According to a recent study carried out by researchers of the University of Queensland’s school of psychology and other institutions, infidelity lurks on our genes1. To quote Dr Brendan Zietsch who led the study, the « research clearly shows that people’s genetic make-up influences how likely they are to have sex with someone outside their main partnership ».
Although its results were published a little over a year ago, the study has been hitting the headlines throughout 2015. Romain Dessal, managing director of the highly successful newsletter « Time to Sign Off » (TTSO), echoed the findings on October 19th in his trademark style : quoting Gleeden’s assertion that 46% of its users had knowledge of their own parents’ infidelity, Dessal advised his readers to « call Freud to the rescue if their partner (didn’t) buy the genetic excuse ».
And a timely study it is indeed for the perpetrators of infidelity caught red-handed looking for absolution. One can’t help thinking of the unfortunate spouses whose data was recently made public after the hacking of the Ashley Madison online dating service (the site is marketed for people who are married or in a committed relationship looking for “discreet encounters”). Gigabytes of data (including customers’ emails, names, credit card info, sexual fantasies) made available to all. The personal data of millions of careless and ill-advised users, considering the incident revealed that only a few thousand women had in fact registered on the site… most accounts supposedly opened by women being either inactive or constituting fake profiles. Talk about a promising market: selling fantasy to men genetically programmed to fantasize!
The scandal was bound to have repercussions. The American Secretary of Defense in person issued a press release vowing to prosecute military users of the site. There were suicide and extortion attempts. But what really puzzles the French nationals that we are is the Anglo-Saxon inclination to confess one’s sins and ask for forgiveness in public. Two strong advocates of family values, a star of reality TV and a Christian Youtuber2, thus both staged their confessions and their wives’ forgiveness after having been caught. Should we understand the desire for redemption is genetic too? Our French tradition, as illustrated by the DSK scandal a few years back, would indicate the reverse.
Seriously: who could believe infidelity is motivated by genetics? Who else than someone for whom it would be crucial to bypass the scandal of desire, ignore the fact that nothing will ever guarantee a permanent or exclusive relationship? Someone willing to exonerate himself of his responsibility regarding his own jouissance.
The growing scale of genetic explanations in the deciphering of human conduct bears witness to the mad dream which involves substituting desire and its wiles with an algorithm that would never go out of control.
In the words of Seneca, Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae – There is no great genius without some touch of madness. A timely quotation in view of a study recently published in Nature Neuroscience demonstrating that genetic modifications uncovered in both schizophrenic and bipolar patients also makes them more susceptible to creativity: in other words, people who are capable of « thinking differently », artists (actors, dancers, musicians, writers) and schizophrenic and bipolar patients alike, share a common genetic variation.
The article suggests these genomic variants can be associated either to psychiatric illness or to creativity. One of the interesting points made in this both very technical and very specialized study is that it enables us to recognize not only that a genetic architecture that predisposes patients to psychiatric illness also makes them susceptible to creativity, but also that this combination was beneficial to humanity, as shown by its maintenance during evolution.
But where does creativity come from? Does it really stem from a genetic constellation? Or could it be an indirect product of the out-of-touch quality that madness entails? After all, creativity and psychiatric illness are classically presented as closely linked, even coincident or deriving one from the other.
The major question in the study is thus that of causality; is creativity linked to genetic factors, or, conversely, does it stem from the illness these factors produce, an illness that affects the subject’s relationship with reality in such a way he/she is capable of inventing another?
But beyond the study’s findings and the questions that derive from it, shouldn’t we explore a third course and consider creativity as the result of a singular, contingent, unpredictable and undetermined surge? One that neither genetics nor psychiatric illness can explain.
1 Joaquin Salvador Lavado Tejon, QUINO, argentinian cartoonist , creator of “Mafalda”. “Mafalda”, Quino, Ed. Lumen.
They come to our country, take our homes, eat from our bowls. The problem of a foreigner does not even have to be considered with reference to nationality. But because we perceive the question of emigration as a flood and a siege, the solution, according to politicians, is to stop it. The question of the Other’s jouissance, as Lacan anticipated, is certainly relevant to the foreigner’s discourse.
