Life kills, aliveness kills
By Michael Eigen
In my view, a lot can be done with the life drive before getting to a death drive. Life kills. Aliveness kills. I’ve seen people die from too much aliveness. Susan Deri [a New York psychoanalyst who taught at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research and the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis] used to tell of a case diagnosed as "chronic schizophrenia". Her patient, with support, eventually lived in an apartment and supported himself. This in itself took many years. But he was not satisfied with self-maintenance. He wanted love. His own analyst did not have a fulfilling love-life and she feared for him. One day he came in and told Susan that he was in love and his loved one loved him. Susan was incredulous, sat at the edge of her seat, held her breath, expressed happiness through her alarm. He spoke of his joy, married and died of a heart attack on his honeymoon. Among many "explanations" and imaginings, one can’t help thinking that happiness was too much for him and the increment in aliveness killed him. One needs to build resources to support aliveness—no easy matter (I write about this case and other transitions between aliveness-deadness in Psychic Deadness, 2004, London: Karnac Books). The life drive is not wussy. It is allied with desire and aggression. One kills to eat, injures to gain and secure territory, competes for mates. Predator-prey relations are on the side of life, death as a result of appetite and need. In human social life, ambition takes over this function and skyrockets. Traditionally, Eros is allied with disturbance, war, rage and injury, as well as intense satisfaction. The western literary canon begins with the word rage, Homer’s story of war as the result of erotic theft. It did not take Freud to point out that human beings are inept at handling life forces (Eigen, Rage, 2002, and Lust, 2006, Karnac Books, for ins and outs of difficulties with aggression and passion). The taste of power.
Today, our economic system is fused with the taste of power and feeds on its own ambition. Henry Kissinger called power an aphrodisiac. A kind of life drive gone wild. For the sake of gain, it destroys—poisons air and water and land and psyche. The life drive, once productive, once in service of survival, has itself become a menace, a threat to life. There is enormous resistance or incapacity or unwillingness to take in and work with what we are doing—denial of violence inherent in our sense of life. Addiction to gain, dominance and power promotes more addiction to gain, dominance and power and an inability to let in and counteract the negative effects of this spiral contributes to its momentum.
Attached to this cycle is fear of the psyche, as if letting in psychic awareness would be suicidal to one’s ambitions; as if letting in awareness of a fuller psychic reality would undermine one’s desire or, at least, slow one down. Epidemic child abuse and suicide are among discountable side-effects of the lust for power. Economic mania discounts many kinds of violent offshoots of its activity, justified by "self-interest", a psychopathy of everyday life (Eigen, Age of Psychopathy, 2006, http://tinyurl.com/yal4wth).