Part II. Case Studies in Personhood
A. Methodological disparity in Personhood II
The exposition in "Personhood II" [The Person-World Premise II] divides into two parts, (section)A-(section)L and (section)M-(section)Q. [Referring to the 1991 revision. Let me note that (section)J in the 1991 revision originally followed what is now (section)L.] These parts display quite different methodological orientations. In A-L, generally understood constituents of personhood are analyzed in an adverse way. The effect is to decompose them. I elucidate pitfalls in generally acknowledged constituents of personhood. I seek to decompose the conventional constituents, to expose them. I make an adverse critique of distinctions posited by the culture. I show that constituents corresponding to common-sensical and scientific realities are not "solid." In particular, I show that personal identity is concocted by the juggling of waking states, dreamed states, unconscious states, memory, etc.
In M-Q, I have no wish to analyze the constituents under consideration adversely. The distinctions under consideration are distinctions which I have invented. The constituents which I posit--imminent character and thematic identity--are exempted from my adverse analysis. Instead of decomposing the constituents, I uphold their stability. Why? Because I wish to invoke them as explanatory structures. I am appealing to their causative effectiveness, so I have no wish to depreciate them. I am interested in "character" and "identity" for their effectiveness in buttressing given adjustments of the person-world. Character provides a level of consistency of the individual. It seems to hold the individual in a vice-like grip. Character and identity come across in M-Q almost as immutable first causes.
Why single out global and longitudinal structures as first causes? ("global": the highest level of integration of the person-world; "longitudinal": life-long.) If mundane reality in general is unstable and delusive, then why should global longitudinal structures like character and identity be stable and actual and be able to uphold the mundane reality? In personhood theory, character becomes something of a mystique.
Imminent character is a constituent which I have invented to explain certain consistencies of the individual in large choices and actions. The notion of character is supposed to throw into relief certain preferable or regrettable qualities of the individual. But this is a proposal specific to me: imminent character as the key to being cognitively protean.
The perspective of the public arena, institutions, and historiography is quite different. In the latter perspective, success is the only merit. The most important personal quality is to go with the winning flow, to swim toward the "light" of fame, to attune oneself to the successful flow.
What is important about the individual is his or her symbolic value in the collective or public context of the moment. That is the primary constituent. To inquire about the inner person or private person is disapproved as diversionary. From this point of view, imminent character would be denounced as an anti-social fabrication.
[1991. There will be a tendency to read the passage here as a satire on a peculiarly American fetishism of success. But that omission of the rest of the world would be far from what I intended. In fact, the primary target of the last paragraph was the way that lives (and in particular lives in the public arena) were judged in the Marxist tradition. People's value was in the political symbols which they could become--in the political symbols into which propaganda could make them. And that was closely parallel to "success"--especially if achieving symbol-value meant lionization and high office for the individual. Beyond that, my remarks were directed to the highest echelons of academic science. Theoretical physicists are entrepreneurs: choosing research programs precisely to maximize fast career payoff.
Indeed it was the American commercial sphere which developed the flagrant enshrining of success as a goal. But that does not mean that other spheres do not have closely parallel orientations, even though they would not use the language of American commercialism.]
Let me try to formulate the conflicting orientations of A-L and M-Q more sharply. In A-L, I take the immediate moment as primary, and make an adverse critique of the individual's concoction of longitudinal identity or global identity. I suggest that it takes a continual expenditure of energy to keep longitudinal or global identity together. (It also takes a continual expenditure of energy to walk.)
But in M-Q, I take a facet of longitudinal identity--or at least of momentary global identity--as primary. I attribute to this facet the power to shape factual perception, etc., in the present moment. I make the person the slave of longitudinal or global identity. Character or thematic identity acquires a life of its own; and can act to shape factual perceptions of the moment.
Frankly, the result is quite contradictory. Yet I am not being arbitrary. There is realism in both of the orientations--whether I can sort out their relation to one another or not. A-L is more or less a compilation of lessons from meta-technology. It is the attempt to answer the objection that the instabilities of the person-world could not be read out from the personhood paradigm of December 1980. M-Q is an attempt to sum up phenomena which I began to ponder at the time I wrote "On Depth Psychology and Psychotherapy, Part II," and "The Theory of Ordinary People." In talking about "retroactive signification" ("unprecedented fate") and "ordinary character," I sought to be straightforwardly honest abut phenomena which are too compelling to ignore. In the concrete cases which personhood theory has been developed to account for, character seems to exercise an iron control of life's adventure.
[For whatever it is worth, let me give an illustration. Sun Buddhas Moon Buddhas and Be Here Now are two books which express the religious perspectives of two Americans who traveled to the East as adults and converted to Buddhism--namely Elsie Mitchell and Richard Alpert. What I find so striking is that they each found Buddhisms which were continuations of the persons they were already--Buddhisms which are different to the point of unrecognizability. If you say "of course," then you are saying that religions themselves have no power to mold converts. I feel like saying: No experience publicly available today can change the qualities which define these people in my eyes. Alpert is still the quintessential flamboyant, sensation-seeking hustler. Mitchell is still the quietly respectable, insipid do-gooder. Everything that happens to these people will only feed into personal styles already established. I don't even think a kidnapping like the one Zdenek Mlynar recounted in Nightfrost in Prague would change them. It could be argued that the different outcomes for the two converts were produced by different milieus. Mitchell converted in the cool, Watts Fifties; Alpert converted in the freak-out Sixties. But Alpert published in 1971; Mitchell published in 1973. Both were Harvard academics, passing through that same milieu as young adults. They did not come from markedly disjoint socio-historical compartments.]
