Enslavement of the ego

The person who has been consumed by evil ends up acting as its slave. Evil conditions are produced from a narrow perspective, a form of bondage or constriction that traps the self behind the ego. Always writing with Freud’s ideas on the self, the ego and the fact of the Oedipal transition within his peripheral vision, Becker describes the prison this way:

The enemy . . . is the Oedipus complex. The child has built up strategies and techniques for keeping his self-esteem in the face of the terror of his situation. These techniques become armor that holds the person prisoner. The very defenses he needs in order to move about with self-confidence and self-esteem become his life-long trap . . . like Lear, he must throw off his cultural lendings and stand naked in the storm of life . . . Like many prisoners they are comfortable in their limited and protected routines, and the ideas of a parole into the wide world of change, accident and choice terrifies them.

(1973: 86-87)

Men’s souls are enslaved to cultural stereotypes and standards. In addition to being enslaved to the ego in order to repress shame, an individual is gripped by an illusion of freedom that is ignorant of selflessness or goodness. There is a succumbing in evil, for even if he pursues it with determination no one does evil voluntarily (Plato). What is more, once the person has succumbed, evil maintains its control. When evil becomes the main source of narcissism and egocentricity, one is unable to grow out of or escape them. This is linked to the fact that evil uses inflation as a compensation for the deprivation, insignificance, emptiness, and inner poverty an individual feels radiating from the absent self underneath. Forfeiting ego means descent into nothingness and shame.

A person who falls into evil inevitably fails to be himself. If he has built a secure identity, he will start to see it crumble under his feet. The evil that can take over a life erodes conscience, the moral glue that holds the self together. The self is now not only dissociated, but disintegrated. The missing self underneath is best described as the absence of humanitarian feelings that are lost in the retreat into early developmental modalities that lack the capacity for historicity and personal accountability (Grand, 2000), the “primordial arena of baby mind” where the “devil first sows his seeds” (Eigen, 1984: 93). Vulnerability to evil is fueled by the temptation in the infantile, omnipotent belief that he will receive the longed for recognition and affirmation for his being. But as we saw in the previous chapter, recognition has to be given in order to be received, and received in order to be given. Only through the process of interacting with other humans can a person develop a stable, integrated, differentiated identity and an equally important conscience. The self is delineated through progressive degrees of separation, and, ultimately in the natural world, the male is never really fully separated from the mother.

Since the evil that represses shame dissolves conscience, the individual who is steeped in it justifies, and in one way or another does not recognize, his evil acts. Evil is there to lie about the frightening reality of life’s limitations, and embedded in this force is the temptation to destroy oneself. The self is forgotten as the unrestrained exercise of primary process omnipotence brings the individual the feeling that everything is possible. He loses touch with reality and his judgment deserts him. A man is self-deceived and lives a lie in which he cannot be himself. Evil is egocentric and alienates a person from the self that can only be found through the inclusion of the element of recognition. A narcissistic psychosis prevents him from knowing that what he is thinking is evil; vision simply cannot find a foothold in his perceptions. He may seek the kind of achievement and success that boosts the ego, that make him feel important. Nevertheless, the slightest failure will feel like a bombshell. His identity is external, not grounded in his self; to conceive of his own evil, he has to come down from the high position of his ego puffed up with power.

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