On Fictional People, Lies, and Underlying Processes

This is just a quick thing in order to get some tabs I off the top of my screen.

Something I think about a lot is fiction and our attachment to it. Why do we like it? Psychoanalysis would give us something about investment and identification; affect theory provides us with a resonance that co-creates us; more traditional and storied theories would just ignore the question and go with the given fact that we, well, just do.

We also have a cultural fascination with the fiction that cannot be distinguished from the truth (by “we” I mean humans because I think that every culture has a concept of lying). Conspiracy theories, talk shows about cheating spouses, and the “real” people behind internet pseudonyms are all outcroppings of this same core feeling–why is there something unreal behind something that we perceive as real?

What brought this up recently was a Parliamentary investigation of the practices of undercover police officers (which, I gather, is about tracking the people who track dissidents). This investigation has focused on officers who would live with women who were attached to the groups that they were monitoring, working their way into intimate relationships with them.

I will let the article speak for itself:

It was not unusual for undercover operatives working for the SDS or its sister squad, the national public order unit, to have sexual relationships with women they were spying on. Of the 11 undercover police officers publicly identified, nine had intimate sexual relations with activists. Most were long-term, meaningful relationships with women who believed they were in a loving partnership.

Usually these spies were told to spend at least one or two days a week off-duty, when they would change clothes and return to their real lives. However, Jenner, who had a wife, appears to have lived more or less permanently with Alison, rarely leaving their shared flat in London.

It was an arrangement that caused personal problems for the Jenners. At one stage, he is known to have attended counselling to repair his relationship with his wife. Bizarrely, at about the same time, he was also consulting a second relationship counsellor with Alison.

“I met him when I was 29,” she said. “It was the time when I wanted to have children, and for the last 18 months of our relationship he went to relationship counselling with me about the fact that I wanted children and he did not.”

The article ends with a message from Alison:

“This is not about just a lying boyfriend or a boyfriend who has cheated on you,” she said. “It is about a fictional character who was created by the state and funded by taxpayers’ money. The experience has left me with many, many unanswered questions, and one of those that comes back is: how much of the relationship was real?”

I think it is both interesting and tragic that the article ends on this note– it deflects away from Alison’s point. Yes, a popular fascination with liars and lies is an easy hook for the article to cling to, but I think this fascination takes away from Alison’s broader argument: the British government is directly responsible for emotional trauma for these women.

In this way, there isn’t a fiction going on at all. Everything is on the surface of things–everything is true. The government has a well-documented program of infiltration that has trauma as a policy.

So what am I saying? The British government has a policy that uses women as tools in order to enact Cold War-era civil spying tactics. On top of that, the press desire to package the story as one about “the lie” instead of one about governmental procedure and police practices and specific kinds of governmental “acceptable” abuse that is specifically gendered is a move to cover up or to mask the problem.

The fact that this isn’t a new process, and that it continues to this day, is really disturbing.

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