Let me acknowledge considerations other than character which maintain the consistency (or "stagnation") of the person-world.
a. Conformity. Feeding on cues from other people. The individual's alignment or dynamic balance with cues from other people.
b. What your "factual perceptions" tell you.
Hennix: Being submerged in a social role is a miasma of constituents--without linear causation from primary to derived constituents.
B. Social role
In M-Q, I say that to merge with a social role is always depersonalizing, no matter how "decent" or splendid that role may be. This pronouncement needs further explanation. Why is it that even a Gandhi or Einstein is depersonalized in living as public property? The answer is a rather narrow consequence of personhood theory which has to be elucidated at a rather abstract level. It expresses the curious radicalism of personhood theory. There are two parts to the answer.
First, an individual who fits snugly into a social role, who lives as a public prop, is a person whose perceptiveness has to arise perfectly matched to that of the collective, the public. There is no reason, in the individual's thoughts, to make a distinction between following one's impulses, and doing what the public approves (or at least understands--if you represent one side in a conflict you cannot be approved by all but you can be understood by all as the symbol of your side). There is no reason why acting out of principle should become counterposed to public understandability.
Another way of saying the same thing is that the culture provides an assortment of stereotypical roles and of stereotypical conflicts or controversies--like the column of boxes on a multiple-choice questionnaire. The person who is merged with a social role is the person who can comfortably define self by checking off the boxes--who can define self as a linear combination of orthonormal stereotypes.
Viewed from a certain angle, the individual in question is defined by seeking public understandability and success. The individual who is merged into a social role must react to anything which swims into his or her field of attention via considerations such as:
Will it grab the relevant audience?
Will it "sell"? [sic--figuratively]
Is it professional?
Will it confirm or jeopardize my professional status?
Will it crystallize the fancy of the public, i.e. does it have fad potential?
[Once again, let me caution against reading this as a satire on American commercialism. My primary targets were the Left and academic science. The only thing peculiarly American about the questions is their candor.]
To the "social" person, public understandability, enshrinement in the public record--going with the winning flow, achieved symbolic value in the public context of the moment--is indistinguishable from reality or life. The "social" person relentlessly screens everything with respect to whether it will enhance or diminish his or her standing in the multiple-choice questionnaire. To fail to be officially endorsed and chronicled--that is the most horrible fate there is.
Am I suggesting there is something bad in all this? The "social" individual has to route his or her entire life through an intermediary, a master control: societal understandability, notice, approval. There is no independently self-seeking act; quality is indistinguishable from success. Thus, personal existence is a mere shadow of society--a grandiose Other, a hypothetical Other. The person's existence is depersonalized in a strict technical sense. Self-image, way of coping, make the person revolve around an Other of which the self's subjectivity and immediacy are only a shadow. No, I cannot claim that there is something bad in all this. I am not contesting the person's public achievement. I am saying that depersonalization is its other side. I will elaborate below in "Gloating venality," and in "The sorcery of destiny."
I now wish to portray a few specific adjustments (or configurations) of the person-world with a degree of detail that cannot be read out of Personhood II. These configurations are evidently within the limits of ordinary personhood, but constitute very specific configurations. They are configurations which are most clear-cut in immature or disadvantaged individuals (or in professors of science). But I argue that these configurations also, by extrapolation, characterize the person-world of the "average person." What we find is a sort of humiliation that compensates by blustering. The condition is definitely culture-correlated; that is, it is imposed and fostered by the existing community. It is concomitant with shrunken comprehension and other fetters which prevent the individual from being "cognitively protean." Shame, the need to bluster, etc., as constraints on cognition.
I have sometimes quipped that the ordinary person is the ultimate research frontier. Here I am trying to express what the average person has to live with every moment but cannot put into words or even bear to try to put into words. At the same time I am trying to characterize the shrunken comprehension or fettered cognition which is fostered specifically by this civilization and which is thrown into relief by pressing the issue of meta-technology.
A further methodological comment is in order here. Why is it that ordinary people constitute an especially difficult research subject? In a sentence, because I want to view them from inside with a conceptualization which they don't comprehend. In more detail: I have already expressed the difficulty of researching ordinary people from one side: we have to discern immediates of the average person's personal totality which he or she doesn't want to see and doesn't have the perspective to express in a series of principles. But the other side of this obstacle is that I am trying to analyze the average person from the introspective standpoint, when in fact I am quite removed from the average person and can't perform his or her introspection. Only the average person can confirm the analysis; and he or she must change before he or she can bear to entertain or consider the analysis. It is another unreasonable methodological juncture of personhood theory which is built into the phenomena themselves.
C. Ignorant petulance
The state of ignorant petulance or oblivious helplessness is most clear-cut in a child: say in a child's attitude toward being forced to attend school. The child has the capacity to like, to dislike, to say "I want," to say "I won't do." The child lacks capacities of comprehension, impartiality, generalization.
