Ordinary Differences – by Marina Christoforidou

This is a paper written and published at the New Associations as a response to the Conference ‘Between mind and body: Ordinary Differences’ on 2016 that I co-organised with my colleagues from the ‘Culture and Ethnicity Task Group’ and which was supported by the British Psychoanalytic Council. The paper runs through some concepts that might be recognised in some other papers published in this blog. My colleague and co-writer Annie Pesskin has also upload her paper ‘Why feeling excluded might have mighty consequences’ with her thoughts as a response to the same conference. Even though, this article was written 3 years ago the topics are still relevant- preoccupying the press and our minds most importantly.

After the end of the conference and we are left with two weeks to submit our thoughts for the next edition of the New Associations. I was excited and overwhelmed by the ideas discussed yesterday. Observing people’s devotion to the subject was uplifting but also a gloomy reminder of the work entailed for any noticeable change to occur. There are strong resistances pulling us back to the certainties, the knows and the comfort of a mono-identity. I have consciously selected the prefix -mono for at least two reasons. Initially to make a subtle statement of my Greek roots but also to introduce the implicit urge for an identity that excludes conflicts and contradictions. An Anxiety- free existence defined by one identity, one mind, one status.

In a conference with such a theme, Trump and Brexit received additional attention from both presenters and the audience. What was even more interesting was the assumption that none of the participants had voted for Trump or for Brexit. So whilst all these thought-provoking conversations were happening something else was also lurking in the unconscious mind of the group; the group’s ‘internal racism’. ‘Racism’ toward the otherswho have made a different choice and have voted for Trump or for Brexit. Hence, the use of the term ‘racism’ is not limited to the racial difference solely in relation to colour skin but to any other differences between humans that creates societal cleavages. Fakhry Davids explained during his workshop how the word racismis borrowed to describe the general phenomenon of prejudice towards difference and otherness and this is how I am intending to use the term in this brief essay.

Fakhry Davids argues that internal racismis a normal structure recruited to defend the infants’ mind against psychotic anxiety. He refers to the psychotic anxiety dominating and splitting the infant’s mind during the paranoid-schizoid position and how this overwhelming experience hopefully gets worked through during the depressive position. He adds though an additional piece of information by introducing the importance of the otherin the child developmental milieu in the form of the father’s presence but also via the experience of the stranger’s anxiety when the child is exposed to adults outside the nuclear family. As Davids poignantly states in his book: “…As the Ego grows and develops, this experience shrinks but is never totally obliterated.” (pp.64) He continues by saying how this structure becomes reactive during times of immense anxiety and uncertainty.

At the conference, it was fascinating to gradually notice that a need of sameness prevailed, the one of the alike political ideology and liberal set of beliefs. Yet, we were a group of people getting together to eagerly think about difference. But still it felt that we could only throw ourselves into this mind-field as far as we could secure an aspect of sameness. The different skin colour and accents did not matter anymore because we had something else to unite us all and comfort our anxiety; our presumed common liberal identity.

Trump had intruded in the group’s minds and forced us to think the unthinkable, the existence of people who actually want a different world to us. It reminded us the existence of people who appear shockingly keen to build a wall to protect their mono-identity. I suggest here that these people had also to bear our own projections. The projections of the part of our minds that we did not want to think about. I refer here to the projection of our internal racismtoward them in order to secure our mono-identity, the one of the elite. While, I write this I become even more mindful of my own binary thinking and the difficulty to avoid the ‘us-them’mindset. I will carry on though with this trail of thought for the sake of my argument and I will allow my own internal racismto reveal itself. I argue here, that our own racism was being projected to the Trump and Brexit voters and this allowed us existing in an idealized/ pseudo- reality where such matters were being assumed as resolved. We are forcefully returned back a part of us what we refuted to own. The social split allowed us to comfortably sustain this mono-identity by interacting with minds similar to ours.

A line from a recent film regarding Pablo Neruda’s life comes to mind. The scene takes place in the midst of an extravagant gathering at Neruda’s house. A cleaner who was also a party member asked Neruda -rather emphatically- what will happen when the party comes to power, will people become equal as him or her. Neruda appears thrown by the question and stays silent for a short while. I think he is really fighting with his own mind to either tell bluntly the truth or to sustain the lie. He chooses to lie and responds that they will all become equal like him. The balance is restored and she hysterically raises her glass and drinks to the revolution. The cleaner’s simple question is profoundly deep, is a reprehension to Neruda’s bombastic lifestyle. Neruda, on one hand, is the advocate of equality whilst his life-style conflicts with his political aspirations. He is passionate to campaign for equality and redistribution as long as he maintains his position of power and privilege.

This is the symbolism of the exchange between Neruda and the party member. Neruda was faced with the reality test of his ideas. Neruda came short with answers and his response was a psychotic, idealized and hedonistic version of the reality, a defence to maintain his mono-identity and a denial of his internal incongruence. I argue that Trumpism and Brexit is a reality test to our own hedonistic/idealized version of reality. A challenge to our mono-identity. As Dalal says in one of his papers ‘in speaking, I, of necessity, negate something of the Other. The response of the Other in some way negates the negation, and my response negates that, and so on’ (2008, pp15). Inevitably, the moment one speaks about ones difference the other’s experience is negated

This is the painful realisation I am sharing with you today. I am left thinking that we were attempting to talk and manage ordinary differences, but our internal racismresurfaced by forging and corrupting the task in favour of maintaining the sameness of the group. I wonder if we ‘need’ a world where differences won’t exist and thus we will not be called to attend to them, in a world that we will be able to control via sameness. Internal racismis so pervasive that the group became oblivious of its dark powerful forces. The group became victim of the same predicament that was trying to attend to; when by attempting to address ordinary cultural differences it was inevitably negating someone else’s differences i.e political ones.

I want to first and foremost call my own internal racismand unconscious urge for a mono-identity. On this matter, it consists of the view that all women are aspiring to the same female prototypes. I assumed that all women aspired to a world where equal pay, the right for maternity leave, work opportunities will be non-negotiable. A world where the objectification of women was a common goal we were fighting against. Trump’s election forcefully reminded me that actually women have different visions and aspirations to mine.

My free associations led me to the thought of a captured bird that when is finally left free after all his life being under captivity he returns back to his cage. One can think this as identification to the aggressor but, unfortunately, the matter is incomprehensibly perplexed. I believe when this thought entertained my internal racism cleverly took over by resorting to intellectualization by immediately placing me to a position of intellectual superiority. It disguises the underlying view that if they really knew what I knew they would think and behave like me. We will be the same. Still this might be the outcome, but it excludes the other as a living, dimensional subject and instead it transforms it to a flat lifeless object. Here is a useful note to add; the conference was being orchestrated by an advisory group consisted mainly by women dedicating their free time. Still these women (us) invited male speakers to talk about the matter. We, as women bought the flowers from our own budget because we wanted the room to look good. It is important here to let you draw your own conclusions.

I understand Trump’s win as not a return of the repressedbut the return of the projected. It is possibly an urgent call for all of us to return to the couch and continue the work with our own unconscious instead of being exclusively preoccupied with “the others”. An analogy coming to mind is one of the world being a patient demanding to be ‘cured’without taking the full therapeutic journey. An authentic therapy (if there is one, I wonder) is one that allows the patient to discover its own mind and not becoming the therapist’s clone. Maybe the world is acting out because the therapist (leaders, elites) has lost touch with the reality of the work that needs to happen before any real ‘therapeutic’ change happens and in addition requests the world (patient) to engage into the relation by leaving aside any negative therapeutic transference.

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