Dr Talal Alrubaie
2008 / 12 / 23
The phenomenon of women’s wearing the veil in our Arabic and Isalmc culture including Iraq (the country on which I mainly focus here) is aquiring the feaures of an ‘epidemic’. I am obviously using here the medical term ’epidemic’ to refer to a social phenomenon and not to a medical one. And this is not without intention on my part. It is, however, not the intention to offend. It is one of analysis, investigation and comprehension of a social phenomenon by resorting to concepts borrowed from disciplines such as medicine, sociology, psychology, physics and informational mathematics. It is, if you will, a case of cross-fertilization of thoughts and hence is an inter-disciplinary effort. (Here, I obviously, refer to the veil as a social phenomenon and not to the wearing of it as a stylistic personal preference or due to a physical need).
In this article, I will first explain the relevance of using the metaphor of the epidemic here in relation to the veil, and argue later that the Phallic discourse is the root cause of all social ills, such as the veil, female circumcision, honour killing, the (decorative) use of women by politicians to propagate a Phallic agenda and the women’s going along with this (ab)use, sectarianism, nepotism, the simulation of democracy in Iraq, the widely spread financial and administrative corruption, and the kidnapping and assassination of Iraqi scientists and intellectuals. And when an institutional (e.g., political party) or an ideological affiliation becomes the substitute of a scholar inquiry and a means of installing a godly, megalomaniac self-satisfaction, then we have not only the best ingredients of a recipe of a moral crisis engulfing our society, but we also have the reality thereof. As I will argue below, this moral crisis transcends ideologies. I will also outline the laws governing this discourse. In the end, I schematically suggest some ways out.
However, I feel the need to say from the outset to those who thought or still think that ousting Saddam was/is the end of this moral crisis that they were/are living in the their utopia of a heavenly paradise, where the denial of the Phallus reigns supreme. Those, by virtue of their heavenly, pure world they live in, believe only in the sacred, and hence for them the Phallus is the Signified of the penis (signifier) their lips cannot utter without their feeling soiled. Those who live in heaven have no need for words, particularly genital or sexual words, when sex or other actions add no pleasure to their heavenly paradise.
The moral crisis in Iraq continues now, following the fall of Saddam, though taking on a different disguise. The crisis will continue and will even worsen if we remain oblivious to the malignant effects of the Phallic discourse, its (ever-changing) manifestations, its laws, and its being non-ideological. By non-ideological, I mean its extremely talented gift to take on any ideology, be it religious, liberal, Marxist etc, in order to spread its cancer.
Oddly enough, the Phallic disguise can show itself even in theses of those who seemingly are tenaciously antagonistic to (Phallic version of) Islam. It suffices to cite one example here to make the point. Although I agree with many of Dr Wafa Sultan’s propositions, I can hardly help believe that her anti-Islamic rhetoric is as phallic (essentialist, dualist, closed, ahistorical) as the Islam she is sturdily opposed to. Sadly, her anti-Islamic thesis is based on her falling pray to the Phallic notion of God in Islam as presented in most, if not all, old and current Islamic teachings. However, this notion of God could be seen as only one version of God who could/should be problematized and de-constructed with a view of constructing a compassionate, loving God; De-constructing the Phallic God would possibly enable us at arriving at a notion of God which is neither He nor She; it is gender-neutral or ungendered and hence androgynous; it is the amalgam of the anima and animus in Jung’s analytic psychology-Jung identified the anima as being the unconscious feminine component of men and the animus as the unconscious masculine component in women. The androgynous God, crudely put, will be an abstract of ethical goodness that a human being would strive for. This God is to stand at an equi-distance from both genders of maleness and femaleness.