The child resents, without understanding or wanting to understand how the object of his or her resentment got there and who benefits from it. Ignorance--lack of comprehension of what he or she resents--is bliss. The child may play hooky or run away; but he or she cannot seriously contest school as an institution. The child's world revolves around impulse gratification. He or she copes with the imposed regimentation and indoctrination through petulance. Comprehension is constricted by immature self-absorption and subjectivism. He or she cannot form the question "Why school?"
(The attitude I am portraying is not specific to youth as such but to ignorant petulance as such. Some children rebel against school with much more insight than I am portraying here.)
To repeat, in this case the child copes or responds to the imposed burden with petulance. What is more, he wants admiration for his petulance, supposing that by being petulant, he "kills" school. Now that he has killed it, it becomes all right for him to submit to it. "Since my defiance and bluster have killed the teachers, I no longer lose face if I take orders from them for ten years." And the child wants admiration for this "insurrection."
The point of dwelling on this byway of childishness is that it is the model for the humanistic response to science. It is the model for the humanistic response to modern objectification, modern depersonalization, and cultural self-abasement. The humanists are unable to ask for the "why" of modern culture in a way which gets us beyond the abasement. Rebellion takes the form of petulance. Activities fantasized as alternatives to science and other sophisticated, consequential institutions are pathetic. Admiration is demanded for mere petulance.
D. Continually insecure esteem
If a person is the target of unfair and inaccurate disparagement, the obvious advice is to tell him or her to stand firm and cultivate autonomous self-respect. Be an autonomous doer in the world, enduring mundane existence without being dominated by unfair and inaccurate disparagement.
But for members of various disparaged groups, this advice is not feasible, and in that respect it is not even pertinent. The case which I know from personal contact is that of Southern "white trash" and the white "juvenile delinquent"; but we must suppose that the situation is still more acute for others. The disadvantaged individual may be constantly off-balance from systematic disapproval of traits which he or she cannot control or choose. Also material disadvantages: the level of benefits and occupations assigned to the person. The barrage of disapproval, in the context of low material social position, throws him or her off-balance. The person is actively being prevented from building an inner refuge from disapproval; and there is no outer refuge from disapproval. Disparagement keeps the person off-balance, and there is no secure base on which autonomous self-respect and autonomous personal projects can be developed. The chip on the shoulder, also surliness and bluster.
(But I can't leave the commentary at this stage. It's like the liberal theory of "prejudice." A dominant role is being attributed to non-dominating influences. I really don't have any business being an armchair psychologist, but: the child's experience with his or her parents would seem to be far more important than his or her experience with hostile strangers in deciding whether he or she will be able to achieve autonomous self-respect. What is more, the helplessness I am portraying presupposes an inherent personal deficit as well. The person who can recognize a talent in him/herself that doesn't depend on popularity always has an anchor for esteem. Books as friends, that sort of thing. Let's get the topic in focus. What is pertinent is not this or that explanation of the misery of the underprivileged. What is pertinent is, indeed, continually insecure esteem--how it feels and how one acts from it; and it is easy to imagine this condition in connection with the socially underprivileged.)
When autonomous self-respect is not a feasible goal, there are concomitant cognitive lacks, constraints on comprehension. One is unable to concentrate on matters which are not self-absorbed--to follow a dispassionate, impartial line of activity or a high level of generality.
Having started with the underprivileged, I find that a different version of continually insecure esteem characterizes the average person. The average person is not necessarily being abused by a section of the community for a trait he or she was born with. But the person has a contiguous problem. In order to gain social approval, he or she has made terrible, self-lacerating sacrifices. (I will return to this point in a subsequent section.) The person foregoes any chance of "sublime self-assertion" as I call it. (And that is irrespective of whether sublime self-assertion comes as an actively heroic posture or as a compulsion, a way of life which one is fated to.) "Most people spend most of their time doing things no rational person would freely do." Now he or she must continually struggle to justify self-lacerating, self-mutilating concessions. As I will observe below, the average person is analogous to the boys in Imperial China who had themselves castrated so that they could begin a political career as eunuches in the Imperial court.
But more than this, emotional dependence on other people (on society?) is an end in itself. To get more approval by making "concessions" is an end in itself. These "concessions" also bring material rewards: wealth, property, control of other people. (Given competition and conflict in human wants, it becomes an end in itself to have the means to enforce your will over another.) But having to face and to rationalize one's self-mutilating "concessions"--one's surrender of sublime self-assertion--keeps the average person's esteem continually off-balance. To recommend that the person cultivate autonomous self-respect, and be an autonomous doer in the world, does not strike the average person as feasible or pertinent. "If you knew what I'm going through you wouldn't say that."
(Yet this analysis is one-sided. See "Thoughts on Dignity and Consecration" (March 1981) for the average person's sense that he or she, and not the shabby geniuses, has the best of life's bargain. Van Gogh was insane with envy for his brother's normal family life, etc.)
E. The seeker of therapeutic reassurance
Let me speak of a certain class of quasi-bohemian "poetry people." The individual feels chronically abused and cheated by parents. The individual feels empty. A lifetime of not doing what he or she wanted to do. Now, he or she is not able to find any cues within as to what he or she should be doing. In addition to being poetry people and semi-bohemians, nobody has ever made these people set aside their personal turmoil in order to think about general, impersonal problems. But they are convinced that they could not compete at that intellectual level, that they lack resources at that level. Then, they think they are not doing well enough in the search for love, identified with romantic relationships.
