Unity via an Ideological Fantasy

What they do not know is that their social reality itself, their activity, is guided by an illusion, by a fetishistic inversion. What they overlook, what they misrecognize, is not the reality but the illusion which is structuring their reality, their real social activity. They know very well how things really are, but still they are doing it as if they did not know. The illusion is therefore double: it consists in overlooking the illusion which is structuring our real, effective relationship to reality. And this overlooked, unconscious illusion is what may be called the ideological fantasy.

Slavoj Žižek: The Sublime Object of Ideology

A note regarding “reality”: In this context, it is the social reality we live in, structured by the Symbolic.

I’ve previously written about the formation of a new political bloc in Sri Lanka, uniting a group who were supporters of the former Rajapaksa regime, and now support the current President, and elements of that President’s traditional vote base. While my previous post was an attempt to locate the President’s role within a psychoanalytical framework, I’m now trying to understand and apply a specific concept — Ideological Fantasy.

Following on from this:

  • What is an ideological fantasy?

It is an illusion that structures reality for those under its sway by allowing them to come to terms with being subjects of the symbolic order, and the limitations imposed by that.

  • What is the illusion, and what reality does it structure?

There is a symbolic order operating for those who see themselves as forward-thinking, technocratic, market orientated and, as I’ve written previously, have values that include a respect of “great men”, a belief in hierarchies, and authoritarianism as a means of governance.

For those who operate under this symbolic order, part of the collective reality is a vision of Sri Lankan greatness that is being thwarted by an Other.

This collective reality is often expressed as, “We could be Singapore but for….”. Singapore here standing as a signifier for an orderly, safe and materially prosperous society.

The illusion that structures this is that Sri Lanka’s greatness is constantly being thwarted by a One Thing; an “Other” — a primary antagonist that must be defeated at all costs.

During the Sri Lankan civil war, there was a wedge between supporters of the Rajapaksas and those supporting Wickremasinghe over the best way to deal with the war. There was no shared fantasy. For Rajapaksa supporters, the Other used to be those regarded as insufficiently patriotic. This was usually justified as being opposed to terrorism rather than suppressing minorities. Wickremasinghe supporters tended to blame some combination of ethnonationalism, and poor economic policies.

With the end of the war, the current economic crisis provided the platform for a new form of the ideological fantasy; one shared between some former Rajapaksa supporters, and elements of the current President’s traditional base. This fantasy is that Sri Lanka’s structurally dysfunctional economy and public finances are the Other preventing Sri Lanka greatness.

Bear in mind that ideological fantasies conceal what  Žižek calls the real of social antagonism.

This fantasy of the One Thing is required to conceal the fact that Sri Lanka’s problems can only be fixed with a deep and painful restructuring of society — as opposed to just the singular act of “opening up the economy” or “defeating terrorism”.

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