The financial crisis: a psychoanalytic view of illusion, greed and reparation in masculine phantasy

Winter 2010

The recent financial crisis has shaken the financial system and affected everyone’s economic well-being. It has also shaken the framework of stability and trust in rational, ordered management, and injected an anxiety that irrationality is closer than we thought but that no-one really understands it. This essay argues that the financial crisis offers a way to look at a feature of masculinity that is a grounding assumption of both culture and the economy. Through exploring the crisis as a masculine collapse, we can simultaneously bring the nature of masculinity into clearer focus. In particular, I argue that our conscious sense of masculinity is only one pole of a duality - in psychoanalytic terms, it is phallic masculinity, which is based on an illusion of competitive superiority. Viewed as a manifestation of the unconscious, it can be seen as a defence against what I call seminal masculinity, which is based on the procreation, sustenance and restoration of life. I associate phallic masculinity with Klein’s ‘paranoid-schizoid position’ and seminal masculinity with her ‘depressive position’. This historic event ramifies into other areas, including environmentalism, trust and deception in politics. The paper focuses on illusion and illusory models that underwrite a sense of rationality, and the sense that a good economy that sustains life has been contaminated by ‘toxic assets’.

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NF 72 Psychoanalysis, Money and the Global Financial Crisis