Covid Panic and Infantile Omnipotence

Wednesday, April 22, 2020
Pasadena, California

Covid Panic and Infantile Omnipotence

Although differing psychoanalytic schools foolishly quarrel with one another, they universally agree on at least one idea:

Infantile omnipotence.

The concept is easily observable in the behavior of babies.

Infants urgently scream and cry. They shout from the core of their beings. They demand immediate satisfaction!

Sigmund Freud used the phrase, “His Majesty the Baby,” to describe infantile omnipotence. As he suggested, we humans have innate grandiosity, idealized expectations, chronically unmet need states.

On some unconscious level, we believe these should be continuously satisfied—regardless of our chronological age.

In the simplest possible terms, psychological development can be reduced to the capacity to relinquish such entitlement, power, and greed.

If you’re lucky, you grow out of it. Or, at least, you manage or contain it.

You wrestle with the central paradox of adulthood:

On the one hand, you embrace your sense of agency, of autonomy. You pull all the levers of change that you can.

On the other hand, you develop the capacity to surrender, to let go.

Ideal maturity is impossible except, perhaps, for truly enlightened beings. The Buddhists, for example, use the term hungry ghosts to describe how we humans constantly, frenetically chase unmet need states. From the psychoanalytic opus, terrible-writer-Jacques Lacan considers human subjectivity as a state of constant, unending desire.

The idea of infantile omnipotence extends far beyond psychoanalysis. Adam Smith, who wrote his masterpiece about capitalism in 1776 entitled, The Wealth of Nations, thought greed drives capitalism.

People imagine purchasing goods or services will satisfy them.

These purchases provide, at best, transient satisfaction, and then,

Consumers return to the stores or to the professionals in search of the unsatisfiable.


What does all this have to do with the Covid-19 crisis?

Before answering the question, please know that I am in no way demeaning the suffering of those with the virus.

I am not minimizing the horrific loss encountered by those whose loved ones have died of it.

Further, I only write these words because of the miracle of personally undergoing two aortic valve replacements—surgical procedures impossible until the 1960s.

The disclaimer noted, infantile omnipotence and Covid-19 co-exist in the following sense:

Disease and death have become too sanitized, dissociated, disconnected from our experience.

Modern medicine has conquered many diseases. Some, like small pox, barely exist. With the advent of antibiotics, many previously fatal bacterial infections are now easily controlled. Cancer remains a serious foe. And, meanwhile, many human diseases relate to our own lifestyle problems, i.e. overeating, inaction, exposure to excessive stress, drinking, smoking, isolating and more).

These apparent successes at reducing our vulnerability comes at a high price.

The population grows ever more rapidly.

The earth now hosts more than 7 billion humans.

Many think of humanity as a virus itself, nearly killing off its host already.

Here, then, lies the core lesson of Covid-19:

We are excessively immersed in a lie, a fiction—a delusion of invulnerability.

Despite sterilization, hospitalization, isolation, separation, sanitation, and civilization, we remain, as ever, part and parcel of Mother Nature.

We are like apples growing from the tree, endlessly intertwined with the soil, the air, the sun, and the universe.

We are utterly dependent on the land below and the heavens above.

The more we practice societal dissociation—like omnipotently believing we can beat illness and death—the more vulnerable we will become.

It’s a perfect irony.

Some climate change activists encourage us consider Covid-19 a harbinger of illness, suffering, and death to come as the atmosphere heats up.

Mother Nature cannot be conquered.

It IS us.

If we fail to confront the problem of human omnipotence, and relinquish the delusion of our dissociation from nature, we will ultimately kill off our entire species.

Here’s a final irony:

We were already dangerously living on the precipice of the extinction of the human race, and:

That was decades before Covid-19 reared its ugly head.

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