modernity was also the consequence of a rising middle-class that had rebelled against monarchism and the landed elites, replacing them with the ideas of democracy and an integrated economy which, in turn, had given birth to the concept of nationalism and the nation state. Indeed, Enlightenment ideas and modernity were attacked by various differing schools of thought, but once modernity and its ideals had catapulted several Western nations into becoming global powers, all opposing ideas were relegated to the fringes.

In 1920, Enlightenment ideals, and political, economic and social modernity were still at the centre of all governing models in the Western world. These ideals had also been adopted by various segments of the societies that were colonised by the European nation-states.

Modernity’s critics hit back, accusing its cold logic of progress and its mechanised products for the carnage witnessed during World War I (1914-1918). The modernists, meanwhile, claimed that not enough had been done to subdue the primitive impulses that humans still harboured. This idea was now rooted in the works of the enigmatic Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. In his books and papers published between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Freud had concluded that conditions such as depression, hysteria, neurosis and even psychosis were because of repressed emotions. His daughter, Anna Freud, a psychologist herself, was of the view that these needed to be addressed through psychoanalysis in order to neutralise their destructive nature.

When Jinnah warned Gandhi in 1920, he was thinking like a modernist, advising him that the two aforementioned movements had the potential of unleashing deep-seated emotions that needed to be checked and replaced with a more responsible approach towards achieving political freedoms.

Contrary to what the anti-modernists had expected from the repeat of mass carnage during World War II (1939-45), Western governments began to invest heavily in what Anna Freud had been suggesting. This was based on evidence that the unabashed forces of fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany had embraced anti-modernist ideas to romanticise the release of passions, impulses and emotions that were once regulated by the ideals of the Enlightenment. These caused the ultimate slaughter of millions of people who did not fit the irrational anti-modernist context of nationalist glory and racial purity.

Anna Freud’s work came to the forefront as governments began to envision future polities trained to neutralise primitive impulses (the ‘id’) through a well-developed’ ‘superego’ (moral conscience driven by reason). It was during this period that Pakistan came into being (1947).

In his book Qissa Aik Sadi Ka [Tale of a Century], Malik Ghulam Nabi, a former member of Jinnah’s party, writes that, during a Muslim League convention in December 1947, a man came up and said to Jinnah, “We had told people, Pakistan ka matlab kya? La ilaha illallah [What does Pakistan mean? There is no god, but God].” To this Jinnah replied, “Please sit down. Neither I nor the working council of the party has passed such a resolution. You must have raised this slogan to garner votes.”

Here we see Jinnah again feeling uncomfortable with the idea of inner emotionalism dictating external human behaviour. However, according to Adam Curtis in The Century of the Self, when complexities of decolonisation entangled western powers in wars thousands of miles away and their economies began to nosedive, Anna Freud’s ideas were turned on their heads.

From the 1970s onwards, ‘spiritual’ and ‘psychological’ movements emerged that encouraged the overt expression of repressed emotions. The self-became more important than the whole. Politics shifted as well. According to Curtis, when it became tougher for politicians and governments to address societal complications arising from the new disposition and at the same time reconstruct economies, they began to appeal to people’s inner feelings.

Emotions related to morality, desires, self-improvement and image began to be tapped, overriding policies that once looked to benefit societies as a whole. This ‘postmodernist’ approach, once the domain of advertising, has continued to dominate politics, now more than ever. For example, the recent presidential elections in the US were largely understood as a conflict between differing points of view on cultural issues associated with one’s inner feelings about a just society that transcends monolithic concepts such as the economy.

On the right as well as the left/liberal sides, political and economic complications are now explained (as opposed to being addressed) in the language of emotions such as anxiety and fear. Political and economic failures are being blamed on cultural, religious, racial and moral factors. Social media has given space for everyone to caress the Freudian concept of ego (libido) through confessional monologues about their inner selves, and the leaders have followed suit by spending more time delving into cultural and moral issues and the self rather than on what leaders were once expected to do. We are living in the age of the ‘id.’

Original Headline: THE AGE OF ID

Source: The Dawn, Pakistan


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