The Enlightenment saw the intellectual maturation of the humanist belief in reason as the supreme guiding principle in the affairs of mankind. The ‘truth’ discovered through reason would displace the dogged adherence to established opinions and customs and enlighten a population that the system has kept in the dark. The Enlightenment thinkers introduced questioning and critical thinking to replace the dead weight of tradition and challenge the blind faith in institutions and sought to advance the public good. This cultural movement ushered in the scientific method – a new way of studying the natural world.
Plato had assured us that reason (ego) could control our worse impulses; then Freud brought forward the evidence of the existence of unconscious forces determining man’s behavior and conscious awareness. The revelation that below or beyond the rational mind existed an overwhelming repository of non-rational forces undermined the idea that reason could be used to establish an authoritative system of government and ethics, etc. Freud postulated the pleasure principle as the force that controls an individual’s urges – the ego, is the rational part of the mind under the influence of societal mores mediates the part of the mind, called the id, that contains the unconscious impulses which seek immediate experience and gratification. Freud noted that while these impulses might temporarily be held in check, they can never be permanently eliminated.
Freud later described the reality principle, the ability to evaluate the external world and differentiate between it and the internal world. The reality principle did not replace the pleasure principle, but represses it, such that, a momentary pleasure; uncertain of its results, is given up, but only in order to gain in a new way, an assured pleasure coming later. The reality principle strives to satisfy the id’s desires in realistic and socially appropriate ways. Some believe that reality and consciousness are one and the same, and over time one becomes aware of the real environment and the need to accommodate it.
Consumer capitalism encourages us to think of ourselves in terms of what we want to have, to own, to possess – reinforced through repetition. Corporate capitalism’s ability to manipulate the unconscious mind has lead to the growth of a sophisticated propaganda racket that shapes public opinion and governs people’s behaviour. We no longer buy a product rather a lifestyle. Having a new car, house, or electronic gadget determines the status and worth of a person in the community. Ownership guarantees fears, anxieties and internal conflicts can be resolved and pleasure attained through the simple act of buying.
In 2013 newspapers describe reality is now about a slower long-term economic growth and an aging society associated with an epidemic in chronic disease. The consequences of these phenomena are high unemployment, less workers to support retirees as government revenues grow slower than before. Without so-called efficiency gains in the economy the choices swing between higher taxes or fewer services. The economic debacle of 2008 has highlighted the increased economic gap between the wealthy and the rest of society and accelerated the disappearance of pensions and jobs.
While the politicians remain silent on a solution, the corporations work overtime through proxies to defend trickle down economics, claiming that without minimal government and less regulations, people should fear the ability of the system to create jobs and expand the economy. Right wing think tanks even challenge the growth of inequality between the wealthy and the rest of society. The basic situation in trickle down economics is that reality does not match the rhetoric.
Since the turn of the 20th century, there has been a belief that technology and reason would make us masters of our environment, but now we realize we bought into an illusion. The stress that comes from the inequality of our society, in particular, from economic inequality, may have more effect on our health than any other single factor. To control the epidemic of chronic disease it is necessary to address the economic gap. Real solutions to job creation cannot occur without addressing the growing income inequality between the wealthy and the rest of society. The reality of 2013 is that inequality matters.