The subject of human nature has exhausted itself by itself. It is an ouroboros that continues to redefine and devour itself. Human nature is a constant state of becoming riddled with the limitations of genetics and material conditions. The development of humanity, an abstract concept in itself, is a nonlinear dance without direction. Constant impulses dominating and being subdued by other impulses; be it insignificant daily tasks or wars that change the course of history. A genealogy of impulses is traced from Heraclitus and Hobbes, through Bernays and Deleuze, and into the present. It is less a march of progress and more a frenzy of instinctive passions.
The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus taught that existence is permeated by the fire element. Existence is in a constant state of flux and becoming. The common condition is strife, it is the conflict of opposing impulses. This constitutes the volition of existence and living creatures. Hobbes later adopted a similar position and presented it in strictly materialist terms. The Hobbesian state of nature is one in which without civilization, without the state, man lives in a constant struggle to survive, all against all. The driving force behind man is self-preservation, be it alone or with others. What is considered good is that which the man desires, and what is considered bad is anything which may impede acquiring that desire. Hobbes argues it is only through the organized State that man may find reprieve from the fear of death and suffering. It is only through the organized State, through civilization, can man cultivate himself and better direct his innate impulses. A state of civilization is preferable to the brutish state of nature, although it is important to note the nature of man does not necessarily change. A society is a network of impulses; desires pursued or extinguished, aggression indulged in or resisted, one force subdued or overriding another, exploiting and exploited. Be it a state of nature or order within the state, the underlying innate impulses in human remain.
The stark Hobbesian perspective is taken to its ultimate in the works of Sigmund Freud. It is a common view that Freudian psychoanalysis is no longer credible or practiced, nonetheless his piercing insights into human nature still stands. The state of nature presented by Hobbes, ruled by impulse without restriction nor mercy, is what Freud labels the ‘id’ of the human psyche. It is the animal or child-like instinctive drives and desires of man. It is the ideological apparatus that conditions the Freudian superego; that which is the Father Authority figure governing what is permissible and what is prohibited. The primary function of the superego is to keep the ego and id in check. In short, the superego is a reflection of the childhood Father, as well as similar authority figures such as the Church or State. Superficially it seems the superego polices the id, so that the ego only allows socially permissible actions. Deleuze critiques this understanding of the superego and posits that the superego is impulsive and can even be sadistic, though the difference being it has refined and rationalized these impulses via cultural conditioning. Lacan also redefines the superego as being both the law and the destroyer of law, also called Name-Of-The-Father. Reminiscent of the God found in the Old Testament, it is both tyrannical and lawful. It demands to be obeyed and punishes disobedience. It is worth noting the Freudian concepts death-drive and life-drive, also named Thanatos and Eros. The death-drive is the drive of the organic to return to the inorganic. This attempts to explain a human’s impulse for self-destruction which could manifest as substance abuse, depression, violence, and so forth. The death-drive is opposed to the life-drive, or Eros, which is the drive to propagation, creation, and survival. Freud indeed has an incredibly stark perspective regarding the nature of man, the aggressiveness of man toward man, the impermeable law of exploitation. Freud is remarkable for exploring these drives in depth. Perhaps this perspective is too bleak and pessimistic, nonetheless man is a creature of impulses and it is this volition that has forged history.
Considered the father of pessimist philosophy, Schopenhauer posited that existence is impelled by a universal Will, an unconscious and directionless force that unfolds reality. The Will is a nonlinear volition that imbues the organic with desire and impulse. Schopenhauer makes clear that the Will, the volition, has no end goal or higher objective. It simply is and continues to be. It is speculated that Schopenhauer’s unconscious Will laid the groundwork for what would later be Freud’s theory of the id, as well as the life-drive. Schopenhauer described the metaphysical Will as the ‘will to live’ i.e. directionless propagation, akin to the life-drive/Eros. Schopenhauer perceived this as immoral as propagation means increasing the perpetual suffering and nihilism that is life, therefore he responded by attempting to negate existence. According to Schopenhauer, using the terms later created by Freud, he attempts to remedy the immoral ‘will to live’ with a refined ascetic death-drive/Thanatos. As if a materialist version of Buddhism, it attempts to negate existence and annihilate the self for the sake of liberation. The overarching framework of Schopenhauer puts humanity in a nihilist samsara. Civilizations rise and fall, so too does man quench desires and indulge in new cravings. Be it the superego manifested through the Church and nationalist ideologies or the id manifested as carnal whims and exploitation, through both the innate impulse makes itself known. Ultimately there is no innocence, it is all a matter of impulse expressing itself through one medium or another. The best humanity can hope for is to sublimate and channel these raw impulses in the most civil manner possible. Whichever metanarrative one may use, be it religious or humanist, behind the artifice are ongoing chain-like surges. All of history is a manifestation of an indifferent volition; specifically the desires of man and his never ending pursuit of ascertaining what is desired. History is but a maelstrom of cravings.
