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On the value of irresponsibility

October 12, 2007

You have a public self and a private self. The public self is what you hold yourself out to be and are willing to take responsibility for; the private self, on the other hand, you may be able to do little about. Peel away the layers of the public self to get to the private self under the controlled supervision of a shrink and you finally reach those elusive Freudian entities, the ego, the superego and the id whose frenzied interplay often play havoc with the public image you are attempting to project. In the case of an onion, such peeling away will be enough in itself to make your shrink weep; in your case only a seriously repressed id would attract such sympathy from a professional.

The relationship between your pubic and your private self raises a deep and increasingly troubling question. When should you be held responsible for what you say? Your age comes into it, of course, and this at both ends of the range – you can take a tendency to dribble as a sure sign that you are currently located at one end of the range or the other. But circumstances also have a part to play. Public speaking and publication, for example, are clear-cut cases given that it is your conscious intention to be heard by others. Here it is your public self that is speaking. But what about what you have just scribbled in haste in your personal diary? Is this not the private self speaking? Can – and should – your private self ever be held accountable for what you write in your diary? Accountable to whom? To the addressee? You are the addressee! Your diary might constitute admissible evidence in a court of law – “the diary clearly stated that he was planning to get rid of her…” – but could you be sued by a third party for what, driven by unconscious Freudian impulses, you write about him or her? Of course, if you decide to put your diary on the internet it becomes a blog. But is not a blog just a diary that you allow us to peek at? Isn’t that what you allow your shrink to do under conditions of professional confidentiality? Some diaries, of course, are a form of literary exhibitionism and designed as such. But this exhibitionism will itself be under the malevolent control of the Freudian trinity. So back to square one.

Madame de Staël famously said ‘Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner’ (To understand everything is to forgive everything). I suspect that the lady enjoyed peeling onions – or blogs.

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