Psychotherapy has crystallized this group into a market by creating a genre of inspirational-moral self-help literature. The people in the audience arrive at the point of acknowledging vulnerability. They want to get beyond people "running games," and find something "real": by which they mean inspirational instruction which is not a cult and which doesn't necessarily tell you what you want to hear--yet which is not impersonal, not concerned with intellectual principle. These people do not flee their emotional hurt into a sterile absorption such as chess. They want to dwell in emotional tussling in the form of fictional sublimation--and in the form of therapeutic process.
So, their program is to admit their hurt; and then to get a new inspirational-moral idea which will lead them to "love." (Jourard: the solution is gushing candor--on the part of someone already absorbed in personal emotions.) They demand that a literature of ideas should tell them how to take care of themselves, how to love themselves--and thus how to love.
They insist that ideas should address a personal hurt with personal reassurance--not asking them to examine shared intellectual tenets. Their emotional trauma is an emergency which blots out everything else. They don't have a realistic idea of how large is the number of people who are sufficiently composed to attend to impersonal questions. They don't have a realistic idea of how much effort the human race has devoted to general, impersonal, even abstract topics--or of how widely the results of those inquiries have influenced collective life.
Most of these people would never be prospects for "philosophical anthropology." (To use the archaic, pedantic name for general and impersonal discussion of the consensus human self-image, discussion at the level of intellectual principle.) But some members of this group would be prospects, if it were not for their absorption in personal emotional hurt (and the validation of that absorption by the therapeutic literature). The therapeutic literature becomes an infra-philosophy, which makes philosophical anthropology unreal to the audience in question.
Incidentally, the therapeutic balm doesn't work. The person obtains an inspirational enthusiasm, which fades. Then he or she gets another enthusiasm. As I first argued in "Remarks on Neurosis and Psychotherapy" (1976), actual personal stabilization, improved judgment, and the ability to apply oneself to impersonal missions come from moving to new milieus and from the arrival of unexpected opportunities. (Far more than from post-mortems on one's past, or from intellectually vapid moral instruction.)
What is relatively more basic here is not that psychotherapy is sought as salvation. It is salvation itself: the taking of the purpose of cognitive seeking as a personal hygiene of happiness. (How to take care of yourself, how to love yourself, what you should next do with yourself, how to find romance.) One seeks a happiness for oneself, arrived at inside, which is neutral to the rest of the world, which leaves the outside unexamined. One asks for a life-philosophy in which one gets happiness by narrowing the entire achievement and scope of life to personal self-remediation and adjustment, without any examination of consensus intellectual principles (not to say change in them).
In Asia, there are established religions with this orientation. For that reason, Western therapists and Eastern gurus become interchangeable as saviors to the reassurance-seeker. The goal of cognitive seeking is, from the outset, personal spiritual perfection. The only thing you want from knowledge is a road straight to your individual bliss. It is inside oneself that the answer will be found.--And yet the seekers are phobic of solitude.
As I just said, the enthusiasm fades. The seeker must find another enthusiasm. The seeker needs to be saved again--and it cumulates into a life-long cycle.
Focusing on psychotherapy's differences from Eastern religion, the former proposes to fill the spiritual vacuum left by science with a "science of the soul." And concomitantly, it offers a whole new ethic or life-philosophy. At the same time, it claims as an advantage that it is modern and rational. It claims to make no value-judgments; it claims that its advice is that of scientific medicine.
This "theory of the soul" grows out of a preoccupation with personal pathology and treatment. The science of the soul has nothing to say to the person who is not mentally ill. If you aren't mentally sick, then rationalistic culture doesn't offer your soul any attention.
F. Gloating venality, and its stresses
In offering meta-technology to various audiences, one of the most striking reactions I have elicited comes from professors and scientists. Professors and scientists explicitly admit to dishonesty and venality. Here, then, I will elaborate the dictum in "Personhood II" that shame can live with itself only by glorying in shame.
When I offer my arguments that logic, mathematics, and physics are fraudulent and stunted to the professionals, their reaction is "we already knew that but we don't care and we are going to try to suppress your exposé." [Or, I have since learned, to reserve the purely negative side of the exposé for one or another in-house radical to make a career of it. They play hardball when they're hungry for success.]
A mathematician told me "Of course mathematics is a hoax but it is the only thing in the world I can do well." A physics student told me "I just want to make a lot of money." An engineer told me "I happen to like the security of the common objective world whether it is intellectually defensible or not." It would be indelicate for me to name names; I have to live with these people.
My academic credentials are in economics, and I found the same attitude there. Then, in Part I of this manuscript, I carefully defined "Darwinism" and noted that it has been known for a long time by professionals to be on weak footing. Darwinism has been maintained as an orthodoxy in conjunction with the profession's misrepresenting its degree of validation.
Every time I confront the savants in private, I find that they are even more certain than I am that the positions they avow publicly are false. Why do they do it? The declared motives are prestige, status, and above all, money.
