Pride, memory, sex, aggressions—and ‘Beautiful Human Life’

Opinions - March 20th, 1992

by Joseph Precker

Recently, at the end of an impassioned editorial decrying the behavior of Mike Tyson, Andrew Dice Clay and the women who seem to pursue them or to be charmed or amused by them. Corky Alexander wrote “… it remains a deep enigma to me why any female would hurl herself at the feet of proven brutes whose mainstay in life is bestiality to women.” And then, as a voice drying in the wilderness, Corky concluded, “Where’s Joe Precker when you need him?”

Here I am, Corky, here I am! However, the deep enigma that you raise continues to be deep—and important. It continues to amaze even seasoned pro­fessionals, observing human beings, both male and female, who seem to seek out—and to continue in— relationships which are unrewarding, destructive and even brutal. The processes of co-dependency have received considerable attention of late. There’s of­ten a non-conscious collusive relationship: an alco­holic husband or wife seems to need a long-suffer­ing spouse; a wife-beater or a husband-basher (yes, it works both ways!) seems to need a seemingly masochistic mate. While neither seem to be con­scious of the family “system” they have evolved, both play their roles in maintaining a destructive relationship.

And there is a deeper enigma beyond these enig­mas: the very pervasive one, in the Westernized world, in regard to two fundamental aspects of human behavior: sex and aggression. No one need be a sophisticated social researcher to realize that the vast majority of films and TV programs (sadly enough, from my vantage point, including comedy, cartoons and children’s programs) concern themselves pretty directly with sex and aggression—of­ten enough in direct relation to each other.

Many believe that we have emerged from the Dark Ages in regard to human sexuality, particu­larly since the 1960s. Don’t you believe it! Even though there is much “sleeping around” (not that much reduced, in spite of AIDS!) these days, and people act as if sexuality was something one could talk about, even joke about freely, any experienced professional in the realm of human behavior is aware how “hung up” many are, and how unaware many are in regard to sexual feelings, needs, desires, plea­sures.

This is equally true in regard to aggressive ten­dencies. Having had considerable professional con­tact with “do-gooders” (in charitable activities, in religious activities, in professional activities), I have often observed that those who have the most sanc­timonious stance nurse deep pools of repressed an­ger, prejudice and resentment—and even complex sexual “confusions” under their sweetness and light. And these strong drives are frequently outside of conscious awareness, even in astute individuals. We resist knowing what is painful or difficult to deal with . . .

In his recent comprehensive biography, Peter Gay, author of “Freud: A Life for Our Time,” writes, “Since the obstructions that resistance throws in the way are formidable, to make the unconscious con­scious is at best very difficult. The desire to recall is countered by the desire to forget. This conflict, built into the structure of mental development practically from birth, is the work of culture, whether operating externally as police, or internally as conscience. Fear­ful of unchecked passions, the world has found it necessary throughout recorded history to brand the most insistent human impulses ill-mannered, im­moral, impious. From publishing books on etiquette to persecuting nudity on beaches, from prescribing obedience to one’s better to preaching the incest taboo, culture channels, limits, frustrates desire.

“The sexual drive, like the other primitive drives” (such as aggression) “relentlessly pushes for gratifi­cation in the face of stringent, often excessive, pro­hibitions. Self-deception and hypocrisy, which sub­stitute good reasons for real reasons, are the con­scious companions of repression, denying passion­ate needs for the sake of” (the surface appearance of) “family accord, social harmony or sheer respectability. They deny these needs, but they cannot de­stroy them. Nietzsche (wrote) ‘I did this,’ says my memory. ‘I cannot have done this’ says my pride … In the end—memory yields.’ Pride is the constraining hand of culture; memory the report on desire in thought and action. It may be that pride wins out, but desire remains humanity’s most exigent quality.”

While, on the surface, most helping profession­als in Japan these days believe they are dealing with stress and anxiety (often rationalized as “the diffi­culty of dealing with, working with the Japanese”), not very far below the surface one finds problems in the appropriate acceptance of, expression of, fulfill­ment of sexual and aggressive drives. There is sur­prisingly little true sexual pleasure experienced by many ranging from the practiced reprobate to the “professional virgin.”

There are even fewer manifestations of success­ful, effective, constructive use of aggressive drives (such as might be found in achieving an important and positive goal or “cause”). Sex and aggressions, separately and together, have become befuddled. That’s one of the reasons professional psychothera­pists exist! Here I am. Corky! Ready and waiting . . . More on some of these matters later.