Since all actual and potential versions of God are not based on a direct empirical experience with it (referring to God in the gender-neutral pronoun ‘it’ that unfortunately has no Arabic equivalent), and all our understandings of it are based on texts that are amenable to de-construction as any other text, then I see no reason that one cannot worship an androgynous God (if one feels the need for God), instead of the hostile, furious, destructive, retaliatory Phallic one. Furthermore, there is no reason whatsoever to assume that those who worship the Phallic God are more religious or authentic than those worshiping the androgynous one. I personally believe, if I may, it is the other way round. Perhaps, in re-constructing such a God, one needs to learn much from atheistic religions such as Buddhism or the Hindu, or from the Greek mythology. In these religions or mythologies, there are different Gods fulfilling different functions and these Gods are, compared to those in monolithic religions such as Islam, are downgraded in terms of their omnipotence and omniscience. Such a newly-reconstructed God in Islam will be hardly consistent with the absolutism of religious edicts and its killing machinery. Such a (notion of) God will go a long way towards blurring the schism of belief versus atheism.
The readiness to accept the phallic God in our society is positively related to the existential anxiety that the society is experiencing due to its having a brutal heritage, total lack of security, the inadequacy or absence of the welfare social system, the widespread corruption and unemployment, as well as to political programs of limited informational content and alternative visions. This need for a Phallic God is operating unconsciously to a major extent, and it represents the need of defending oneself against annihilation. Such a need can hardly be changed by the words of the linear logic of the conscious mind, since this need and its satisfaction are operating to a great extent in the unconscious level. To effect a change in the unconscious level of mentation, a person needs, as any psychiatrist or psychotherapist knows, to develop an emotional insight into one’s needs and conflicts. I cite a simple though a relevant example. We know that the vast majority of smokers know (they have the intellectual insight) that smoking is a risk factor in causing lung cancer. However, they would continue smoking nevertheless and would use all the words they have at their disposal to rationalise away their smoking addiction. What they need in order to stop smoking is rather a totally different insight which is the emotional insight The emotional insight is achieved though working through the unconscious defence mechanisms, hence it is much harder, and needs a longer time, to achieve.
The androgynous God acquires its Godly status by virtue of goodly, earthly attributes that measures one’s closeness to it by a person’s action to support and care for one’s community and the world, and by virtues that are not to be reduced to empty ceremonies devoid of good effects in reality. On the contrary, ceremonies such as of prayers, pilgrimage etc, can install in a person the feeling of goodness that is totally divorced from reality. Such ceremonies, practised out of the fear from a Phallic God, are obviously having nothing to do with human goodness as a virtue. Ceremonies practised on the basis of fear are not ethical, since ethics is based on the freedom of personal choice. Religion thus becomes the antidote to ethics. The
ceremonialists are acting in bad faith, as Sartre would have said. Their actions are a call for hypocrisy.
A Recent incident belonging to the realm of the Phallic is that of Nuri Al-Maliki’s issuing a religious/political edict of closing down nightclubs on the pretext of their inconsistency with the moral fabrics of the Iraqi society (so?) -The orthodox communists, infected by the phallic epidemic, have kept silent on this subject due to several possible causes, including their castrating, oedipal, fears of being accused with immorality, fears which register the collapse of their ethics, as in religion, despite their leftist agenda.
The arbitrariness of the Phallic has made Al-Maliki oblivious to his appearing inconsistent. Even the most moderate measure of consistency in logic would have lead him inevitably to the closing down of his (highly corrupt) government (this is not my subjective opinion; it is the verdict of the last annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index report), unless he implicitly sees no inconsistency and hence accuses all Iraqis of being corrupt, in which case keeping nightclubs open will not corrupt an already corrupt society, that is, to follow his edict to its logical consequences. It seems that Al-Maliki has not read Federico Garcia Lorca’s La casa de Bernarda Alba (The House of Bernarda Alba), or if he had read it, it seems he could not get the message. An interpretive reading of this play signifies that Bernarda’s oppression of the sexuality of her daughters is seen as the triumph of death over life; a foresight of the ascendency of the Spanish fascists and the tragic drama that unfolded later.
A master of disguise is the Phallus. It speaks, if required, in words of truisms, paradoxes, implicit commands, metaphors or metonyms, or it communicates in the inaudible words and the ambiguous bodily gestures. It can be showing itself in the crudest form of the visible reality or in its most subtle form in the twilight zone of what is spoken or of the silent message. It could appear in crude or an apparently beautiful work of art, or even in the prejudices and biases of science. What makes the Phallic discourse extremely difficult to diagnose and combat is the multitude of its disguises; one disguise, for example, is that of the fake wisdom of a text or of a religious cleric or institution. Another is that of the intellectual stagnation and closure of a leftist party and its parroting, if not regurgitating, of platitudes, or of its ad-nauseum repetitive references to its martyrs (as if it had replaced its atheism with worship of the God of Death, the Thantos), or of aloofness of this party as a main strategy of (not) coping with the complexity and unpredictability of life.
