When I woke up this morning, I had a bowl of cereal, like usual. Normally I have the same basic brands, like Quaker Life, or Cheerios. But yesterday at the store I couldn’t resist the sales and I picked up 5 boxes of cereal, including some Kashi. So I had Kashi for breakfast. I started to read the cereal box, and noticed what’s increasingly important to advertisers (and apparently to the American public as well) – the cliché statement about ‘nature,’ the benefits of ‘organic’ food processing, of a back-to-basics kind of (industrial) activity. The most striking thing this time, though, was the blurb on the side of the box, the text within which – surrounding a green image of the Earth – said “Nature takes care of us. Let’s take care of it!”

The problem here should be obvious. Nature takes care of us if and only if we take care of it; we cannot survive in nature without manipulating it in one way or another, and indeed it is insane to imagine a time when human society functioned without this ‘unnatural’ rationality. As Theodore Adorno pointed out in the early twentieth-century, the problem today is not that we must return to a pre-modern sort of relationship to nature, not that we should ‘allow a thousand blossoms to bloom’ or let ‘nature,’ the pre-individual drives or ‘innate’ (Id) existence to flourish against the repressive forces of the superego (however it is conceived: industrial, capitalist, hyper-rational, etc.), but that these very concepts are themselves a kind of superego injunction, a violent force against human consociation. In other words, the ideological message expressed in some sectors of the ecological movement today is that one should reject a ‘determinate reflection’ on how technology itself is necessary to solve the ecological crisis (and constitutive of the crisis, of course), and instead should take nature at its word — a very dangerous message indeed.

Adorno’s point is that this very relationship to nature is itself repressive, is imaginary, reified, overridden with sociocultural norms: our thinking about nature is inescapably a second nature. Adorno originally makes this claim in the context of a dispute with revisionist accounts of Freud’s theory of the drives, in which Freud’s libidinal economy is pegged as a degradation of cultural progress, as an excessive emphasis on the ‘pre-individual’ or ‘innate’ drives, which supposedly limit autonomy and cloud the historical mediation of the drives (that is the Marxist point, anyway). Now why would Adorno (a Marxist) reject this revisionist account of the Freudian theory of the drives? Because it cripples the theory’s critical potential: Freud’s point is not that we are tied to ineluctable ‘natural’ drives which always work against any organization of human effort, any sociocultural institutions, and so on; rather, the point is that these drives themselves are inherently mediated by society – there is no such thing as ‘natural’ desire.

It is because of the functioning of society, of its ‘sublimation’ or exclusion/repression of certain forms of life, that the libidinal economy works the way it does, outside of the control of the conscious Ego. (This goes against standard Anglo-American ego-psychology, which puts the analyst in the position of the ‘subject supposed to know,’ as a model for the analysand’s weak Ego).

Drives as such are ineluctable, but they change based on historical events and sociocultural thought: with Freud we should begin to see how the unconscious drives express the Truth of a society, not of human/internal (or external) ‘nature,’ but of society’s pathological functioning. Indeed the critical move, which Zizek continues to elaborate, is that we should not be fooled by a quasi-biological explanation for the way things are, for the way we behave, etc.; rather, we should uncover what is simply beyond the scope of these modes of interpretation and description — which justify themselves with the purported ‘causal mechanisms’ of an innate ‘human nature’ or external nature — something of a second nature, one whose significance is its ability to tell us something about our own society, not about nature itself… In other words, drives are historically mediated, repressive, and powerful cultural norms/injunctions: they consist of things such as, say, the (libidinal) drives to consume, to possess, to dominate, to submit, to enjoy, to forget, to rationalize, to rebel, to know, to symbolize, and so on.