Ordinary wars of conquest are to me far less wicked, than to go to war in order to maintain smuggling, and that smuggling consisting in the introduction of a demoralizing drug, which the government of China wishes to keep out, and which we, for the lucre of gain, want to introduce by force; and in this quarrel are going to burn and slay in the pride of our supposed superiority.

  • Thomas Arnold to W. W. Hull, March 18, 1840 regarding the Opium Wars
  • Since I heard of these wars they had represented to me among the lowest points in human history. Arnold expresses this feeling perfectly, pointing out the combination of injustice and baseness that motivated the perpetrators. The Opium Wars also provide a good illustration of Lacan’s concept of Jouissance and its connection to the ideal ego, ego-ideal and superego. This Zizek article defines jouissance:

    Although jouissance can be translated as “enjoyment,” translators of Lacan often leave it in French in order to render palpable its excessive, properly traumatic character: we are not dealing with simple pleasures, but with a violent intrusion that brings more pain than pleasure. This is how we usually perceive the Freudian superego, the cruel and sadistic ethical agency which bombards us with impossible demands and then gleefully observes our failure to meet them. No wonder, then, that Lacan posited an equation between jouissance and superego: to enjoy is not a matter of following one’s spontaneous tendencies; it is rather something we do as a kind of weird and twisted ethical duty.

    as well as the other three terms:

    [T]he “ideal ego” stands for the idealized self-image of the subject (the way I would like to be, I would like others to see me); the Ego-Ideal is the agency whose gaze I try to impress with my ego image, the big Other who watches over me and propels me to give my best, the ideal I try to follow and actualize; and the superego is this same agency in its revengeful, sadistic, punishing, aspect. The underlying structuring principle of these three terms is clearly Lacan’s triad Imaginary-Symbolic-Real: ideal ego is imaginary, what Lacan calls the “small other,” the idealized double-image of my ego*; Ego-Ideal is symbolic, the point of my symbolic identification, the point in the big Other from which I observe (and judge) myself; superego is real, the cruel and insatiable agency …, the agency in the eyes of which I am all the more guilty, the more I try to suppress my “sinful” strivings and meet its demands.

    Stanley Kubrick’s film, A Clockwork Orange, seems to express a widening of the effects of the Opium Wars. In his 1972 letter to the editor of The New York Times defending the film, he warns against the “psychedelic fascism — the eye-popping, multimedia, quadrasonic, drug-oriented conditioning of human beings by other beings — which many believe will usher in the forfeiture of human citizenship and the beginning of zombiedom.”

    It seems the suppression of history ushers in its return, leaving Arnold’s question unanswered: “Cannot any thing be done by petition or otherwise to awaken men’s minds to the dreadful guilt we are incurring?”

    * a/k/a the “inner child”, center of one’s infantilist hedonism


    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


    Connecting to %s