No one person, irrespective of his or her intellectual sophistry, erudition or commitment, can identify, grasp, analyse, or combat the phallic discourse in all its elusiveness and diversity. All of this should be the task of a communal armed with extreme vigilance, intellectual rigour, and moralistic commitment.
The veil and other Phallic manifestations, alluded to above, are infantile, collective psychological defences against the deeply-felt personal insecurity in the face of death and the acuteness of its unpredictability, and of the personal helplessness in the face of this death. The Phallic manifestations are greatly due to defences against the fear of death in a world in which “personal survival” is written big, a survival achievable, for example, by wearing a veil, clinging onto the name of a sect or ethnicity, or savagely applying the laws of jungle to corrupt and be corrupted; a world in which holding onto ethics of togetherness, despite or because of paying a lip service to it, is not any more a recipe of survival. This world is the world in which the fittest, not the most ethical, will survive. It is the individualistic society per excellence as advocated by the most vocal social Darwinist, Margaret Thatcher, in her vision of society, or, more precisely, the lack thereof. But would not it be extremely naïve to expect a different post-Saddam reality scripted by her ideological follower, another social Darwinian, G. W. Bush, and his closet political allay Tony Blair?
Now I turn to what makes wearing the veil a sign of an epidemic, similar, for example, to the epidemic of cholera. Both of them, that is of the veil and of cholera, share similar features. Both are widespread, not combatable by linguistic endeavours, and being contagious. The contagiousness of a disease epidemic, like of cholera, is a balance of the activity of the invader, the cholera bacteria, on the one hand and the condition of health of the host, the human being, on the other. The epidemic of cholera cannot be controlled and combated by words, however eloquent or persuasive they are. Further, its widespread is technically definable by epidemiologists using special statistics, and its contagiousness and spread (unlike the human efforts employed to combat its spread), obviously, are not a matter of contemplation or any cognitive processing.
As it is already obvious, the epidemic of the veil, statistically speaking, has exceeded the epidemic of Cholera. Therefore, I will only need now to make evident the other two similarities between the two epidemics; namely, firstly, the collapse of language in terms of the spread of the epidemic of veil, and, secondly, its contagious nature.
A woman’s wearing the veil is signalling her Phallic virtue by implicitly referring to her hymen. Her wearing the veil masks her lack (of the penis), a lack that the Phallic discourse equates with shame and dishonour. Her message is: “I am wearing the veil, hence I have an intact hymen. I am a virgin”. Her virginity inescapably signals, in accordance with the rules of the Phallic, her (phallic) virtue, her marketability; her being marriageable. One can reverse the order of the words here, but the conclusion cannot be reversed. Whether we start with the veil or with the hymen we arrive at the same conclusion; they are both signalling a virtue, the virtue of a commodity, of marketability.
In Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx claimed that from the sexual relationship "one can...judge man s whole level of development...the relationship of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It therefore reveals the extent to which man s natural behaviour has become human. Our society is a society in which the woman is used as an object, and one which does not bring much satisfaction to either party, the man or woman; people are treating each other as objects, as instances of a kind”, (not taking another s unique, personalizing characteristics into account), and the general frustration that results are major features in the alienation described by Marx. Although Marx’s observation of alienation was specifically related to the capitalist society of his era, I contend that it is equally relevant to our Iraqi society.
In Sartre’s theory of sexuality, the Body exists in three ontological dimensions:1) as my body; 2) as an object for the Other;3) as myself known by the Other, which is a dialectical construction of the first two. This dialectic is the basis of the sense of shame or embarrassment. Hence a woman’s seeing her hymen as the source of shame or pride is her internalizing a societal message that objectifies the body; the woman’s subjectivity is abolished by her becoming an object known and evaluated by the Other; the Phallus.
