We’re going to discuss some terminology, in order to answer an ask today.
We’ve already mentioned the “Other,” as that social force we worry about judging us. It’s not a specific person who has a legitimate way of measuring us (like our boss at a performance review) but rather it’s vague, dispersed forces who we want to think of us as a good, normal, generically acceptable person.
This should more properly be called “the Big Other”, to differentiate it from the way we just refer to “the Other” as someone who is different or separate from us (I prefer calling that the Neighbor.)
But let us be more specific. In fact, we’re going to define no less than three French critical theory terms. In addition to the Other or Big Other, there is also the Dark Other, also known as the Other of the Other. And lastly there is jouissance. These (psychological fantasies) all work in tandem.
The Big Other is more a controlling authority. It is the entity we worry about having ultimate authority over judging our value. The best symbol of this is “St Peter at the Pearly Gates”, which many political cartoons have used as a way of saying “our society condemns this person.” There’s not justification for where his authority comes from, it is just unquestionable and all encompassing. We want him to think well of us. We know we are good (or at least “acceptable”) but his judgment is actually imperfect and we worry he will misperceive us and think that we are bad.
The Dark Other is the evil conspiracy that is responsible for this mistake. It is also all powerful, and it wants to trick the Big Other into thinking we are actually bad. It’s willing to use all sorts of dark arts and tricks to subvert the natural ordering of things, and interfere with what should be the good judgment the Big Other has of you. Think of Satan as the Serpent tricking us into disobeying God, or that gossip at work who is spreading rumors about you in order to deny you that promotion.
The Dark Other is why so many ideological enemies are depicted as both all powerful, and pathetically impotent. They can get away with anything in our fantasies and no one is stopping them, but also if their deception of the Big Other fails, they are completely powerless due to their excremental nature. They have no virtues of their own to work with, only that what they steal. Why do they do this? To take our…
Jouissance is a term for our ultimate enjoyment. It’s a thing we want very, very much but do not have a concrete image for. Our freedom. Our harmony. Our happiness. Our prosperity. We only want a “normal” or balanced amount of it, for fear that too much of us would drown us in a nightmarish fantasy a la the Sorceror’s Apprentice. That is a healthy appetite (we believe.) Why don’t we have enough though, why aren’t we happy?
Because, the Dark Other wants too much jouissance. They have excessive greed - so they aren’t weird for what they want, but just wanting too much of it (note American fantasies about how Islamic extremists all have a dozen wives and want a paradise with 77 virgins. We can’t say wanting sex is wrong, but they want too much of it. That makes them freaks.)
The [Dark Other] deceives the [Big Other], who should love us, in order to steal our [jouissance].
Now that all sounds very academic and made up… but take almost any ideology and play Mad Libs with it, as their explanation for what’s wrong with the world.
Here’s SMG using Winnie the Pooh to talk about the absurd Matrix backstory where machines are keeping humans as batteries.
It actually is important that they are not taking a physical thing. Heat can be generated and power can be restored, but Morpheus chases a fantasy of perfect fulfillment that cannot ever be achieved.
In Winnie The Pooh (2011), Pooh fantasizes about gliding effortlessly through a literal ocean of hunny (his favorite food), consuming it endlessly without becoming full or sick. At one point in the narrative, Pooh and the other animals are led to believe - through a series of misunderstandings - that the hunny was taken from them by an insidious figure called The Backson.
The Backson, though completely fictional, is described in vivid detail as causing everything from socks getting lost in the dryer to mortality itself.
Morpheus’ belief that destroying the ‘Big Other’ (aka the matrix, aka God) will 'free people’s minds’ and fix everything actually just engenders conspiracy theories about an 'Other of the Other’ who controls everything:
“When the "pacifying” symbolic authority is suspended, the only way to avoid the debilitating deadlock of desire, its inherent impossibility, is to locate the cause of its inaccessibility into a despotic figure which stands for the primordial jouisseur: we cannot enjoy because HE amasses all enjoyment…“
In other words, Morpheus believes the Backson has stolen his hunny. And, to paraphrase The Wicker Man, killing it won’t bring back his god-damned hunny.
To take @ozymandias271 ITT question, “What was Gamergate?” Well it was an ideology with the Dark Other being social justice activists, and the Big Other being corporations and journalists and Stephen Colbert, and the jouissance was video games. Or from the other side, it was a Dark Other of fratboys and incels on reddit, with the same Big Other and jouissance they are trying to win over.
When in truth there were near infinite videogames for everyone, and the Big Other in this case was just corporations who do not care about anyone, and just want their money and to turn you into a soulless consumer/producer automaton.
In our “War on Terror,” conservatives worry that Muslims want to “steal our freedom” but are deploying race-baiters to trick the American public into thinking that conservatives are bad people (who are racist, or want to kill all Muslims, etc etc.)
You can see this triptych over and over in very different ideological groups. Nazis, Stalinists, a neighborhood housing association, your favorite fantasy novel. Even the way fans talk about the Prequels is put in the form of a complaint where George Lucas is the Dark Other keeping them from their dream of infinite immersive Star Wars. And once you have an understanding of the terminology, you can defang the arguments that you know feel wrong but were not able to explain how before.