What Would Freud Say About That?

We have all said and heard someone say something that is considered to be a "Freudian slip." We attach that phrase to what are often embarrassing slips of the tongue. Though sometimes we just accidentally use the wrong word, in the Freudian cases we interpret them to be more revealing of some unconscious thought.

In the cartoon example above "another" becomes "your mother" - mothers and fathers being big in Freud's view of psychology. In another example, a man saying that he was unhappy and felt a "need to change my wife" when he meant to say "a need to change my life," it would be easy to psychoanalyze his slip as meaning much more than a linguistic error.

Freud wrote:
"In the same way that psycho-analysis makes use of dream interpretation, it also profits by the study of the numerous little slips and mistakes which people make—symptomatic actions, as they are called [...] I have pointed out that these phenomena are not accidental, that they require more than physiological explanations, that they have a meaning and can be interpreted, and that one is justified in inferring from them the presence of restrained or repressed impulses and intentions. [Freud, An Autobiographical Study (1925)]
Freud believed that it was our unconscious mind that unlocked our behaviors and, like dreams, slips of the tongue revealed those hidden thoughts. he never called them "Freudian slips" but referred to these mistakes as Fehlleistungen meaning "faulty actions", "faulty functions" or "misperformances" in German.

Freud's English translator used the term parapraxes  and also the phrase "symptomatic action," both of which are still used today. (more on the word origins)

A Freudian slip of the tongue is an error that is popularly believed to carry hidden meanings. But Freud’s original use of the term ‘parapraxis’ actually included a wider range of common mistakes in behavior. He cataloged and analyzed errors in reading and writing, forgetting someone’s name, mislaying an object, or failing to perform a particular action.

Not all of Freud's theories are still accepted. there are many psychologists and linguists that believe that many cases of Freudian slips are really more indicators of the way language is formed in the brain rather than unconscious thoughts slipping out.

Even in his own time, an Austrian linguist, Rudolf Meringer, had also collected verbal mistakes, but concluded that in most cases they occurred from mixing up letters, not the full words.

In order to produce speech, the brain uses the semantic, lexical and phonological networks and speech requires via the interaction of all three networks. When these interactions malfunction, you get a slip or error.

There are many examples of Freudian slips, but the most famous ones usually come from the most famous people.

Then Vice-President, George H.W Bush gave a speech on live television in 1988 and said “We’ve had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We’ve had some sex… uh… setbacks” The audience did think there was something else going on in his mind.

UK journalist Jim Naughtie on the BBC Radio accidentally pronounced then-Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s surname as cunt.

Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor to President Bush, said at a White House dinner party: “As I was telling my husb — as I was telling President Bush...”

Pope Francis was delivering a sermon at the Vatican in 2014, when he accidentally said cazzo instead of caso. Unfortunately, the latter means "example" while the former translates as "fuck."

Senator Ted Kennedy gave a speech about education and said “Our national interest ought to be to encourage the breast - the best - and brightest.”

So, are all these examples evidence of the unconscious speaking out? Ot are they examples of a linguistic misfire?  I tend to side on believing that Freudian slips do not reveal our innermost or darkest secrets, but rather a way in which our brain sometimes mis-processes language. But some of these examples are hard not to consider as being a bit more than just simple mistakes.

Hello, What Is Your Social Credit Score?

You meet someone new at a party. You say, "Hello, what is your social credit score?" No, even easier than that, you check their score on your phone before talking to them. No, even more advanced, you see their score floating over them through your augmented reality glasses. Wait, let's put that AR viewing capability right into your eyeball.

You don't have such a score now, but you may one day. A Social Credit System is a proposed Chinese government initiative to develop a national reputation system. Though it is still being developed, the intent is to assign a "social credit" rating to every citizen. The score would be based on government data regarding their economic and social status.

If it sounds more like a science-fiction horror story of the future, that was what I thought at first. It reminded me of the 2016 episode of the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror which is shown on Netflix.

Reputation systems are programs that allow users to rate each other in online communities in order to build trust through reputation. They already exist on E-commerce websites such as eBay,, and Etsy as well as online advice communities such as Stack Exchange.