In the Phallic discourse, the penis, as a part of the male anatomy, is elevated to the status of the Phallus. The Phallus as a discourse, speaking though men or women, is the author of the moral codes of the society, that is, the one that determines what is moral or immoral. The penis acts as the biological surrogate of the social Phallus. Women, obviously devoid of the penis, have their social status in this Phallic discourse, but it is only the status of a lack, a lack that can be ridden of only though the enterprise (in our society) of a marriage. A woman has to use all her generationally passed-on, female ingenuity and artistry to secure her Phallic status, otherwise she is doomed to live a life dominated by the lack, a life in which she neither counts nor has a voice. It is a matter of life and death for her, and the preparation for the search for the bounty, the penis-turned-into-Phallus, can not start too early. Because it is an existential matter, woman’s competition, understandably, for the bounty can be extremely fierce.
Of women’s competition speaks the sexologist and psychoanalyst Nancy Friday. She has elaborated on the nature of women’s’ competition in her book ‘My Mother/My Self: The Daughter s Search for Identity”, a book I recommend to any woman or man who struggles to make sense of the psychological means of oppression that transcends gender. The women’s competition can occur even in a mother-daughter relationship. In this competition, many women act as the ideal guardian of the Phallus and are even more loyal to the Phallic discourse than men. I may recount an anecdote here to illustrate this point. I was watching an Iraqi satellite TV station in the company of an Iraqi middle-aged, married woman I call her A here. The TV presenter was wearing a sleeveless shirt. A made a comment disproving of the presenter’s attire because her showing her body this way was in A’s eyes something offensive to the Iraqis who are going though much suffering and pain. Notwithstanding the fact that the epidemic of veil has never contributed the least, if not the opposite, to the relief of the Iraqi suffering, this anecdote reflects A’s fear of the presenter’s potential of seducing her husband away from her and consequently leaving her more helpless than she had been before. Hence A needed to oppress other women, such as the TV presenter-by proxy here. A took offence in the presenter’s attempt at displaying her body in a way that enables her and others to enjoy the body as the sign of life, as opposed to the body-turned-into corpse as a Phallic sign of death. Sadly, this incident, as I have discovered later, is not a singular anecdote and therefore bears some generalization. Therefore, one could come to a conclusion, based on this and other anecdotes, that a woman’s wearing of the veil is a message of oppression sent by a woman to another woman, as much as it is a sign of oppression sent by the (Phallic) man to all women. This oppression feeds off fear of helplessness, annihilation and death in a society where death is the common currency.
But can one blame these women when they see their gaining the bounty (the penis-turned-into Phallus) as the only way of their having a voice and becoming countable? It is a struggle for their existence. The Phallic man obviously encourages a woman’s perception of her “lack” and the entailing competition, since such a perception will obviously strengthen the need for him by a women, not only as a sex partner, but most importantly, as the decider of her fate and existence. He is the one that blows life into her corpse; he is her earthly God.
A woman who has lost her virginity and now is divorced or widowed continues wearing the veil, declaring as such her continuous commitment to the Phallus and is hoping to use the veil as sort of a sign of her being (still) marketable. Governed by the Phallic discourse, most, if not all, men, would, however, prefer the appeal of the virgin rather than the deflowered. The French psychoanalyst Lacan, among others, says that a man or a woman does not speak through language; it is the language (read the social discursive hegemony) that speaks through them. Therefore, Lacan’s thesis exposes the falsehood of a woman’s claim that she wears the veil of her own accord.
The laws of the Phallus can be exceedingly subtle and elusive. The phallic discourse is brutally pragmatic; it allows for no individual variations. Its laws are ironclad, and its strictness is exemplary. In other words, it is emotionless machinery; it is not a machinery of the livings; it is a machinery of the dead, of the sacred and holy book. Its logic is driven by a narcissist striving for an ever-eluding completeness. Any approximation of completeness will counts for nothing. Its laws are the ones of either/or, the ones of alive or dead. It is colour blind and can see only black and white.
