Here’s an interesting snippet from Tomorrow’s People by Susan Greenfield.

One of Greenfield’s main arguments is that technology is not facilitating a loss of individual identity. Indeed, we are experiencing quite the opposite. We are seeing the emergence of a kind of collective super ego that is not private but public. There is too much identity and it has become collective.

One of post-war Germany’s most influential writers was a fellow called Sebastian Haffner and one of his major aims was to explain Germany (especially the rise of Hitler) to the British. According to Haffner, the reason that Hitler emerged in Germany in the 1930s was a lack of identity. Essentially Hitler gave Germany its collective identity back. He also made the point that between 1918-1939 Germany became obsessed with sport (another form of collective identity).

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. Have you noticed how, for instance, people are starting to wrap themselves up in flags?  When I was growing up in England the only people that painted their faces with the English flag were football hooligans. These days everyone is doing it. Over on the other side of the world, Australia Day has become a naked celebration of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and people do quite literally wrap themselves up in flags. Personally I find this rather unsettling. The mass public hysteria surrounding the death of Princess Diana seemed to tap into something similar.

Greenfield’s book was written in 2003 but since the financial collapse of late 2008, nationalist and tribalist forces seem to moving centre stage. I’m sure it’s not 1939 returning but it’s something to keep an eye on.

PS – Image from Ross Dawson.

This entry was posted in Random thoughts. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Flags

  1. Phil Mead says:

    Good post, and highly relevant to our times. Collective identities can pose huge risks to the equalibrium and harmony in societies, as Carl Jung pointed out in his reference to Nazi Germany. The collective ego is vulnerable to being overtaken by its ‘shadow’ – those deeply-rooted prejudices that are repressed in the collective unconscious and projected onto minority groups which are seen to be ‘different’ and thus easily targeted. The problem is that when the shadow takes over the ego, sport no longer channels our aggressive impulses into a fairly benign and innocuous activity (like supporting our national teams or playing the game) but seeks to direct it at ‘outsiders’. Football hooligans are a microcosmic example and have been for years. This I think is the emerging problem we have in the current economic downturn, when a collective identity is overtaken by the vicious repressed elements in our national psyche and becomes destructive. The shadow is triggered by an inability to understand ourselves in situations and circumstances that we fail to understand as well. In seeing ourselves as victims we seek victims on which to blame our predicament. The ‘super ego’ to which you refer is quickly becoming dominated by negative impulses that have so far been successfully denied. Calls for protectionism, strikes against foreign workers and the erosion of civil liberties are the thin end of a very blunt wedge.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *