If sadism is rooted in the fear of being human, what does it say about these cruel, unempathic times we live in?

by Julia Evans on October 25, 2013

Comments on:

When we deny our own vulnerability, we cope by being cruel to others

If sadism is rooted in the fear of being human, what does it say about these cruel, unempathic times we live in? by  Giles Fraser  : Published in The Guardian, Friday 25 October 2013 19.30 BST

Available here     

Reasons for my interest:

1)  I am interested in the form of power driving our social structures today.

2)  It asks questions relevant to both the reading of Seminar VI and Seminar VII and much else : What  are the conditions under which a human being operates within a social context?

Quotes from the article:

Yet sadism is a puzzle to most of us. Why do people take pleasure in being cruel? Or rather – and this is a much better question – what sort of a pleasure is it?

In Adam Phillips’ version of Freud, the human condition is characterised by helplessness, by the fear that we are not in control of the sources of our own satisfaction. This is the stuff of nightmares. To call it a fear is probably not strong enough.

There are, Phillips maintains, two ways of dealing with this terror: acceptance or denial. Acceptance is the good way.

But for those for whom vulnerability is too much of an ask, for whom even the acknowledgment of their own fear is itself too frightening, denial is experienced as a safer bet.

And here is where the sadism comes in. For those in denial about their own vulnerability are unable to cope with other people who remind them of it, unable to cope with those who threaten to put a crack in the dam of denial that has been carefully maintained to hold back a tsunami of terror.

Sadism, in other words, is rooted in the fear of being human. It is the punishment inflicted by those who don’t acknowledge their vulnerability on those who do, the punishment of those who are locked-in on the very source of their own terror – vulnerability itself.

Nonetheless, the pleasure of sadism is the pleasure of some fantasy escape from the constituent conditions of our humanity. It is emotional violence against the presence of dependency. That is, sadism is revenge against the disturbing business of being a human being.


The above interests me as it approaches my understanding of Jacques Lacan’s position on this and it is printed in a national newspaper.  Primary anxiety (Freud) or dread or angoisse (Lacan’s Seminar X), is there.  When separating there are two responses: acceptance of separation or rejection.

Jacques Lacan describes perversion as the hinge: it is neither acceptance nor rejection. I think a sadist is unable to move out of the field of absolute control and into subjectivity in relation to others.

This form of relationship is driven by the illusion of being totally in control – certainly beyond vulnerability. See (links below) the transcripts of Jimmy Savile’s interview by police in 2009.

The sadist needs, or feeds off, the other’s subjectivity. See Jacques Lacan’s ‘Kant with Sade : April 1963’ (for availability see https://lacanianworks.net/?p=236 )

and Jean-Louis Gault’s comment – https://lacanianworks.net/?p=42

and Pierre Naveau ‘s comments – https://lacanianworks.net/?p=40

Quote from Pierre Naveau:

‘Jouissance is forbidden.  Lacan says precisely:

“Jouissance is forbidden to he who speaks as such”.

(from ‘Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire’ : Écrits)

But, it is not the law itself that bars the subject’s access to jouissance.  It is pleasure that sets the limit on jouissance.  This means there are two laws:

Law with a capital ‘L’ and law with a small ‘l’.

My thesis is that the Sadean philosopher tries to find a solution to the problem of the difference between these two laws.  On the one side, there is the Law of prohibition of jouissance, and we can add, of prohibition of the jouissance, and we can add, of prohibition of the jouissance of the mother, and, on the other side, there is the law of pleasure, or rather the law of permission of pleasure.  We could speak of an antinomy between pleasure and jouissance, a natural and a cultural barrier.’

So a sadist thinks they have a right to pleasure without limits under the law of permission of pleasure.

Jacques Lacan comments further on de Sade in Seminar VII : Session of 27th April 1960 : Chapter XV : The jouissance of transgression : p191 of the Dennis Porter translation : availability given here

Links for the transcript of Jimmy Savile’s interview by the Surrey Police



Jimmy Savile Interview – Operation Ornament

Jimmy Savile was interviewed by Surrey Police in October 2009. A copy of the transcript of the interview has now been released under the FOIA with a number of redactions.


Savile Interview Part 1

Download our Savile Interview Part 1 [2mb]

Savile Interview Part 2

Download our Savile Interview Part 2 [612kb]