Hence, it is very worrying to see women who, despite their allegation of ideological affiliation to Marxism or communism, wearing the veil-certainly with a nodding acceptance, if not encouragement, by their big brothers/comrades. The comrades, brothers and sisters, think that the veil is just a matter of swimming with the current; the Phallic current. Some Marxists or communists, women or women, justify the wearing of the veil as just a fleeting juncture in the path of their historical struggle towards building their Grand Project of socialism/communism. The veil, they claim, is an insignificant manoeuvre aiming at defusing their opponents’ aggression and pacifying their hostility, so that they, the Marxists or communists, could devote their energy to achieving their grand, current or future historical goals, and to avoid getting sidetracked by ‘unnecessary’ distractions. As they perceive the fight against the Phallus as an unnecessary distraction, the Phallus marks another victory. The phallus is a parasite that lives off those who are analphabetic in deciphering its language. Those who, whatever their ideological affiliations are, think that they can trick or cheat the phallus, are committing the political sin that is equivalent to another one, though scientific, namely, the belief in the possibility of cheating the physical law of gravity.
Since the Phallus is totally narcissistic and ego-centric, it will not see this yielding by its opponents as a good gesture, to which it will respond with gratitude now or later. It will see the yielding, in accordance with its megalomaniac nature, as some thing it is entitled to. It will see (through) it as a sign of weakness and of a naivety with regard to its laws on the part of its opponents. It will even encourage the yielding gestures in the name of wisdom, tactics, or whatever linguistic acrobatics. Those who overestimate their shrewdness, and underestimate the cunning of the Phallus, are going to be confronted with the realization of their fatal miscalculations when sooner or later they are called in to pay the price. The price will be dear, and one can only conclude that they eventually have contributed, through their yielding, however trivial it seems, to the spread of the Phallic epidemic, that is, despite their declaration of opposing It. This schism between what they say and what they do is a pure example illustrating the fact that conscious knowledge, irrespective of its ideological mask, is only the tip of an iceberg, whose submerged part constitutes a much greater bulk? Hence politics or ideologies, irrespective of their lofty words, eloquent persuasiveness, or seemingly good intentions are doomed to be perpetuating the living on, if not thriving, of the Phallic epidemic when they discount the knowledge contained in the unconscious, the submerged part of the iceberg. And we have already witnessed the historical moment when the epidemic of the Phallus engulfed the used-to-be-called ‘Socialist Camp” and lead eventually to its fatal collapse. Currently, the same phenomenon is unfolding itself before our eyes, though on a smaller scale, in the stagnation and slow collapse of communist countries like Cuba or North Chorea.
As alluded to above, the Phallic laws are as deterministic as the laws of Newton’s physics are. However, the phallic discourse is opportunistically selective and hence is stubbornly reluctant to be scientifically updated with developments in (natural) sciences, as, for example, the indeterministic physics of Heisenberg as opposed to Newton’s deterministic physics.
The visibility of the Phallic discourse becomes more evident in the encounter when a woman meets a man. They are convinced they are in love. They look at each other, without catching each other s eyes, as she cast her eyes down the moment their eyes meet. She is telling him, through the gesture of casting her eyes down, that “I am your slave”, and he readily picks up the message and puffs up his breast. Now, he is a confirmed ‘Master”, he says to himself. Hegel’s slave-master dialectic has been realized in a glance, in a fraction of a second, in the act of her casting of her eyes down and his subsequent puffing up of his breast.
Lacan read Hegel and integrated in his book Ecrits some of his views of his developmental psychology of the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic registers. Although even a brief elaboration of these registers will go much beyond the scope of this article, I only schematically define here these registers and their relevance to my thesis.
The Real is every thing that cannot be expressed or articulated in language, as for example, death that marks its presence through its absence. However, the existential anxiety caused by death is always there and is experienced by every human being, despite the actual absence of death -Lacan clarified this point by referring to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Purloined Letter (1845), in which the stolen letter acquires its significance only if it falls in the hands of the supreme authority, the King. This anxiety can be defended against through certain coping mechanisms, the healthiest of which is the sublimation through biological means, such as having children, or though intellectual means such as producing scientific or art works which secure the author a life beyond his/her (biological) death. However, all defences are never complete and fluctuates in terms of their success.
