In order to understand a general theory of politics and international relations, one must seek to understand human and thus social behavior in general. While analyzing human and social behavior, one must also attempt to identify the main drivers of such behavior. Compared to animal behavior, human behavior is much more complex, and there is a greater level of theorizing involved when analyzing human behavior in comparison to analyzing the behavior of other animals and species. In turn, there are several theories pertaining to what motivates or drives human behavior and thought. There are also numerous debates as to what constitutes the main determinant of social reality. Race, beliefs, institutions, and economics are among the few that have been put forth by various philosophers.
But the most controversial theory of human and social behavior in the modern period stems from the discourse of Sigmund Freud. To a large extent, Freud’s work stems from a discourse, or a way of thinking, rather than a theory with a set of assumptions. Based on Freud’s discourse, there are perhaps two drivers or motives which explain human behavior, namely, the sex urge and the desire to be great. Also, what is central to Freud’s analysis of the sex drive is the idea known as “Oedipus Complex,” in which the supposed sexual impulse towards a parent of the opposite sex during childhood explains lifelong sexual behavior. Based on Freud’s discourse, what determines lifelong sexual behavior is essentially one’s experiences or memories as a child. In response to an impulse which exists even during childhood, an intricate system of repression and sublimation is built within and around the individual, given that the gratification or fulfillment of the psychic impulse is socially unacceptable.
Beneath the various layers of repression and sublimation within the conscious mind is an unconscious “secret” that even the individual is often unaware of, according to Freud’s theory of the “Ego” and the “Id.” As Freud wrote: “The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions.” Thus, much of what we consider as reasonable or scientific in public discourse is subjugated by passion and sheer subjectivity, given that the id is never fully sublimated by the ego and it manifests in everyday actions and thoughts. Eventually, Freud’s view on repression and social controls would evolve as he began cultivating the “death instinct.” For Freud, repression and social controls were necessary to a certain extent in order to prevent people from killing one another. Our common notion of order is perhaps a tacit acknowledgment of the Freudian “death instinct.”
Thus, the dual instincts of sex and death were the drivers for all human behavior and thought based on Freud’s discourse. As a result, the human psyche is caught in the middle of a war between “animal nature and cultural aspirations,” with the former manifesting into hedonistic behavior. Neurosis is thus a byproduct of this psychic war, and psychoanalysis is the means by which one can “ascertain the inner workings of the human soul” and in turn overcome neurosis, with the psyche equating to the human soul that is mentioned by Freud. In essence, to know what is “within” the unconscious element of the psyche also gives rise to an understanding of one’s physical condition, given that one’s physical condition is also affected by the psyche and thus the “inner workings of the human soul.”
Even in the most advanced and modern societies as in the case of the Western world, there is a certain preoccupation with sex that can perhaps be understood through an examination of theories such as the ones put forth by Freud. As Foucault wrote: “[People] will not be able to understand how a civilization so intent on developing enormous instruments of production and destruction found the time and the infinite patience to inquire so anxiously concerning the actual state of sex.” Foucault also stated: “What is peculiar to modern societies, in fact, is not that they consigned sex to a shadow existence, but that they dedicated themselves to speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret.”
Thus, the zeal associated with sexual fulfillment and gratification translates into “patterns” of sexual misconduct. The American journalist Ronan Farrow, through his publication of an incredibly detailed book titled “Catch and Kill,” is credited with prompting the release of a deluge of information highlighting sexual misconduct in very powerful institutions of American society such as the mainstream media, Hollywood, and politics. In turn, Farrow’s efforts to investigate and report sexual misconduct in America’s most powerful institutions served as the impetus for the now very famous “#MeToo” Movement, whereby women from all walks of life in American society have highlighted and spoken out about the struggles that women go through in the face of rampant sexual misconduct by their male counterparts.
Upon reflecting on his investigation of sexual misconduct in American high society, Farrow – in an interview with “Amanpour and Co.” a couple of years ago – argued that sexual misconduct equates to “patterns” of behavior, not isolated incidents, which are driven by greed and power. Sexuality is thus a form of self-projection upon a woman, which prompted Otto Weininger to write: “The woman is thus only a means to an end, in the highest as well as the lowest eroticism.” Thus, patterns of sexual misconduct are essentially symptoms or manifestations of something deeper, namely, greed and power. Freud wrote that “manifest abnormality in the other relations of life can invariably be shown to have a background of abnormal sexual conduct.” Freud considered aggression and the lust for power to be a “component” of the sexual drive. There are many individuals who have even abandoned their partners or spouses after attaining a government or media position and finding someone like-minded on the job. Finding romance in “Hollywood on the Potomac” merely reaffirms Freud’s outlook towards what drives human behavior and thought.
