Foot and Mouth II

There is another issue about the foot and mouth outbreak which is of psychoanalytic interest.

Throughout the crisis, the government’s popularity has not waned. The sight of splay-legged cattle on burning pyres, or rotting sheep carcasses being bulldozed into trenches – which was certainly enough to frighten the tourists – did not seem to dent the popularity of the government or the prime minister Tony Blair. Even evidence of the government’s mishandling of the crisis and mounting criticism from professional commentators was not enough to affect the opinion polls.

This was in marked contrast to the ‘fuel crisis’ last October , when temporary petrol shortages resulted in a massive drop in the poll ratings. Why should this be the case? Perhaps there is something about these images of mass slaughter and burning corpses which are satisfying in some way. Just as Margaret Thatcher was elected by a landslide after the televised carnage of the Falklands War, so Tony Blair may have benefited in a less obvious way by the war against foot and mouth disease. One aspect of these horrific images is obvious – the quality of ritual sacrifice that feeds our propensity for magical thinking. Other living creatures are being destroyed so that I can live – the God’s are being propitiated. At least its not me. But another more deeply unconscious reason may be operating.

In his brilliant paper ‘The Countryside’, given at the Freud Museum’s 1992 conference on ‘Ecological Madness’, Robert Hinshelwood gives some idea about how this may have come about. The relation of town and country changes throughout history, but it follows an unconscious logic of fantasies about the parental couple and the relations we imagine they have. The unconscious fantasies we have of the parental couple may be violent and disturbing, yet intensely exciting. Thus, “our horror may be mixed with a highly excited response to rapaciousness”. Something resonates in the unconscious.

He continues:

“If so, then the psychoanalyst is pointing to a situation in which there is an excited gratification, held deeply unconscious, in reading about the rapacious plundering of the countryside. The excitement is deeply hidden by our reactive horror but that excitement, at the unconscious level, cannot be given up. And it can still be exploited socially through the organs of collectivisation of phantasies (the media) despite its unconscious nature.”

British Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol 10 No. 2 Winter 1993

The possibility that part of our minds may be gratified by the very things which arouse horror and disgust is an insight which can only come from psychoanalysis.

So beware the horror! It may hide something much more disturbing!

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