What sustains the savants' loyalty to ideas which they are confident are false? What am I to make of the fact that the reasons they give for refusing to consider meta-technology are so venal and mercenary?
Certainly, loyalty to a hoax can result from fear and from involuntary limitations. The savant can be a prisoner of his or her culture: faculties or angles-of-view necessary to understand a new idea can be stifled by the enculturation process. The threat of punishment, as much or more than anticipation of reward, may cause the individual to mold and merge him or herself to the demands of success. The professional who announces at an inopportune time that his or her colleagues are lying might be ostracized and cut off from financial support. He or she will be at risk of oblivion. Beyond these outside sanctions, ideas transcending the given civilization challenge the savant's conviction that he or she is sane, that his or her overall integration of perception, belief, and morale is true or realistic.
But if these threats are determining the savants' conduct, none of them admit it. The savants I know do not admit to fear or self-doubt. They present themselves as fully mature men and women, fully in control of their reality, acting as they do because they know exactly what the options are, because they know exactly what their actions mean and what the consequences are. Indeed, one of the most extraordinary traits I have noticed in the savants is their posture of great maturity as human beings. They vastly prefer to admit to being opportunistic, mendacious, deceitful, meretricious, mercenary than to being naive. It is terribly important to them to declare they they control their reality, that they are not snivelling, irresolute ingénues.
One of my readers wanted to view the savants' deficit of seriousness and originality in terms of social underprivilege and childhood deprivation. He wanted to demand that the government give the savants a handout of seriousness and originality, in analogy to a public assistance check. I'm glad that this was said, because it is such a valuable object lesson. This reader was morally obtuse. Were the savants asking for a handout of originality and seriousness?
Talking to the savants is very much like talking to the Field Marshal of a country which is at war with yours. The enemy Field Marshal knows that you don't approve of him. He isn't crushed by your disapproval at all. He doesn't admit to a weaker will or lesser awareness or less mature desires than you have. Rather, he proposes to annihilate you. That is the impression made by the savants. I can't win an argument with them, because they always squelch me with the quip "I'll cry all the way to the bank."
But there is a respect in which the Field Marshal is a bad analogy. The enemy Field Marshal doesn't deny that I have assets worth fighting him for. But the savants express condescending pity toward me, for wandering in the wilderness, for not having the instinct to make my ideas saleable, for getting nothing out of life. I'm saying more than I expected here. Unlike the enemy Field Marshal, the savants are "factually" oblivious and ignorant. The incentive, the reward and opportunity for further reward that inspire my conduct are invisible to them. They don't see that I have a well-considered project now.
What is the proper approach for personhood theory in addressing the "obscurantism" of the savants? It is not to try to make the savants feel guilty--to appeal to their better instincts--because their esteem is based on not having any better instincts. Rather, the task is to investigate the following. What personal context, or scope of the human condition, is required for people to be mendacious, meretricious, and all the rest of it, to gloat over their meretriciousness, and to tell themselves that their posture is mature and that it is their detractors who suffer from shrunken comprehension and childish wants? And in particular, what are the stresses--the sacrifices, the self-lacerating "concessions"--involved in this posture?
A good analogy for the savants is the boys in Imperial China who had themselves castrated so that they could begin a political career as eunuches in the Imperial court. The Chinese eunuch was proud of his choice and the position he subsequently attained. It is not our role to expect him to feel regret or guilt for having mutilated himself.
Our role is to observe that this success is not frictionless, but has to be maintained by continual violence and torment directed against oneself. The constituents of ordinary personhood are facets of self-laceration which are integral to gloating venality. The issue is auto-traumatization. Furthermore, it is the task of personhood theory to carry the scrutiny of auto-traumatization beyond the superficialities of physical mutilation or other self-imposed stresses which any psychiatrist could identify. I am looking for phenomena at the level of total morale and "sanity" as they relate to culturally prescribed perception and cognition. The material in the immediately preceding sections showed the direction for investigation.
What is the context--cultural, cognitive, epistemological, ontological (if you want the traditional terminology)--which is required for the savant's venality to subsist? I look not at obscure medical symptoms but at obvious ramifications of morale--and their "ontological" bases. What can we learn about the ultimate reality of the universe from the fact that the people selling the ultimate reality of the universe are crooks?
Basing your esteem on your judgments of yourself as despicable must involve some sort of friction. Saying "I like myself because I am a rat" is after all quite circuitous and unintuitive and must evince a very contorted context of morale. What about the squelcher "I'll cry all the way to the bank"? What this quip really means is that money is the bribe for a life which is otherwise reproachable.
When the savant says, "I don't care if it's a lie, I'm glad it's a lie," he or she is functioning in a world-totality in which the possibility of lying has to be installed or established. Here we approach a serious and deep subject-matter for personhood theory. What are the interrelations between
a) the ontological-epistemological-cognitive preconditions for a lie to occur; and
b) the necessity of lies to gratification and self-esteem--the indistinguishability of "life" or "survival" from a career of lying--when lying (in some obvious aspect) implies deceit and shame?
In regard to (a), lying presupposes language. What is this phenomenon called language, whose contribution to "life," as the opportunist knows it, is solely to provide a medium in which lies can be expressed?
