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In art, writing, and even journalism, democracy is often personified just as its components as Liberty and Justice - phrases like "democracy takes a backseat", "shy democracy", "meek democracy", "democracy's subconscious" and "murder of democracy" are recurrent in contemporary media. But if democracy can be depicted and studied as a person, can we attempt to analyse its psyche and its components? If we treat democracy as a consciousness, can we resolve, identify and characterise its constituents, and come up with a Freudian model of it?

The three pillars of democracy that stem from the French Revolution itself are - Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Let us test the equivalence of the three pillars with the three Freudian agents. The Superego is the moral idealist with commands the behaviour to adhere and conform to strict ethical standards, while the Id is impetuous agent of idiosyncrasies, instinct, and impulses. Intermittent to the two, the Ego is a rational, pragmatic mediator that seeks to optimise behaviour to maximise well-being and ensure continued sustenance. It reconciles and balances the two, often at the expense of one another, maintaining a dynamic flow that is vital for one's survival and pursuit of long-term gain. Just like a bicycle needs motion and adjustment in order to stay up and running, the Ego preserves the personality by offering just the right amount of flexibility - too less, and the id shall start oscillating it uncontrollably, too more, and the Superego shall commandeer it to its doom when the winds of vagaries blow and snap it. With continuous checks and balances, the Ego adjusts and apportions the right amounts of (usually) mutually-conflicting idealism and urge, and seeks to strike a balance between fast-twitch, acute hedonism and long-term eudaimonism. Where the Ego falters to assume control or strike a rapport, one of the extremist agents - the controlling Superego or the anarchist Id gains dominance and throws the human personality off-balance, and often out of civil bounds.

Having established the analogy of the Id with anarchy, we can begin to weave our analogical framework. The Id can be equated to Freedom given it spontaneously succumbs to any urges and caters to the evolutionarily-hardwired basal, animaline instincts. It doesn't play by any rules. The Id abides with no values, deontological dogmas, doctrines or guiding principles. It can hardly, if ever, metacognize its intent. The idealist Superego can be taken as Equality, or rather its superset, Justice. Communism thus becomes the apical expression of the Superego, the highly-principled, highly-indoctrinated, rule-bound idealistic (and at times, foolhardy) control-freak. The Ego thus obviously takes the empty slot of fraternity, given how fraternity and social harmony enable equality and liberty to work in tandem towards a productive and synergistic society. Having resolved the corresponding respective components of Democracy and Psyche, we can now proceed to further scrutinise their validity.

In Freudian Psychology, the id is said to be the original agent that differentiates to eventually yield the Ego and the Superego. This is justified given that societies grew from isolated tribes to uncoordinated settlements and subsequently to presided, governed societies. The maturation of the psyche roughly corresponds with the transitions in organisation and power-exertion patterns and paradigms of units of human civilisation.

Anna Freud clarified her father's identification defence mechanisms that the Ego deploys to mask the threatening impulses of the Id. These came to include undoing, suppression, dissociation, idealisation, identification, etc. Now, we just identified Ego with Fraternity, so how can fraternity perform an act of suppression? The resolution here is the disambiguation of what is in general implied by the synecdoche of fraternity - quasi-spontaneous social organisation. Fraternity doesn't necessarily specifically mean intercommunal fraternity. Fraternity is selective and can also undermine a democracy. Local fraternity or specific fraternity can lead to social vices as communalism, sectarianism, exaggerated ethnicism and hypernationalism. Take the example of Hanization in China - the numerically-superior Han community in China has practically sidelined and marginalised, if not purged out endemic and native ethnic groups from most regions. Buddhists in Myanmar have done the same with Rohingyas, initiating the displacement and eviction without governmental or martial intervention. In this hindsight of fraternity boiling down to groupism, the said Freudian defence mechanisms seem justified.

Sigmund Freud writes that the Ego is like a man mounted on horseback where the id is the steed. The former has to keep the latter's naturally superior strength in check. At times the horse directs itself, and the man has to temporarily relinquish control in order to not part with it. The Ego is habituated of occasionally moulding the id's will into action as if it were its own will. With the resurgence of nationalistically-motivated right-wing populist regimes all over the world, we can find this in action. The same "people-power", the efficacy of self-organised masses which otherwise manifests in the form of popular, grassroots movements is mobilised, channelised and redirected through the funnel of sectarian zeal in order to serve the selfish interests and distractive ends of right-wing politicians. The numerical power of the majority is manipulated and the collective Id of the society - the dissatisfaction with liberalism, and things as unemployment (sometimes unrealised as the result of the manipulative politicians themselves) are used to fuel bigotry. The pent-up stress is vented edgeways and through ulterior outlets, leading to social unrest and disorder, all the while the regime keeps pulling the strings indirectly through the hindshadows. This is the Ego manipulating the Id, and using its own power against itself. The Ego harnesses the same humongous power that could have otherwise toppled its authority. The ruling regime thus preserves its scope pitting the social id unto itself. Once, these tactics fail, the Ego is bound to be unseated by the same steed it was riding. The id manifests as an untamed beast, as it parts from its sectarian organisation and consumes the authority, reverting to anarchy - a social atavism, until another control is established. 

In light of today's environmental, immigrant and conflict crises, we see our modernising society atavising to its former states in terms of its social psyche. We helplessly observe society degenerating into the Id-dominated succumbing to its economic, politically-neglectful (non-vigilant and non-conscious) and oligarchic urges. In a post-truth society, most have resigned to the indirect corporate totalitarianism, and the role of the Superego has diminished to a pseudo-superego custom-codified by the existent social order to suit its needs. We entwine Liberty and Equality, often overlooking the facets and cases in which they head-on clash, with capitalism indiscriminately branding any form of socialism or state-welfare as authoritarianism. The modern world is tantalising blend of paradoxes, and Freudian analysis perhaps holds the solution to many of our modern-day dissatisfactions, offering an anthropic-esque view and considerate, humane treatment for an increasingly artificial, negligent and synthetic world. In the collision of humanism, and automation & control, studying social psychology can not only show us a middle way but also pave it.

 

Pitamber Kaushik
Bangalore, India
 
The author is a journalist, columnist, and writer.

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