I would argue that the notion of hymen belongs to Lacan’s Real register. Although the hymen has never been seen or touched by the vast majority of women or men, it remains extremely significant in influencing the Arabic/Islamic discourse of honour, and in its name thousands of women are killed every year. For those who have had the ‘privilege’ of acquainting themselves with the hymen through the tactile or visual experience, and not the experience of the aftermath of the torn hymen as marked by blood, their experience has little or no effect on their perception of any connection between honour and the hymen. An empirical experience with the hymen will never aim at de-constructing this connection, and hence it remains an insignificant experience that adds nothing to the knowledge of how this connection has been constructed and how it could be de-constructed. This is because the connection between honour and hymen precedes any empirical knowledge a person can have of the hymen. The Phallic, passed-on cultural or religious tradition or dogma will negate any empirically gained experience. Such a tradition ensures its hegemony over the body by virtue of its resistance to the textulaization of the body, a process evidently required for any revision of connection between honour and bodily parts such as the hymen.
Lacan’s Imaginary will be discussed below, and the Symbolic is the cultural discourse conveyed through language, and to a less extent through bodily gesturer or habits. What is more relevant here is the Imaginary Register.
A child goes through the Imaginary (mirror) stage at the age of 6-18 months. It looks at itself in the mirror and perceives itself as a coherent, complete body, a perception that is inconsistent with its reality. The imaginary stage is what enables the child to finally be able to say ‘I’. The mirror does not have to be the real mirror, and usually the mother’s eyes, that is, her views of her child, act as a mirror. The child sees his/her perfection in the mother’s eyes. This is the stage of what psychoanalysts call the primary narcissism, a stage which a child, hopefully, leaves when entering into the Symbolic Register of language.
When a woman meets a man, he acts as the surrogate mother for her; he gives her to understand that she is ‘perfect’, or that is at least what she would like to think. Also, through her having his penis, she is realizing her infantile narcissistic omnipotence of being a male and a female at the same time (prior to age 2-3 years the child experiences the omnipotence of being both genders. It starts becoming aware of his/her gender at age 2-3 and this becomes stable at age 4 and constant at age 6).
Now, the sexuality that binds them leads to her seeing herself perfect . She experiences this sexual union as her return to the Nirvana of her being both genders. Her primary narcissism is fully satisfied now. With her having a husband, she is not only has satisfied her imagery expectations of her being belonging to both genders, but also she register her triumph of entering the Symbolic Register. The man is now opening the gate for her to enter the Phallic world where she would count. However, she will soon come to realise that the sense of Nirvana, as well as the experience of omnipotence, are illusionary and the price she has paid for these elusions is her selfhood or the potential thereof.
Married now, she declares her gratitude to him, as she sees him the one who opened the gate to her Nirvana. However, as time goes by, she will eventually realise bitterly that her acquisition of the penis-turned- into-phallus was a charade. He always keeps her hopeful, and she colludes with his tricks and keeps hoping that her use of her feminine wizardry will finally effect her acquisition of the Phallus surrogated by the penis. But the emotionless Phallus will not compromise by sharing its status with others, irrespective of how dear or close they are, and her defeat will become absolute.
Her eagerness for having the penis is not exactly a sign of her sexual passion, though undeniably there is some of it there, particularly initially, because sexual pleasure does not rank high in her agenda. It is a luxury she can afford having when she become secures in the knowledge that she has gained her Phallic status, a status that remain elusive for ever. Hence the pleasure of sex will never exceed the most fleeting and mundane of it. For her, sex becomes a burden, her painful ‘marital duty’ (the dryness of her vagina due to her lack of sexual desire or pleasure makes sexual intercourse painful, a medical condition called dysparuenia. But dysparuenia is only one outcome and she can suffer other sexual problems like orgasmic difficulties). Frequently sex becomes, as far as she is concerned, only a means for procreation, the multiplication of bodies necessary for the worship of the Phallus and fighting its wars, and there are so many of them.
