Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Monsters from the Id

In the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet, an American space search team headed up by a strapping, robust Leslie Nielsen landed on the remote planet Altair-4 to find out what happened to the people sent to colonize the planet several years before.

They ran into Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), who, along with his daughter, a scantily clad Ann Francis (to quote one of the men who'd been out in space a long time--"Oh, brother!"), were the sole survivors of the party. Everyone else had been torn to pieces practically overnight by some undetermined entity.

As Nielsen and his crack team of astronauts tried to pry answers out of the reluctant Morbius, who wanted them to get the hell out of there, they found out about the Krell.

The Krell was the Altair-4 civilization from thousands of years ago who had advanced way beyond us. They, too, vanished without a trace in a single night. They left behind some artifacts, including a self-generating source of energy (like a mini-sun). But (to quote the doctor in the plot) they forgot one thing. Monsters from the Id.

You may well ask, what the hell is the Id? The id is the third level of Freud's tripartite which includes the superego and the ego. It is the unconscious. It's the primitive instincts that seek to consume and will do so unless repressed. The id consists of energy that can explode or be directed in many ways. The libido, or the sexual instinct, is the most powerful. It demands fulfillment. And if you forget about it, you can be torn apart. By yourself!

The id is at work in the anonymity of the internet and the unchecked aggression of right wing media. You can see its unrepressed form in the false narratives about race, where the New Black Panthers are offered up as objects to fear. They are not the ones carrying unconcealed weapons into Starbucks. Or the imposed history that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery or the demand that Anita Hill, a courageous lawyer daring to confront one of the powerful men in the world, apologize to his wife, the head of a very powerful conservative lobbying force.

This is the American Id split wide open, unrestrained, angry that the president is a black man who rose by dint of merit to the top of the American political system. It will do almost anything to obliterate that fact.

President Obama's spectacular achievement collides with the "wisdom of the crowd" so highly touted by Silicon Valley gurus and the ideology of the Internet. It gives the lie to the notion that expertise is elitist.

Perhaps in the world of computing, many computers working together produce a more powerful result. Certainly the supercomputers of Goldman and those that can afford them give a nano-glimpse of market movements sufficient to drive the market, or crash it. Computations happen at a much more rapid pace than human decision making. But speed shouldn't be the overriding concern.

Unless the id is repressed somehow, or held in check, we will be destroyed just as the Krell was. Our civilization will become degraded and the notion of progress will dry up like autumn leaves.

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