Subjectivity, in its formation, requires tension with authority. With that said, authority (in itself) is not evil; rather, it serves a necessary function in the construction of identity. An individual’s self concept is structured by its relationship to associated figures of authority.
Every thinking subject born into this world develops identity according to its role within the socio-cultural community to which it is born. Most subjects, then, accept that the authority to which they are entrusted is authentic—worthy of power and command. This is necessary for human development. The human conscience, or ego, requires law and order for the sake of its survival, as it matures. In many ways, this serves humankind well, protecting us from calamity in youth and adolescence. Nevertheless, it is in our nature to respond—to react to—authority as consciousness develops.
The two most common reactions to authority, which can easily be observed in relationships between children and their caretakers, are willing acquiescence versus defiance and rebellion. Children interpret the desires of their parents and either respond in obedience or with disregard. As adults, we respond to social and cultural authorities, in kind. Regardless, the ambition to either meet or thwart the demands of authority presupposes the relevance of that power over subjectivity.
Over time, as we grow and develop as humans, we internalize prominent authorities. They become the inner voice, or conscience; and just as we did as children, as adults, we continue to either submit or resist. Yet as the process of internalization unfolds, the authority’s power over our lives magnifies. Desire to please or thwart drives behavior and diminishes the articulation of reason. We become compelled by these impulses, fueled by emotion. This drive silences analytical and critical thought. The ability to deconstruct, investigate, and understand experience is a useful tool, often overshadowed by our psyche’s need for comfort. Comfort comes at the cost of reason; it comes at the cost of freedom.
I argue that most human lives come to this intersection wherein they confront the unfortunate (or maybe very fortunate) failure of this imposed external authority. Suddenly, this object of devotion is defiled, and in its corruption, it loses all power. This crisis of the psyche is an opportunity for immeasurable growth, but because it is so incredibly disconcerting, so often, it causes stagnation—or worse, decline.
How can a subject, when confronted with a shattered idol, find healing and empowerment? I hope to answer this question shortly…