Reputation systems represent a significant trend in "decision support for Internet mediated service provisions" such as shopping and advice.

A variation is collaborative filtering which aims to find similarities between users in order to recommend products to customers.

The Social Credit System proposed by the Chinese government is meant to rate every citizen based on government data regarding their economic and social status.  If it sounds like a mass surveillance tool using big data analysis technology, that is because that is what it is.

On the surface, it is a way to rate businesses operating in the Chinese market.

Some might call this "surveillance capitalism." That term (introduced by John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney) denotes a new genus of capitalism that monetizes data acquired through surveillance.

It was an idea popularized by Shoshana Zuboff who says it emerged due to the "coupling of the vast powers of the digital with the radical indifference and intrinsic narcissism of the financial capitalism and its neoliberal vision that have dominated commerce for at least three decades, especially in the Anglo economies."

It is a new new expression of power she calls "Big Other."  In a reference that might sound like the plot for a new novel combining Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four, she feels the concept was first discovered and consolidated at Google, who are to surveillance capitalism what Ford and General Motors were to mass-production and managerial capitalism a century ago.

Facebook and others have since adopted the concept for ways to extract, commodify and control behavior to produce new markets of behavioral prediction and modification.

In that Black Mirror episode ("Nosedive"), people can rate each other from one to five stars for every interaction they have, and the protagonist is someone obsessed with her ratings. When her rating drops, she panics and goes on a campaign to bring her score back up.

A Chinese app called Alipay is already assigning users a three-digit score. "Zhima Credit" rates you from 350-950 based on finances and and other factors.

The Chinese government's "Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014–2020)" focused on four areas: honesty in government affairs, commercial integrity, societal integrity and judicial credibility. The rating of individual citizens is considered to be "societal integrity." The plans are to have credit scores for all businesses operating in China.

In a news story I heard, it said that you can gain or lose points for how well you separate and recycle your trash. It was unclear how this is monitored - trash collectors, your neighbors, credit police?

Eight companies were picked by the People's Bank of China in 2016 to develop pilots to give citizens credit scores, including the giant Alibaba Ant Financial Services, which operates Sesame Credit. Ant Financial CEO Lucy Peng has said that Zhima Credit “will ensure that the bad people in society don’t have a place to go, while good people can move freely and without obstruction.”

Soma: Enslaved by Happiness

When I first encountered the word "soma," it was in fiction. Soma is used to shape and control the future society in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. and again in his novel, Island.  But soma is more real than I, and probably many other readers, had assumed.

“Was and will make me ill,  I take a gram and only am."

Brave New World is a 1932 dystopian novel by English author Aldous Huxley. It has been a popular novel in high school and college literature classes for more than 50 years. The story is set in London in the year AD 2540 (632 A.F.—"After Ford"—in the book). Huxley anticipates more than predicts a number of developments in areas such as reproductive technology, sleep-learning, and psychological manipulation.

The novel is usually seen as a prediction of "what was to come" and often lumped in with Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. My own thoughts about the novel have changed since I read it in high school and taught it. Huxley also had a kind of reassessment of his book in an essay, Brave New World Revisited (1958), and in Island (1962), which is his final novel.

The "deep, resonant voice" of Mustapha Mond in the novel describes soma as "Euphoric, narcotic, pleasantly hallucinant." As part of the government, he knows soma is a very effective way of controlling its population. It sedates and calms them. It also distracts them from realizing what is happening in their society - a society where even the privileged members of the World State are enslaved.

"A gramme is better than a damn," said Lenina mechanically from behind her hands. "I wish I had my soma!"

Of course, via soma, the citizens are enslaved by happiness. John, the savage from outside society who serves as the naive 20th-century character in the novel, realizes this when he is taken into the society and given soma. He throws the soma he is given out a window at one point, but lapses into using it later.

"All the advantages of Christianity and alcohol; none of their defects." That is what Mustapha says of soma. It is "Christianity without the tears," he says. There are no bad side effects, no guilt, no sin.