It has been a few months since the UK national elections, and I still cannot help feeling that it was won by the UKIP, with four million votes and counting, whose policies of wanting to withdraw from the EU are well known. The party’s chairman, Nigel Farage, has kept drumming that withdrawal is the only path to follow if you want to eat from your own bowl and not share your bed with foreigners. He promotes what Foucault called the “care of the self”. And since he mastered to do precisely that, we can take his fears as coming from the horse’s mouth. The dream of withdrawal, of leaving the social scene of debate and negotiations, has a long history and has been recently shared by David Cameron whose supposed reticence in this regard are barely worth mentioning. Clearly, the solipsistic trend in British party politics represents a massive regression to the suppositions made before Freud, namely that the ego is the master, and, what the psychotherapists call the “self”, its legacy.
The ego of Monsieur Farage speaks volumes through his convictions as the only one who knows what the UK needs. With millions of voters who now also know what he wants we are on a merry-go-round of the happy subjects. This certainly shows a growing hysterisation of discourse on the British political scene. So who is Monsieur Farage and what does he say? He speaks, by and large, as the king of foreigners, the emperor of immigrants, the leader of outsiders. Only this allows him to claim the crown of British separatism. He has had enough. and this always brings out the best in us. Monsieur Farage is your kind of bloke. He drinks, smokes, and perhaps does a few other naughty things everyone does. He is like a good Catholic priest who is ready to bring hard rock music to the masses in order to bring people to the church. And he believes in in vino veritas, which is a novelty in British politics. With a pint in one hand and a cigarette in the other, Monsieur Farage, smiling in a rambunctious kind of way only he knows to whom, in the style of a feudal squire, proceeds to inspect the land to ensure those employed to maintain it are not of foreign breed. Look around, he says, do your water taps leak? Can you obtain a council accommodation? Do you have a job? No. Can you drive on a traffic free roads? Do your children play football with kids who speak English? This is clearly Europe’s fault.
It is not bad for someone whose grandparents arrived in Britain, and who is not the only one among the Tory politicians in this position. As a youngest descendent of William the Conqueror, Monsieur Farage now wishes to oust in one go both the spectre of his own predecessors and any prospective newcomers that might follow suit. It makes sense to him. Even in his love life, whereby he chose for his wife a “foreigner” from good, old continent, but different from his own origins. And this, it seems to me, is only part and parcel of the logic of alienation.
By fomenting dissatisfaction and mudding the waters of hatred of the Other, Monsieur Farage raised the debate on emigration to another level. I have found him to be a leader with a purpose. If he brings out anger and outrage in others, it is to spread a new gospel: loving your neighbour gets you nowhere, hate him. As he stirs up dissatisfaction in every corner of the shires he visits, he points his finger to the Channel. Can “Europe” be the imaginary father, as Lacan called him, the one guilty of messing up our lives? Is it really all our grandparents’ fault? The problem was never of economic migration but of postcolonial politics. Now the colonisers become the colonised. It is not easy. How to control emigration without segregation? How to segregate in a politically correct way? How to tell a genuine refugee from a fake one?
It is not surprising that the rhetoric of what Lacan called “perverse solutions” is gaining the upper hand in British politics. But we can see that these developments were already long anticipated by Lacan and his logic of alienation. He anticipated the rise of racism and with it, inevitably, of emigration. And he marked the coordinates of politics of the foreigner as deriving from the politics of the symptom. Lacan approached the issue head on when he remarked in Television that the jouissance of the Other stands out as a master trait in the logic of the foreigner. The discourse of alienation and hatred thus includes both race and religion because both come knocking on the door as a jouissance one cannot put up with. Monsieur Farage knows well enough that everyone hates their neighbour. It has to do with the mode of enjoyment of life, of usurping the place I wish I could occupy. The foreigner, because he is always abroad, always other to himself, loves his language. And the more he enjoys speaking it, or writing it if you read Conrad, the more Monsieur Farage & Co are infuriated by not understanding it.
That’s why Lacan spoke of the precariousness of “our” style of life. He posed the question of how to leave the Other to his mode of jouissance. This implies how to let the foreigner enjoy his language without having to understand it. Did not Lacan touch here on the kernel of the experience called analytical? Segregation, the inevitable offshoot of separatism, can find its match in desidealisation of the “self” with which the discourse of the West, and the UK within it, perceives the Other as underdeveloped and of second rate. Hence our “they have no logic, no reason, and do not understand us” as opposed to “their” jouissance of speech. Monsieur Farage had his 24 hours of the Vagabond King to change the world. Is the way to address the “refugee crisis” to build a China Wall around the coast or castles with moats? Europe is changing. And the march on Vienna that started back in XVII century continues.