Man becomes instrument as he enters industrialism and the nation state. The factory turns the individual into a means to an end. The rise of totalitarian regimes touting jingoist ideologies is the tyrannical superego par excellence as it lashes outward. It harnesses the unconscious volition, the unconscious impulse, an unconscious collective desire and solidifies it into tangible force. Needless to say the resulting atrocities of the 20th century is evidence of the Name-Of-The-Father gone mad. It also shows us how man can both submit fully to the law of a collective superego, committing heinous acts in its name, while simultaneously enjoying or at least finding fulfillment in doing ones duty out of devotion to that very law. It is a grand manipulation of human impulses in which it is difficult to tell whom is exploiting whom, and if there is any direction at all amidst the ideological zeitgeist.
In reverse manner, the marriage of democratic values and capitalism gave rise to consumerism. The market became the central of which society revolved around rather than a nationalist state. Known as the father of public relations, Bernays adopted Freudian thought and used it to manipulate consumers i.e. marketing and propaganda. Bernays was to capitalism what Goebbels was to Nazi Germany, and in fact Goebbels studied the works of Bernays extensively as he designed anti-Semitic campaigns. To the advantage of markets and propaganda, it is not by reason that humans make decisions, rather it is by habit and emotions. Bernays looked past what the consumer said, and looked specifically at what the consumer does not say or hesitates to say. Repeating that Hobbesian and voluntarism definition of morality, ‘What is considered good is that which the man desires, and what is considered bad is anything which may impede acquiring that desire’. What is desired certainly varies and need not be rational. It could be a basic need like food and shelter, or the vain indulgence of a new car. The impulse persists regardless, and it is marketing which seeks to manipulate that impulse. And with that exact method do political and corporate entities influence public opinion, or as Bernays words it, the ‘engineering of consent’. Of course Bernays owes a great deal to Freud, Gustave Le Bon, and William Trotter who laid the foundations of what Bernays put to practical use. The irrational impulses in the unconscious, and more importantly the impulses residing in the collective or crowd unconscious. This is the impulses of the individual turned upon itself. Impulses once expanded outward in grabbing new lands, conquest, colonialism, religious conversion until it exhausted itself. Now it turns in upon itself to the indulgence, alienation, and self-destruction facilitated by capitalism.
The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s, increased drug use, and what later became known as ‘schizo-culture’; that being the breakdown of conventions, social fragmentation, and societal decentralization. It was Deleuze and Guattari that penetrated into the core of this cultural confusion. Relevant to a genealogy of impulses, Deleuze redefines the Freudian unconscious. Rather than a theater, Deleuze argues that the unconscious is more like a buzzing factory which he calls ‘desiring-production’. Desire is not defined by lack, it is a constant becoming, a constant producing that is connected to multiple other ‘desiring-machines’. The unconscious itself is brimming with multiple buzzing desiring-machines which are semiotically linked to external desiring-machines in society, thus forming collective social machines. It is reminiscent of the instrumental piece ‘Powerhouse’ by Raymond Scott, the infinite ongoing desire-production-demand. This is not far removed from the common state of strife that is mentioned by Heraclitus or the ruthless cravings of the Hobbesian creature. Deleuze interprets Nietzsche and describes the forces Nietzsche spoke of as active and reactive forces. This is the default state of existence, including human nature. A reactive impulse is possessed, an active impulse possesses, and it is in a constant state of non-linear flux. It is rhizomatic, as Deleuze terms it. It is deep widely sprawling interconnecting, intricate, non-static, self-replicating ideas. The individual within the whole is permeable, liquid, it is difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends. It is a huge chaotic networking of impulses, individuals and group entities, both conscious and unconscious impulses. The volition spoken of by Schopenhauer, the impulses spoken of by Hobbes, are now electrified. The conventional conditions of the past have dissolved and globalism reframes. Speed and acceleration has shifted this directionless volition into a higher intensified gear. Deleuze speaks of it as chaos, constant infinite changes simultaneously.