"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." That often-quoted idea came from Karl Marx, and Mustapha seems to have read Marx. Soma, like religion, offers comfort, but at the expense of individuality.

Psilocybe cubensis
There has been speculation about what soma really might be pharmacologically. In Food of the Gods, ethnobotanist Terence McKenna believes that the most likely candidate for soma is the mushroom Psilocybe cubensis. This rather ordinary looking hallucinogenic mushroom (which grows naturally in cow dung in certain climates) is a species of psychedelic mushroom whose principal active compounds are psilocybin and psilocin.

In the vernacular, it can be known as shrooms, magic mushrooms, golden tops, cubes, or gold caps. It was previously known as Stropharia cubensis. It is the most well known psilocybin mushroom due to its wide distribution and ease of cultivation. In most of the world, it is an illegal substance to possess.

Soma is a real Sanskrit word that Huxley had encountered in his own experimentation with hallucinogen. It is usually described as a Vedic ritual drink that was important in the culture of ancient India. In both Hinduism and Zoroastrianism, the name of the drink and the plant are the same. In ancient texts, it is described as being prepared by extracting the juice from a plant (not mushrooms). The identity of that plant is now unknown and debated among scholars.

Some accounts by Ayurveda and Siddha medicine practitioners and Somayajna ritualists indicate  "Somalata" (Sarcostemma acidum), but there are also other candidates.

As was often the case in Indian tradition, the plant and its juice were personified as a god, Soma.

Huxley's soma is never described in detail and there is no mention of mushrooms. The soma pill is more like a hangoverless tranquilizer or with the effects of an opiate.

In researching this article, I also found that "Soma" is the most common brand name of the muscle-relaxant carisoprodol, and is marketed by Royce Laboratories, Inc. It was FDA-licensed in 1996. It is a Schedule IV sedative-hypnotic, an anticonvulsant and anxiolytic muscle relaxant, and was first marketed in the United States in 1955 under the brand name Miltown as an anti-anxiety agent. Sometimes called a "miracle drug" in that time, it is supposedly the drug immortalised by the Rolling Stones as "Mother's Little Helper."

One sensationalized 1950s pulp paperback cover 
My current view on Huxley's novel is less science-fiction prophecy about totalitarian government and more about a warning on our pursuit of happiness at all costs.

On some might disagree. One article says Brave New World  has come "to serve as the false symbol for any regime of universal happiness... any blueprint for chemically-driven happiness has delayed research into paradise-engineering for all sentient life."

In his Brave New World Revisited  (non-fiction published in 1958), after almost thirty years Huxley considered whether the world had moved toward or away from his vision. He concluded that the world was becoming like his novel's world much faster than he originally thought.

Why was that? Huxley points to overpopulation as one reason. He was also interested in the effects of drugs and subliminal suggestion on the population.

Interestingly, in those 30 years since the novel Huxley converted to Hindu Vedanta.

The book concludes with some action which could be taken to prevent a democracy from turning into the totalitarian world, and in his last novel, Island, he fictionalizes those ideas to describe a utopian, rather than dystopian, nation.

Poor savage John who falls into a "brave new world" (deep nod to Shakespeare's The Tempest for all that) tries to escape that soma-ed society and return to his savage "island."  We wish him, and all of us, well.

"Benighted fool!" shouted the man from The Fordian Science Monitor, "why don't you take soma?"" 
Get away!" The Savage shook his fist. 
The other retreated a few steps then turned round again. "Evil's an unreality if you take a couple of grammes." 
"Kohakwa iyathtokyai!" The tone was menacingly derisive.
"Pain's a delusion." 
"Oh, is it?" said the Savage and, picking up a thick hazel switch, strode forward.The man from The Fordian Science Monitor made a dash for his helicopter."

*  *  *
It was after midnight when the last of the helicopters took its flight. Stupefied by soma, and exhausted by a long-drawn frenzy of sensuality, the Savage lay sleeping in the heather. 
The sun was already high when he awoke. He lay for a moment, blinking in owlish incomprehension at the light; then suddenly remembered-everything."Oh, my God, my God!" He covered his eyes with his hand."


Cross-posted at Weekends in Paradelle