The savant boasts: "I am a liar, a cheat, and a fraud. I am proud because I am despicable. Nothing matters to me and I don't care about anything." What is the nature of this "I" which has to exist so that there will be an "entity" of which mendacity, meretriciousness, and desensitization can be predicated? What is the nature of responsible caring--which is required to exist so that the opportunist can sneer at it and be too desensitized to feel it?
The ordinary savant boasts: "I am always venal." But what is this claim of ego-constancy over time? Is the ordinary savant venal in his dreams? What, indeed, are his dreams? Or is he one of the mutilated people who can't remember any dreams? Is the savant venal when he is one month old, one year old? If he is meretricious at one year old, does he claim that he was meretricious in the same sense as he is as an adult? Does the mathematician claim that he "believed mathematics because it was false" when he was one year old? Or does he concede that there was a time when he was so naive that he could not affirm lies as ends in themselves?
(Another explanation: the savant is ego-constant because he is truncated--confined to venality. But here is where personhood theory is instructive. It is implausible that anyone is born affirming lies in order to glory in shame. Innocence does not behave in that way. Glorying in shame is reactive.)
The ideologists of modern scientific civilization proclaim that they are objects in a "world" constituted exclusively of objects--that they are intricate molecular machines. But if it were so, then the individual would "have no (awareness of a) world." In this sense, the belief is a privative ideology. Generally, one acquiesces to privation if one believes one has no choice or one is getting the best of a bad deal. What has to happen to make total objectification seem unavoidable or the best of a bad deal?
Having thought through the preceding, we can ask whether venality is spontaneous, or whether it requires a continual juggling act to support it. Is there an effort of being venal; does venality require the suppression of spontaneous counter-impulses? (Cf. (section)I below for the juggling act.)
Then, the orientation of opportunistic improbity must be judged to be an ideology. [Clarification: It's an ideology for the savant who reveals that he espouses his discipline even though he knows it's false, because he knows it's false, and insists that he is in no way naive.] What kind of self-editing and self-processing does one have to perform to live up to this ideology?
The cynicism which professional scientists express to me in private is too instructive to be discarded. I don't see why we shouldn't press the issue. The following proposal is not sarcastic. It is viciously clever, and you might misperceive it as sarcastic.
"The universe exists so that I can be a rat." We have found that this is the bottom line of mathematics, physics, etc.--admitted in the inner sanctums of the professions. At the same time, the new physics claims to be the total explanation of the real world; to depict the fundamental reality of which every phenomenon in the universe is a derived "resonance," if you will. How, then, do the explanations of physics account for this posture which I discover in the physicist? How do quark chromodynamics and quantum cosmology explain the human posture of the physicist who says "I know quark chronodynamics and quantum cosmology are false and I don't care"?
A physical explanation of a physicist who believes physics because it is false (because he is crying all the way to the bank) might be called a self-reflection of physics' invalidity. If one performed the necessary substitutions and cancellations in this self-reflected physics, would physics be resolved into the liar paradox? Would it be a liar paradox of the second degree? In the next section, I will identify outcomes which science can predict only by approving its own death.
Somebody said that a complete mechanistic description of the universe would have its validity depend on whether somebody believed it, because whether somebody believes it is a part of the whole that the description must account for. The description is not valid independently of whether somebody knows of it or believes it. But the present case is beyond that: physics is being asked to model the reality that "it exists because it is false." Perhaps the answer would look like this: "The quarks are debilitated and withdrawn."
Freud goes on to say that all of the individual's decencies and aspirations are sublimations of brutish impulses which are imposed by the socialization process. But the considerations earlier in this passage throw this favorable assessment and endorsement of the socialization process into grave doubt. The infant manifests naive survival tropisms. The child manifests an ignorance of the culture's taboos (which ignorance I cannot condemn as brutish even if the culture does). Occasionally the child tries being genuine. On the basis of the foregoing considerations, I would have to say that socialization takes this "raw material" and superimposes upon it a regime of cynicism, self-loathing, conscious and willful opportunism, dishonesty, hypocracy, improbity, venality, resignation, despair, etc.
On the other hand, I must say that children who are raised in environments which are considered to be ideal by various sorts of "liberals" and "progressives" do not turn out to be systematically superior by any standards I accept. For a child to be told that he or she is being made into a model child probably has the effect of making him or her into a naive conformist or proxy for his or her elders. The source of the qualities I want to support is evidently too mysterious to be within the scope of any known system of manipulating the upbringing of the child.
G. The sorcery of destiny
I first suggested that fate might have to be considered an independent causative influence in a person's life in "On Depth Psychology and Psychotherapy," Part II (August 1979), typescript page II-16. In that manuscript, I sought to stimulate new thinking by pressing the question of whether clinical psychology could predict what people would become. This question led into the question of whether all causation in personal history runs from past to present. The new notion I proposed was called "retroactive signification."
Incorporation of retroactive signification in personhood theory has depended on three considerations.
The first was my decision to find anchors of attachment in imminent character and thematic identity.
