This is the final in a series of posts about the relationship between authority and identity based on my engagement with the book Emancipation After Hegel, by Todd McGowan. In earlier posts, I established that this relationship occurs through a subject’s interpretation of his/her/their relationship with and to authority. I also established the existence of an inherent human desire for authority. I recounted some typical responses and reactions to authority, which include fundamentalism, rejection, and substitution. Today I would like to propose an alternative.
Before proceeding, I would first like to clarify that a life lived in freedom does not require wholeness, happiness, or prosperity. If those are things you are hoping to find, you may wish to explore another writer’s blog. Nevertheless, a life lived in freedom does come with confidence and conviction, and I believe these virtues will carry us all to a better way of existing.
Reflect for a moment on the voice in your head–you know, the one that tells you what you should and should not do?? Consider for a moment how that voice developed over time. What system, what influences, what other first imposed those rules on your life?
Now, consider for a moment the possibility that that other was wrong all along, or at least, partially wrong.
This process of reflection and admission (that the authority may not be correct, right, true–what have you) is what is known in psychoanalysis as a symbolic death. Many people live life swinging from one authority’s law to another’s, like monkeys from vine to vine. This is the thing: none of those metaphorical vines are adequate. None is sufficient to carry you through life.
The path to freedom opens wide when, as subjects, we come to realize that there is no pure moral authority; when, as subjects, we recognize that black and white thinking empowers authority. If we allow ourselves to identify all the hues and nuance of humanity, we can stop dividing the world into good and evil. The choice to assert our own autonomy fosters compassion; it fosters healing.
As I have said before, the recognition of authority’s impotence is traumatic. As such, it is natural to enter a stage of grief, which includes fear, resentment, and alternative fundamentalism. However, it is essential that we keep moving forward because we are not yet free from the power of authority, as long as we defend ourselves against it.
“The attempt to cling to negativity and conceive freedom in opposition produces a hysterical subject, a subject incapable of seeing how its rebellion actually feeds the authority that it challenges.”Todd McGowan
We must keep moving, and forward movement requires responsibility. The path to freedom requires that we, as subjects, assume responsibility for our relationship to authority. Once we do this, we recognize that we do not “require the external authority that” we oppose. We no longer need the authority.
This insight ultimately leads to autonomy. Because I no longer need the authority, I trust that I am capable of determining what is moral, what is ethical, what is good, and what is true, and as soon as I realize this, I can begin to write my own tale.
How has this played out for me?
Well, I’ve decided to stop trying to explain or justify myself to others. I don’t need to convince anyone that my beliefs are the right beliefs. I am confident that I’m on the right track.
That is enough for me.