Wednesday, 9 January 2013

The Theseus complex: when the father kills the son

It’s been a long time since there’s been a real breakthrough in psychoanalysis so, in a spirit of becoming modesty, I wish to offer mine. 

Behold the latest syndrome to add to the canon of psychoanalytic conditions: the Theseus complex.

It’s basically the Oedipus complex in reverse, in which a father wishes to murder his sons. I used to suffer from it on a chronic basis – attacks at irregular but relatively frequent intervals, for instance when the boys woke me at 6:00 in the morning. Especially if it was by peeing in the bed. I have to admit, however, that the specifically Freudian and therefore sexual aspect of the original was missing: I didn’t want to murder them to marry their mother. After all, I already had.

The name comes from Theseus’s murder of his son Hyppolitus, following the attempted seduction of the son by his wife. That’s Theseus’s wife, not Hyppolitus’s. I don’t think Hyppolitus had a wife and, if he had, I rather hope a seduction would have been successful.

It occurred to me that the Theseus complex was far more significant than might at first seem likely when I read, the other day, about the Chinese father who hired virtual assassins to go after his son’s avatar in the charmingly named game, ‘World of Warcraft’. Concerned that his son was playing the game far too much, he took the drastic step of enlisting the support of two other gamers to track down the avatar and take him out.

May not bring out the best in the human spirit

It’s not clear to me that any offence has actually been committed. It probably isn’t a crime to commit virtual murder; after all, pretty much every gamer on ‘World of Warcraft’ and any of a large number of other games, would be guilty otherwise. In terms of the game, it may not be an offence, but I guess it might be viewed as offensive. And morally, of course, it’s unforgivable. Pure Theseus complex. It’s like letting the air out of the tyres to stop the kids driving away. That’s cunning but unlikely to endear you to them, even if Dorothy Parker advised it: ‘the best way to keep children home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant – and let the air out of the tires.’

The Chinese father's action was never likely to have succeeded, of course, as the experts pointed out. Since people get killed all the time in the game, what’s one death more or less? 

I understand that father and son have become reconciled. On the other hand, I imagine trust will be harder to re-establish.

Still, I suppose we should at least be grateful that the whole thing remained virtual. We have rather too many of the other kind of killing around the world at the moment. Maybe the father set a good example in this case: getting angry and bitter? sick of your friends, colleagues, relatives, the people flying the wrong flag or refusing to fly your own?

Go on-line and take them out there.

That would represent progress of a sort, don’t you agree? Which is sad considering that it's pretty distasteful, and if thats progress, what does that say for the way things are today? But at least it would preserve the peace and make the world a significantly less dangerous place.

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