The second was my conviction that a person's life can manifest the upwelling of coherent novelty. It is critical that what is involved is not just new permutations of matter--but rather novelties in how we conceive or apprehend, understand or appreciate. Because of this, even a liberal version of the scientific method, extrapolated to socio-psychology, would not be able to predict what certain people would become: because what they would become would in fact displace the reigning hermeneutic with an unprecedented hermeneutic. In other words, science would have to applaud its own execution in order to predict the outcome. And then, there is a further aspect to the content of the coherent novelty. Personhood theory's assessment of the interpersonal arena mentions that my private conflicts, regarding the skills with which I have been indoctrinated, can evince vital dilemmas and vital ventures for the interpersonal arena. ("Personhood II," L.6.) The coherent novelty which I may express may involve some vital dilemma in the collectivity, which is not acknowledged there. So the collectivity's self-incomprehension may cause the novelty to be unrecognized.
The third consideration has to do with personhood theory's dubious original stimulus. Personhood theory was indeed an offshoot of the tradition of transcendental arguments. When the individual is being "attracted by" an unprecedented fate, choice in a moment of crisis can be seen as a transcendental phenomenon in which the remote future contacts the present. (In fact, this is the only transcendental phenomenon I have wished to indulge. The notion is definitely an exercise in astute hypocracy.)
The crisis gives one some choice over the way one's distant future shapes one's present. That is the basis of what I mean by the "sorcery of destiny." Occult it may be, but in fairness to myself, its constituents are separately stipulated by the culture to be non-occult. All I have done is to identify a previously undiscerned combination of these constituents.
A further justification for the speculation is that it is correlative to seriousness and originality--and they cannot be instilled by outside manipulation. (Again, and always, because the content involves how we conceive or apprehend, understand or appreciate; because science, in order to predict the outcome, would have to applaud its own execution.) In turn, whether the individual will be cognitively protean, which is what I wanted to know, presumably depends on seriousness and originality.
My unsponsored researches in depth psychology in the Seventies and Eighties taught me that retroactive signification, if there be such, is vanishingly rare. It wouldn't be worth acknowledging, then, except that it is an escape hatch from socio-psychological determinism and from caprice.
"Personhood II," (section)(section)N, Q.1, and Q.3 may now be reread. These sections plainly stated the basis of unprecedented fate. Let me say once again that personhood theory refuses to acknowledge people as objectivities in a deterministic process. One who adopts the person-world standpoint cannot consider his or her choices and life as a revocable mishap. Personhood theory cannot consider palpable choices and lives as chimeras or as revocable.
Let me attempt to sharpen my terminology a bit. One's authentic identity-theme is explained as the identity one is comfortable with, the identity that keeps surfacing willy-nilly. I wish to reserve the idea of "loyalty" for a commitment which one adopts and develops with palpable effort. Authenticity is not something to follow because it is virtuous. It is a domain of controversy. Sometimes it seems that authenticity is not even capable of being chosen--it is more like a fate some people are condemned to. As I said in "Personhood II,"
seriousness and originality; and
discernment of coherent novelty
are manifested, not instilled by a manipulator.
Because we are talking about a novelty which depends on vital dilemmas for the collectivity which the collectivity doesn't acknowledge, the person who expresses the novelty refuses the depersonalization of social role. This may in turn lead the person to be ostracized. There is no moral choice to be made here. There is only a choice (if choice comes into it) of what is worth it, of where your well-considered selfishness lies. [1991. That remark was directed to people who were considering whether to try to become my colleagues.] At this stage in the development of meta-technology, the luxury is unavailable of placing yourself beyond the influence of the "culture"--of placing yourself beyond what the community around you admires, rewards, punishes, disregards. So you are consigned to a zigzagging engagement-disengagement with what the community posits and imposes.
Indeed, there is a major consideration not yet mentioned. In order to become what you are (i.e. what you are comfortably), it may be necessary to be not-yourself. You can't become an autonomous doer in the world by always being sealed off from the world. You have to assimilate and gain mastery of what the culture posits or imposes in the way of alternatives and conflicts. This is necessary, to become effective in actual life as opposed to imaginary life. There may have to be detours on the way to assuming your most comfortable identity at a developed level. There is a zigzag of being not-yourself in order to become what you are. These experiences of being not-yourself are indistinguishably an education--and a disillusionment.
The preceding could be said to apply to everybody. In that respect, it would belong in (section)N of Personhood II. But for the person with an unprecedented fate, these digressions into being not-yourself have a particular significance. One has detoured into an debasing milieu, allowing oneself to be patronized; subsequently one will depart as a more "steeled" person.
In "Personhood and Destabilization" [the 1991 revision], F.3.a, I said that the scope of "choice" includes the possibility of shaping your loyalties. Such shaping of loyalties covers your reconceiving of effectiveness and gratification, your reconceiving the purpose of life, and your reconceiving the arena of action. In speaking of altering your loyalties, everything up to and including the determination of reality is open.
Let me partially summarize regarding the vanishingly rare person. You discern your seriousness and originality coming from the future: discernment of coherent novelty. You support your seriousness and originality with your realized choices. You shape your loyalties in the light of experiences with culturally posited alternatives and conflicts. In other words, with respect to detours on the way to assuming your most comfortable identity, you reshape your loyalties as these experiences of being not-yourself educate--and disillusion--you.
Ironically, when I first circulated this material, I was told that this discussion of choice and discovery of identity described anybody's life. I must insist that that is not my intended meaning. As I said in "Personhood II," Q.2, personhood theory does not conceive average people as having fates (routine fates in their case). That is because to say that a person fulfills a routine fate cannot be distinguished from saying that that person is determined by the past, by circumstances.
