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The idea “superego”, from the Freudian model of subjectivity, identifies a learned force of personal orientation. In that Freudian model the vectors of force are the inherent id, bestial lusts for ecstatic pleasure, sparkly things, power, and esteem (the lower two-thirds of Plato’s model, on the Freudian view reducible to nature in the form of biological compulsions), and the acquired superego, representing authority figures from ambient society such as parents, teachers, priests, and police, internalized within each individual’s subjectivity by exposure to education, religion, and secular socialization. Many other social influences must also be included: representations by teachers or in media stories, for example, of certain people iconically enjoying pleasure, power, and status, intended to motivate imitation and so to influence career aspirations and style of life. There are also role models among peers influencing appearance, interests, and attitudes toward people with various ways of making a living. Everyone needs to be accepted socially, and so has to conform to some accepted style of life and of person. So the superego includes far more than personified authority symbols, because it encompasses the whole structure over which those figures exert authority, the whole surrounding social landscape in which any individual must make his or her way.

This superego is a learned (as such internalized) model of reality which on one layer is a strictly pragmatic set of local markers that enable an individual to navigate social structures and economic arrangements in order to survive and achieve some personal goals. However, the presence of the active social system and its material infrastructure as a whole is impressive enough to be taken as a manifestation of transcendence, of some unquestionable force of God or nature beyond the grasp of human understanding, and it is especially the most low-definition and abstract symbols of sovereign authority which claim and invoke an origin in, and proximity to, transcendence. The most local markers of collective orientation, typical ways of acting and material culture, lend a readiness for easy acceptance, inspired by the immediacy of their functional utility and their apparent clarity of foundations, to the rest of the superego construct, all the way up to those most abstract symbols of authority which claim that a grounding in transcendence sanctifies their right of primary agency overriding and negating the agency of any individual.

Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.

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