A while after her getting married, she starts feeling betrayed for not having achieved the (Phallic) status she hoped for, a status that neither the veil, nor her virginity, nor giving him children has enabled her to achieve. She, equally infected as her husband by the ‘germs’ of the Phallic discourse, strives for the absolute and an approximation is never sufficient. He equally feels cheated as he thinks that she has not held her part of the barging, a barging of her being his slave. He asks: "Why has she changed? Why has she give up her silence and become vocal? Why is she speaking now without my permission?’’ She promised, or at least her casting down of her eyes meant this to him, that she will be always lacking (slaves are always lacking in the eyes of their masters), so what has changed now, he asks, since her body has never undergone Kafka’s metamorphism of her growing a penis? He fails to see through the paraphernalia of the veil or hymen as ingredients of her scheme to attain the Phallic status. He feels she should be grateful to him for his enabling her to enter the Symbolic Register and to count as a human, though as a ‘human’ slave. And when he recognises this, he feels betrayed by her, as she, in his eyes, has reneged on her promise to be, and remain being, his salve; she has to be always his eternal slave, otherwise how could he be eternal master? A master without a slave is not a master.
Their mutual feelings of betrayal and anger is not due to miscommunication that could be resolved by improving the technicality of their communication. Their mutually felt betrayal is eventual and is determined neither by him nor her; their marital failure and their entailing personal crises (whatever this means) is just one symptom of the Phallic epidemic. Hence it has the mindless feature of the epidemic. Both of them feels cheated and are furious with each other, but not with what lies at the root of their feeling so. They are frightened to death of looking at the (discursive) cause of their problem, since such a look will put them directly in contact with Lacan’s Real register, the death. Such an encounter will have to provoke an intolerable anxiety, their existential anxiety, the fear of death that they use sexuality, marriage, and all the armamentarium that the Phallic discourse could offer to defend themselves against. They are frightened to death of confronting the real, the death, and have to go on and on avoiding confronting it by perpetuating, and endlessly escaping in, the Phallic discourse, and irrespective of the number of revelations in which the promised paradise turn out to be the hell. Even they prefer death to the torments of the contact with the existential anxiety provoked by the contact with the real, the death. The escape in the Phallic discourse goes on and on, an escape that well secures the contagiousness of the Phallic epidemic. And the great Bertrand Russell, a mathematician and logician, is proved right when he said that people would rather die than think, a fact that the Marxist psychoanalyst Erich Fromm has well elaborated on in his book Fear of Freedom. The thoughtlessness of the phallic discourse is the energy that fuels the contagiousness of this discourse and reveals its epidemic nature.
To some up, the laws characteristic of the Phallic discourse are as follows (and this is not meant to be an exhaustive list):
1. The Phallus is absolutely unyielding and stubborn,
2. It is as deterministic as the gravity or other laws of Newton’s physics.
3. Governed by (the metaphor of) Newton’s law of inertia, the Phallic discourse capitalizes on the bodily and mental inertia of a person or a society.
4. The Phallic discourse is selective in its choice of thoughts disseminating its discourse. However, its choice is arbitrary and not updated scientifically. For example, although the mask is the face of the Phallus, there is no evidence from an evolutionary biological point of view that disguise, though possibly a survival aid to an individual, is conducive to the survival of a species. This is easily understandable, since the Phallic discourse is only aiming at the survival of an individual, not of the species.
5. It is ego-centric and negates the necessity of gratitude, since it is governed by envy (for more about the relationship between envy and gratitude, you might wish to consult Melanie Klein’s classic: Envy and Gratitude). Those who compromise with the Phallic are met only with its contempt, because it sees this as a sign of weakness. As it believes only in the Social Darwinism of the survival of the fittest, weak people, in its eyes, neither deserve gratitude nor even deserve life itself.
6. It its logic is one of closure and not of Gödel s logic of incompleteness.
7. It is emotionless, cold, and calculating machinery.
8. It transcends the gender dichotomy of maleness and femaleness. This transcendence exposes clearly the inherent inadequacies of this dichotomy that in its turn acts to cement the Phallic edifice.
9. It transcends the dichotomy of Left versus Right in the political spectrum. The ideological clef is bridged up by the visible and invisible engineers and workers of the Phallus.
