Ralph Steadman on Taboo

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  • Post last modified:May 6, 2021
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Ralph Steadman on taboo
Drawing by Ralph Steadman

I am currently on the final stretch of Ralph Steadman’s incredible follow-up to the perverse literary travesty who was Hunter S. Thompson (someone whose life I — somewhat disturbingly — enjoyed following), The Jokes Over. In this, he recounts his readings of Freud’s Totem and Taboo. I have retyped the following paragraphs to share his thoughts, with you.

There is a passage of explanation in Freud’s Totem and Taboo which says that taboo remains a power because it is a power from a mental conservatism and forms the basis of our moral attitudes and laws and that must account for the reluctance to enter in. To overcome our fear of mere superstition is a superhuman effort because of the ‘if’ factor.

In tribal life, Freud goes on, the father figure is all-powerful and all the women are his. The sons of the tribe grow restless and jealous. They rise up and kill the father so that they can take the women for themselves. Such is their remorse that to appease their guilt they re-create the father in the form of a totem or god, then bow down and worship him.

So father figure is a god. A hero who must suffer in order to appease the ‘tragic guilt’ of the horde, achieved by a process of systematic distortion or refined hypocrisy. This, of course, is ultimately religion.

Ralph, you are an incredible artist, writer, and creative. A true inspiration to free thinkers around the World.

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