As Farrow has shown through his research and investigations, money and positions of power serve as the primary means of coercion by the perpetrators of sexual misconduct. Harvey Weinstein, for example, is now known to have coerced women he had sexually harassed into signing “Non-Disclosure Agreements” which otherwise would have ended their careers in Hollywood. For the women on the receiving end of the sexual misconduct, it has been an uphill battle to get their stories out and to turn the tables on the male perpetrators. Gretchen Carlson’s uphill struggle against Roger Ailes, the former head of Fox News, is now well-documented and detailed in a film titled “Bombshell,” which surprisingly did not receive any recognition from the mainstream media in the United States. The mainstream media has also tried to downplay a recent incident involving the famous and well-known political commentator Jeffrey Toobin, who was caught on webcam engaging in lewd behavior during a work meeting which in turn drew a combination of consternation, humor, and ridicule.
By no means is sexual misconduct limited to the advanced and modern world. It is a global problem and is especially flagrant in the Third World. One case in particular involves Hamed Wardak, the son of Afghanistan’s former defense minister, who issued a threat to a woman he had pressured into sexual relations who in turn had spoken out, along the lines of: “I will drown you in legal fees.” Recently, the New York Times issued an article highlighting sexual misconduct in Afghanistan’s Presidential Palace whereby women were coerced into sexual relations in order for them to keep their jobs. As Henry Kissinger once said: “Power is the greatest aphrodisiac.” India is another developing country where rape and sexual misconduct is rampant and in turn has been highlighted many times by news outlets such as the BBC. According to certain statistics, an average of 91 rape cases were registered in India daily in 2018, which is a staggering number. Nor can I ever forget my experiences as a legal intern in Kenya during grad school, where most of the court cases I reviewed involved sexual harassment and misconduct.
In the field of modern-day psychoanalysis, there are essentially three schools of thought which seek to explain how people behave and think. Thus, there are three possible drivers of human behavior and thought. For one, there is the school of Alfred Adler and the “Power Principle.” Obviously, there is Sigmund Freud and the “Pleasure Principle.” But there is also Viktor Frankl and the “Search for Meaning,” which translates into a form of psychoanalysis known as “logotherapy.” Because power and pleasure are both transient, both will eventually subside, and when the mirage and illusion of power and pleasure dissipate, one is left with the “Search for Meaning” and the primacy of the Frankl school of psychoanalysis. As Frankl himself wrote: “Man’s search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a ‘secondary rationalization’ of instinctual drives.” Without knowing the meaning behind why we exist, we are essentially living a lie.
With this particular insight, we arrive at perhaps another driver which underlies the instinctual drives put forth by Adler and Freud, which is the achievement of immortality in the face of immanent death. As Otto Weininger wrote: “An individual who values his past, who honors his inner life more than his physical life, will not be prepared to abandon it even to death.” Alas, at once we understand that the tragicomedy of the human condition – which is overtaken by the allure of money, power, fame, and sex – can perhaps be perceived as a futile struggle to attain immortality in the face of mortality.
But immortality requires a soul or spirit, and in a nihilistic age, society is virtually void of such things. As Pankaj Mishra wrote: “The desire for self-expansion through material success fully dominates the extant spiritual ideals of traditional religions and cultures.” After all the frenzy and mania, anything with a semblance of meaning is degraded by what Barack Obama once called “soulless capitalism.” Once the veil is lifted off modernity, reality sets in, along with the realization that there is nothing there. By using the “Crystal Palace” in London as an analogy for the glorification and worship of materialism, Pankaj Mishra wrote: “Universal happiness could not be attained through individuals succumbing to the material plenitude of Crystal Palace.”
In this kind of global culture and environment, almost no one can become fully functional. Culture is now global and monolithic. Mishra wrote: “Whether or not the non-West catches up with the West, the irrepressibly glamorous god of materialism has superseded the religions and cultures of the past in the life and thought of most non-Western people, most profoundly among their educated classes.” For the most part, basic decency, honesty, respect, and traditional values are gone, unfortunately.
What is ultimately hindered by the “god of materialism” is the type of self-actualization and self-transcendence put forth by Abraham Maslow. Only by transcending the “hierarchy of needs” and reaching its apex of self-actualization through the conquering of base desires such as money, power, and sex does one become “fully functional” in the truest sense of this concept. Yet, the avalanche of hedonic messages from virtually all directions in a modern age obstructs the attainment of the type of full functionality that Maslow had in mind. But none of us are perfect. “To err is to be human,” and if anyone were to claim that they were free of character defects, it would amount to a blatant lie. To be on the safe side, the famous Chinese entrepreneur Jack Ma once said that an individual should make all their mistakes before the age of thirty. Character development and leadership – which are sorely needed in our day and age – is the result of rejecting greed and power and thus rejecting the drive towards misogyny and sex. There is thus incredible wisdom behind the Islamic tradition’s general admonition of being incredibly wary of individuals who diligently pursue power. In sum, there are certain standards of behavior, character, and thought which need to be met in order to rectify the flaws that are inherent in the basic human condition.