10. Although the Phallic manifestations could be denied or intellectualized away, they cannot, however, be cheated away.
11. It is a killing machinery in literal and metaphoric sense. It can never contemplate that a ‘cat’ could be alive in Schrödinger’s thought experiment. This disbelief is not to do with the scientific correctness or incorrectness of this experiment; it is to do with the fact that its visions and predictions are stemming always from the realm of death.
12. The Phallic discourse is fuelled, psychoanalytically speaking, by the energy of the death instinct. It torments minds and deadens or exhausts bodies. Those who choose to embrace and effect a different, healthier discourse ought to have their depleted energy be replenished through, to a great extent, letting go of their psychological defence mechanisms, and through not wasting their energy in rigidifying closures, just to mention only a couple of mechanisms.
. The now available energy can be channelled into the life instinct, Eros, which is not reducible to the mechanics of penetrative sex. It is the one that energises freedom of thought, creativity and pleasure.
13. It thrives on intellectual platitudes, hence its informational content or entropy is poor or is a noise in accordance with Shannon’s theory of information as presented in his seminal paper ‘Mathematical Theory of Communication’, published in 1948 (His theory has also wide implications also to disciplines like psychology and neurobiology). This intellectual impoverishment is simultaneously a sign of the Phallic strength as it allows it to take on as many intellectual disguises as it needs to sever its objectives. These disguises, nevertheless, indicate no openness; they are again governed by the law of closure, referred to above, and are going to be discarded as soon they have served their purposes. A sentence like “With good wills everything could be resolved” is just an example of such an informational noise.
Despite that the phallic discourse in our society is almost all-prevailing by virtue of its colonizing so many minds and bodies in its ever-eluding multifold and multimode of disguises, we need not subscribe to a vision of defeatism. There are ways out.
By nature and by virtue of my profession as a psychiatrist, I am disinclined to be prescriptive, but I have to make here an exception that I think is warranted.
The way out starts, brutally put (with a societal crisis on our hands, there is no time for mincing words), with the abolition once and for all of a government based on sectarianism and nepotism –some of the grave plights of the Phallic discourse. Secularism needs urgently be enshrined in the Iraqi constitution. Human rights should be considered by those in power as the word means a ‘right’, and not as a privilege equivalent to a gift donated by the politician to their underlings or underdogs, a gift that hypocritically proves the goodness of those who give the gift and the neediness of those receiving it. Human rights should be inclusive rather than exclusive. It should, for example, ensure the civil rights of a person, in accordance with the declarations of 14th World Congress of Sexology in Hong Kong, China, in 1999, to enjoy his/her body and sexuality.
The aspired-for political reality should not only ensure that the freedom of political thought and scientific and literary inquiry or work be respected, but also be encouraged and materially supported. Changes in the constitution to reflect these requirements are essential initial steps, so that these rights become a major ingredient in unifying our society, safeguarding its existence, and providing us with a rational for our pride in it. These changes are indispensable if we inspire to have an ethically sound society.
The urgent need of abolishing a governmental system based on sectarianism and nepotism acquires an additional rational of major importance. As alluded to above, sectarianism, nepotism, unemployment, terror, non-inclusive politics of human rights, just to mention the most drastic examples, are some of the major causes of existential anxiety inflicting our society. A society experiencing this anxiety day and night, and stands helpless in the face of it, is a tormented society that acts out of feat. Actions based on fear, as indicated above, are hardly ethical and will most certainly contribute not only to the aggravation of the societal moral crisis, but also to a slow societal suicide, that is, a suicide committed through the perpetuation of terror, corruption, and disregard of human rights.
Hence, changes, along the lines outlined above, are not only an indispensable requirement to have an ethical society (that is, a fair and democratic society), but they are also unavoidable requirements to stop the ongoing societal haemorrhage that threatens the existence of our society to its core. And we discover now that our society’s existential fear is tragically self-fulfilling and self-nourishing. Self-fulfilment is evident as the more anxiety our society experiences, the more is the potential of what is feared becomes a reality. Self-nourishment manifesting itself as the more fear our society experiences; the more it resorts to destructive mechanisms, as detailed above, to ensure individual survival at the expense of the societal one, as the societal survival becomes ever-elusive.
I might have to revisit this topic and write a postscript to it.