The saying “no good deed goes unpunished” has new real-world exemplars just about daily. If not directly in the form of legal punishment, or physical aggression, then most certainly in the form of conspiratorial levels of blame and distrust. It’s almost as if we distrust more and more, and almost immediately, if ones’ agenda or self-interested motives aren’t on full display. “Good” people, one thinks unconsciously, do not truly exist. Altruism is a fantasy notion.
The reality, of course, is that this is nothing new. Some of our most ancient preserved writing? —e.g. ancient Greek, Chinese and Mesopatamian— concerns majestic stories of distrust, deception and manipulation. From the story of Atrahasis, to Ptahhotep, to the Mahabharata, there is no shortage of confirmation of the long-standing human distrust of those standing in differential positions (of power, class, status, group identity.. etc etc). We go through all manner of lengths to get what we want, to survive, to survive in the manner in which we will-to survive.
There may even be something admirable in this cynicism. Does it not keep one on ones’ toes. Vigilant, questioning, speculating, digging deeper into the sediment of representations, propositions, and opinion shared between lines/poles of social bodies or inter-societal nexes.
What would trust mean after all, if there were no distrust? Or at least the seeds of distrust. Trust derives a significance only when based on these prior psycho-social experiences of uncertainty, doubt, fear, all of these elements that often coalesce into the feeling of anxious distrust.
The pervasiveness of this phenomena socially seems striking. But one recalls a masterful series of chapters of Deleuze’s Logic of Sense that shed’s light on the subject. From “The Twenty-Seventh Series of Orality” to “The Thirtieth Series of Phantasms”, a line is drawn tracing orientations of livelihood at the level of the psyche, but as derived from the projections and introjections of one’s relationship to self –surface and depths–. The question posed is, how might one interpret the production of sense from the general archetype of psychological development such as that of the ego faced with Oedipus in a given socio-historical context.
The Good Intentioned Subject
Subjectivity develops in stages. Not in some non-formalist universal (as in identical) manner, but in an order of presentation and resolution of problems. Ethological problems posed to unprepared bodies that capture them at the intersection between internal and external situations. The problem (trauma) of separation, the problem of Oedipus (the treatment of desire), the problem of self-actualization etc. Problems are always problems of pleasure. What happens with pleasure at the intersection of an ideal Event and our spatiotemporal realization in states of affairs? Or how to derive or eake out pleasure in a world that limits, punishes, prohibits and scars with objects that one is never sure how to apprehend as good or bad? Subjectivity develops as many partial surfaces/products of sufferings, threats and passions. These are surfaces (elements and contours of ego) that arise through identifications with good objects and bad objects that pursue good objects. Good objects that frustrate, cause love AND hatred, creating complex multileveled or multifaceted identification as ego.
The ego’s negotiation with pleasure is never divorced from the energy of libido. The multiplicity of contures and surfaces of the ego are in fact coordinated or integrated through the successful resolution of the good sexual object that organizes and integrates the erogenous zones and acts to restore a ideal self from the dangers of schizoid aggressiveness and depressive frustration. The ego is the good intentioned subject from the very beginning insofar as the dynamics of the depths of sexual energy are resolved on the level of the surface as that which can mend the wounds of destructive drives and give hope to and call forth good objects.
With this heartfelt innocence we venture forth into the world as if battered soldiers that have seen worse days in our depths and merely wish today for restoration and a wholeness only known as a vague memory. Oedipus, being restorative, is a peacemaker. He/she, with his/her childlike innocent gives birth to intention.
With intention, the distinction is never between willed action and accomplished accomplished action, as if speaking about precursor and resultant events. What happens with intention is better described here as two sides of a same coin: the one playing out corporeal affectation, and the other playing out in the narrativization of the mind. The (good) intending, with one and the same momvement, pays something to the body and witnesses it in the psyche.
It is thus that these active and passive actions associated with the good intentioned efforts for restoration seem to be haunted. For this dual nature undergirds the willing of good intention. Or put differently, the singular appearance of the intention requires a corraling of different dynamics by the fragile egoic subject. All the while trying desperately to convince itself it is sovereign. From within, ones innermost depths, and from without the myriad forces from heights, betray the surface we so carefully lay before the world. We have the intimation there from the beginning that none of it is to be trusted with our plans for a return to wholeness.
Good Intention & Trust
The originary distrust derives not from the Other or is not resultant from the Other’s lack of trustworthiness. First and foremost, we must begin with the production of ourselves. What are the originary tensions experienced between the depths and heights of our own embodiment. The fragility of our psyche’s own composedness. The passage to the composition of an ego, from paranoic, depressive and schizoid positions, withdrawals and identifications with internal and external life, both of which are potential threats. Objects and drives, sexualization of internal and external objects, internal and external activity. Destructive urges and drives. Are we in our embodiment aggressors or victims? Dangers or in danger? Do good external or internal objects or good external or internal organs give love or punishment? If the questioning of the phenomenon of the “good intentioned” is wide spread, it’s because it addresses something non-social as well as social. Or put differently, it is a response to something operating on two levels: 1) the inter-personal or inter-group; and 2) the intra-personal or intra-group.
Oedipus is genuinely of a benevolent disposition insofar as one conceives of him/her as the ego installing itself along its surface. Trust never comes for it because it is a condition of him/her receiving the good object that exists only as a component of a distant dream.
Deleuze’s picture of the giving subject is dark, but not hopeless. Two things however are clear from this structuralist analysis: 1) Oedipal benevolence is founded on deception (of self and of the patrons/patronesses of the “good object”); 2) secondly, from the perspective of societal Oedipus the passage to trust starts from distrust. Trust presupposes that passage, and an active engagement with it and its boundaries.
Image: Jalabeat, Charles François. Antigone Leads Oedipus Out of Thebes. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.