Over a decade ago Zygmunt Bauman published a work which accurately labeled the current age with the name ‘liquid modernity’. The name for our current age has been debated, be it late modernism, late capitalism, or postmodernism. Bauman elaborated when he discussed the transition from the solid modernity of the 20th century to the liquid modernity of the 21st century. In similar respect to Deleuze, society has become highly nomadic. Not only physically, but emotionally and existentially as well. Individuals uproot themselves for a new job elsewhere, the solidity of tradition is replaced with fluent individuality, conventions regarding gender and sexuality are understood as performativity, short attention span consumes images and visuals over text and lecture…this is liquid modernity, the nomadic. Impulses have accelerated. Bauman also notes the difference in our relation to time. Humanity has moved from the linear model of time to what he calls a pointillist model of time. Pointillist time is short self-contained durations, from event to event, a staggering and fragmenting, each ‘time point’ as intense as the next. Each time point of event is happening nonlinearly and instantaneously. Even the perspective of time has begun to reflect dashing impulses, from node to nodes.
Symbolically it is as if the current global neoliberalism in its rapidity has begun to fully reflect the wildly savage impulses of the human unconscious. Consumerism in the liquid modern is the methods of Bernays accelerated to lightning speed. Schopenhauer could have never predicted such a development. Although it certainly reflects the unconscious Will expressing itself without direction, a volition that has begun to outpace humans and through humans. The reality itself has accelerated the Will as representation, and humans are simply caught in the impulse frenzy. This is brought to a grand manifestation in neoliberal globalism which commodifies without limit, and in turn is empowered to replicate due to consumers. The concept of biopolitics was introduced by Foucault, and it is highly applicable to rampant consumerism. Workers are the biopower that both produces, consumes, and is consumed as a commodity within the neoliberal market. The impulses indeed are turned back upon themselves, the never ending desire to consume without satisfaction unto death. The speed and acceleration has indeed changed, but sentience remains similar at its depth. Without desire sentience would be motionless, an automaton, unmoving and static. It is impulse, desire, volition that gives motion to existence. Impulse causes movement. It is impossible to speculate the long term results of acceleration, and perhaps the speed does outstrip humanity.
The current age may indeed be the end of man, or the start of a posthuman age as artificial intelligence technology advances. The future is much closer than it appears. In the framework of a genealogy of impulses, the current age is exhausting itself and the due pain with that. Lacan redefined the concept of pleasure or life-drive with the French word ‘jouissance’. The term is paradoxical as it means a desire that can never be satisfied, yet it also means excessive pleasure to the extent of causing suffering or fragmentation. Jouissance is the essence of neoliberal consumerism. As Bauman mentions, the current system thrives on perpetual dissatisfaction. Individuals have no roots or foundation, rather they float in ennui. There is no impulse in which it does not absorb and commodify. There is no identity that is not made a commodity. There cannot be dissent for it is immediately commodified and brought into discourse. Human impulses are exploited, turned against him, death drive in the guise of amusement; this is jouissance. Happiness is promised and never delivered. Consumers chase what promises fulfillment and happiness, only to attain it without the promised result. The power of jouissance lies in the pursuit of what is desired, over and over is the desired pursued, attained, and still does not fulfill. What is attained will always fall short of what was idealized. It is the pursuit for the sake of pursuit in which consumerist society thrives upon. In Buddhism the concepts tanha (craving) and dukkha (perpetual dissatisfaction) perfectly embody the jouissance found in neoliberal consumerism. This is the pinnacle of human impulses turned upon itself, an unconscious drive to self-destruction.
The genealogy of impulses teaches us a great deal about the inner mechanics of human nature. The essence of humanity can be traced through the impulses of humanity from the earliest Hobbesian brutality and conquest, through quantified nation states and industrialism, and into the hyper accelerated and consumerist liquid modernity. The underlying impulses have remained largely the same. It is the outward expression, material conditions, and forms of exploitation that have changed over the centuries. Innate impulse is the unconscious directionless Will expressing itself through the human organic, for better or for worse.