A few thought about the imaginary & the symbolic
I get the impression that some people read what Lacanians write about the imaginary and the symbolic. They get the impression that Lacanians think the imaginary and the symbolic are somehow “bad.”
The imaginary and the symbolic are awesome, and they help us. We need them.
However, if we are not careful, we might end up being used by the imaginary (identity) and the symbolic (law) instead of making use of them.
Let’s dive into that a bit more:
The way I see it is that having an identity can make life easier. In some instances, it might even make life better. But if we are not careful, identity can become something that we feel we “have to” comply with. An example that I see often is when people who identify as members of a particular group or adherents of a particular ideology feel they can’t be critical of their group/ideology. When something like that happens, one’s imaginary-identity has become more of a cage and less of a tool.
A similar thing can happen with the symbolic-laws. The symbolic is a great tool when we use it to improve the overall quality of our lives and the lives of others. However, if we are not careful, we can become overly reliant upon the symbolic-law (i.e. policy) to solve our problems for us. When this happens we abdicate our personal sovereignty and responsibility, so the symbolic-law becomes something we must comply with.
This is a problem; just because something is “the law” does not mean that it is right, ethical, or moral. At one point in time, segregation was the law, and people who did things like integrate lunch counters were breaking the law.
If someone following the law/policy has ever wronged you, then you can see how the symbolic-law can be used in a perverse way.
My point here:
The imaginary-identity is a powerful tool, and we have to be careful with how we use it.
The symbolic-law is also a powerful, and we need to be as responsible as we can with how we use it.