On Sigmund Freud's Superego

    There is a fundamental mistake with the common objectivist model of the subconscious as a "file cabinet": it is unrealistically neat. The relationship between the psycho-epistemology of imitation, and that of cognition is not simply one of different alternatives, but one of necessary progression. We start our lives as "imitators", and only after a certain age, can become "identifiers". This is the essence of Sigmund Freud's idea of superego.

    The concept of superego refers to the multiple values taught to a child by figures of authority - initially their parents, and later outside influences, like educators. It identifies the fact that these values are not assimilated rationally, but arbitrarily and emotionally.

    A 5-year-old does not yet have the knowledge, or a sufficiently developed conceptual faculty, to understand abstract concepts like "good" and "evil". It has not developed enough to think objectively about their parents and educators, and regard them simply as other people, who can be virtuous or deeply flawed, to different degrees, in different aspects. Initially, it views them as quasi-divine beings, who must be obeyed and pleased, and this experience gives rise to a number of normative pre-conceptual associations.

    At first, these normative associations are assimilated directly, due to fear of punishment by the authority - later on, they become internalized, through an arbitrary idea of "what I must be". A good, concrete example of the superego is the common phenomena of "hearing a parent's voice" in your head, when you're about to do something they would disapprove of - even if you consciously disagree with their disapproval.

    "But isn't this a consequence of arbitrary values themselves? What if the child is taught rational values? Wouldn't that invalidate the idea of an arbitrary, and oppressive superego?"


    Even if it is taught rational values, a child will still assimilate them arbitrarily. It cannot identify those values as rational before it has adopted the primacy of existence as a psycho-epistemologic principle - the very concept of rationality rests upon the understanding that existence has identity. Because of this necessary start as an "imitator", the proper conceptualization of Man's mind is not that of a messy file cabinet, but of a moral agent initially caught between partially understood desires brought about by its nature, and the arbitrary dictums it has been taught to accept as truth.

    The fundamental problem brought about by this process is that of repression. The less developed our conscious mind, the more we rely on the pre-conscious - on the emotions brought about by our pre-conceptual associations. This often gives rise to a vicious cycle: we "feel" that specific mental content will cause us pain, and thus choose not to identify it consciously. Only after successfully developing our conceptual faculty, we become able to gradually identify and integrate those parts of our psyche.

    As I've talked about a few days ago, the systematic evasion of a fact makes its later identification gradually harder. The set of all evaded associations in one's mind, from the ones brought about by the id-superego interactions of a child, to the ones an adult chooses to engage in, is what Carl Jung calls "the shadow" - which will be the subject of tomorrow's post.

  -  May 2nd, 2020