Id, Ego, and Super-Esteem

Despite having many revolutionary ideas, Sigmund Freud is generally known for only a smattering of his stranger concepts. Introductory psychology courses rarely mention him beyond the obligation of teaching that he devised psychotherapy, had stages of psychosexual development, and is largely discredited in modern psychology.

One of Freud’s more enduring concepts is that of the construction of human consciousness. He theorized that the human psyche consisted of three parts: Id, Ego, and Superego. The Id is the first to develop – it is impulsive and depraved and demands instantaneous gratification. Following this, the Ego comes in to regulate the Id in such a way that our needs are met without causing harm to ourselves or others. The Superego is the final bit to develop, and is essentially what we consider our conscious – rewarding good behavior with feelings of pride, and bad behavior with feelings of guilt.

I tell you that to contextualize Freud’s idea that there is also a Cultural Superego, which is created by our cultural norms and is supposed to encourage behavior that moves society in a forward and positive direction.

Think about The Walking Dead, or any other zombie and/or apocalypse movie, television series, or book. A key component to telling these stories is that they take place in an environment in which the cultural Superego has been compromised or destroyed. The culture of the (usually zombie) apocalypse is one operating on Id alone.

An archetypal character that appears in all of these tales is the ruthless survive-at-all-costs person; the person who advocates stealing from other factions, preemptively killing groups of people in the name of safety, and generally revels in the lawlessness of the situation. They are the apex predators of the apocalypse because they immediately and completely succumb to the Id and rely on it to survive.

All apocalypse stories tend to have a Darwinian, survival of the fittest vibe. Fittest, in this instance is less about strong and smart, and more about ability to compromise former values and become as cruel as necessary in order to survive. Because we like to think that good and decent people will always prevail, these Id driven characters are usually killed by the hero and/or have a miraculous change of heart and die saving their group in a selfless act of redemption midway through the narrative. This portrayal is indicative of our cultural Superego – our value set suggests that morally sound people will prevail, so we tend to ignore the contrary evidence and tell stories that resonate with our preexisting notions.

Having never been in an apocalypse, zombie or otherwise, I cannot be certain, but assume that the more plausible scenario involves these ruthless individuals becoming the warlord kings of the apocalypse, killing, eating, and/or enslaving those who kept control over their Id and attempted to maintain any shred of their former values.

One glorious and exaggerated example of this is Danny McBride’s portrayal of himself in This is the End. He enters the story the morning after the Biblical apocalypse begins, and is channeling his Eastbound and Down character, Kenny Powers. After being voted out of the house for becoming increasingly driven by his Id, he ventures out into the wasteland where we assume he will die a horrible death in short order.

McBride reappears at the end of the movie as the leader of a group of cannibals with a human skull for a helm and Channing Tatum on a leash to be used for his more carnal impulses. In a matter of a few days, he goes from a slightly selfish person attempting to survive the apocalypse to a full on maniac, gorging himself on human flesh and mayhem.

McBride cast his Ego and Superego aside and basked in the vicious glory of Id. It is his Id that allows him to murder people, eat them, sodomize movie stars, and gleefully pillage in any way he can imagine, all without the pesky feelings of guilt or remorse that the Ego or Superego may inflict upon him. This transformation happened in a matter of days. If we were truly capable of shutting off our Ego and Superego, the change would likely happen just as quickly.

Your Id wants to kill you. It always has, and it always will. The Self-Esteem Movement has, and will continue to, perpetuate societal norms that encourage the Id to be larger and more powerful than the Ego and Superego, both culturally and individually. Too much of anything is never a good thing, especially when ‘anything’ specifically refers to the most destructive and depraved part of your unconscious mind.

No rational person would present a four-year-old with a Scarface-esque pile of cocaine and then put them in charge of everything. We are putting the Id, the maniacal being that lives in the most primitive parts of our mind, behind the wheel. This will not end well.

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One comment

  1. Very interesting piece. Dystopian society scenarios are fun to conjure with but can not exist within an intact Cultural Superego motif. The fear is that some will view an apocalypse as an opportunity to achieve personal dominance over areas in which they would ordinarily be ignored. Turning fantasy into fact, in this instance, cannot bode well. Creating a third world war in order to hasten the return of the Mahdi comes to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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