The Foreign Installation
It is probably a bit premature to offer new comments on the meaning of “the foreign installation”, but in my reading of Gabriel Marcel’s Man Against Mass Society, I came across a passage that brought it immediately once again to mind, and which might be helpful in conceiving of the foreign installation in more concrete terms.
We’ve had occasion to bring up “the foreign installation” — the occupied part of the psyche — in earlier discussions, and particularly in reference to Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s formula for a modern education. Here’s something that Marcel has to say about the matter that expands on the issue,
“…[T]he very essence of those modern techniques of degradation… consists precisely in putting the individual into a situation in which he loses touch with himself, in which he is literally beside himself, even to the point of being able sincerely to disavow acts into which nevertheless he had put sincerely his whole heart; or on the other hand of being able to confess acts which he had not committed. I shall not attempt at this point to define the kind of sincerity, obviously a factitious and artificial kind, that we are talking of. I shall note merely that, though in recent years such techniques of degradation have been brought to an almost unimaginable degree of refinement, they are already in use in periods much earlier than ours.”
After discussing the strange case of the persecutions of the Knights Templar, who sincerely confessed to crimes they had not committed, only to later retract those confessions, Marcel follows up that comment by adding,
“Physical torture by itself seems incapable of producing such sincerity; it can be evoked only by those abominable methods of psychological manipulation to which so many countries, in such various latitudes, have in recent years had recourse.” (p. 18)
That is the issue of “perception management” in a nutshell, of course. And if you have watched such documentaries (highly recommended) as Adam Curtis’s The Century of the Self, or have read anything of the broader literature about propaganda (such as Jacques Ellul’s Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, or Noam Chomsky’s excellent work Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, or Manufacturing Consent) then Marcel’s phrase “psychological manipulations” won’t come as much of a surprise, (although the increasing refinement, sophistication and effectiveness of such techniques might come as a very unpleasant surprise). How men (or women) are able to be made to live in a condition “in which he is literally beside himself” is an issue directly connected to “the foreign installation”.
The word “paranoia” (para-nous) is exactly the meaning of the word “beside oneself” or “not in one’s right mind”. And that is the issue that Harry Enten equally raised in The Guardian earlier when commenting on Julian Sanchez’s astonishing research on what we might call “cognitive dissonance” (just a fancy term for “duplicity”) or the role of “symbolic belief” (“Why Obama is a ‘Muslim'”).
So, indeed, the foreign installation is not just a figure of speech. It is a very serious issue to be confronted with the probability — even the fact — that the thoughts one thinks are not even one’s own true thoughts, or that the life one leads is not even one’s own real and authentic life. The power and effectiveness of modern technologies of social control to estrange one from one’s own inner feelings, and from one’s own native conscience and good sense (rather than “the common sense”), and to alienate an individual from his or her own lived life and immediate experience — this is very serious business indeed.
“The foreign installation” is the mediator, in fact. And that contrasts with the meaning of “immediate”.
This is not just “degradation”, as Marcel puts it. It is the very meaning of the word “diabolical”.