There is a deep question here. How was my original exposition underspecified so that it could be imagined to apply to banally predictable lives?
Everybody chooses under uncertainty, struggles for the identity they want, and makes compromises. But that is (section)N of Personhood II. What is missing?
- The vital dilemma for the collectivity which is denied by the collectivity.
- The upwelling of coherent novelty--indeed, the increasing coherence of the individual's identity around an unprecedented theme.
- The likelihood of ostracism.
- The circumstance that one's identity seemingly would be easier to defend if one could be sequestered from society.
The question remains: why are careerists so ready to project themselves into a description of a Roger Bacon?
When I first proposed retroactive signification in 1979, I immediately asked whether it could be generalized to the universe. That question prompted the following speculation.
The understanding of cosmology which prevails in this civilization holds that the universe is essentially homogeneous over time. The universe is always a distribution of a few basic chemical elements through space, elements which coalesce and undergo nuclear reactions. The rise of life and consciousness is a microscopically local event with no effect on the evolution of the galaxies. But suppose that humans accede to a technology beyond technology by shifting the locus of technological efficacy as in meta-technology. Conscious life--which is the locus of the definition of "the universe"--increasingly prevails in its effect, so that the importance of the lifelessly objective universe diminishes. There would be an outcome incommensurate with "the universe's history" as comprehended in natural science. As I said above, science could not foresee this outcome: to do so would require science to applaud its own execution. Yet the outcome would not be an existential caprice, either. It would depend on the favorable resolution of a whole series of turning-points--including the contest between meta-technology and scientific civilization. The phase in which conscious life is the preponderant phenomenon could be said to decide or even to control the phases which prepared the way for it.
[I deplore having to make disclaimers, but I had better say that the foregoing has nothing to do with the "religion of evolution" of Julian Huxley and others.]
As I have remarked at length, the attempt by me to convey a post-scientific perspective has been stymied by a prevalent self-abasement which is culture-correlated, i.e. which is specific to the present civilization. Also, intellectuals and bohemians appear to be helpless in the face of a culture (not merely personal misfortune) which degrades them (e.g. the framework of objectification). That was one motivation for venturing into person-world analysis. dignity was in the background as a catch-word for what individuals lacked--leaving them personalistically impaired for intellectual ventures beyond the boundaries of modern science and contemporary culture.
Here is the place to introduce this topic, because it focuses the issues of shame and abasement which I have examined in this part. Again, the case studies can be models for shrunken comprehension and fettered cognition, as are fostered by the civilization.
One could object that the word dignity is unctuous; and that any recognizable meaning for the word would mystify the person. My answer to the first objection runs through the exposition to follow.
As for the second objection, let me refer to one example, that of punk rock. (The fad may have passed, but all commercial "youth" culture is now conditioned by it.) Punk rock unmistakably manifested mockery and ritualized self-defilement. These postures cannot be simple brutishness. They cannot be neutral and indifferent. They can only be intended or expressed reactively.
Then, to repeat myself, the attempt to convey a post-scientific perspective elicits a resistance bound up with the thematic identities and the purposiveness of our hearers.
To understand these phenomena is the very task of personhood theory. It cannot be "mystification" to acknowledge these phenomena.
Do I merely wish to mention dignity as a motivating catch-phrase? Or am I going to give dignity a more formal account--as if it were an enduring coherence or unity of individual conscious existence?
I shall attempt a formal account. But in 1981, when I first planned "Critical Notes," the topic of dignity was beyond my grasp. As I return to the topic now, there are many open questions about the dependence between constituents of personhood. Giving an account of dignity will require adopting a stand on these questions. Let me be clear that this is a process of adopting helpful conventions; that whatever meaning I give to dignity will be presented as a helpful convention. Nobody owns the word dignity; and the questions about the dependence between constituents of personhood have only speculative answers.
The word dignity has several established meanings. In ordinary parlance, "dignity" means social status, and keeping parity with the rewards acquired by other people. (The figure you cut to other people.) Metaphysically, dignity may mean an essence of worth which is non-empirical ("the divinity in all human beings"). Neither of these is a meaning I wish to uphold.--Nor do I want dignity to be a word encompassing every imaginable virtue--conviviality, solidarity, compassion.
To expand on the metaphysical meaning, religions and moral doctrines typically say that all people have an element of divinity which warrants and requires treating them respectfully. (This "dignity" is not earned.)
Also, they say that all people have a potential for enlightenment. To preserve a shred of realism, however, the religions also have to say that this potential is not significantly actualized for most people. An even more incisive observation is possible. People who gain the veneration of multitudes--if that is what we are talking about--often have incompatible goals. (E.g. the Church fathers and the Talmudic sages.) They can hardly all be paragons for a single viewpoint.
What the supernatural assurances present, then, is a fiction which predicts enlightenment for everybody--so that no success can surprise it--while refusing to apologize when the favorable expectation so often fails. It is understandable how desirable this fiction would be for democracy, which seeks to equalize status so that everyone can participate in the "business of society."
As for my account, I have said repeatedly that it is driven by a discovery of culture-correlated self-abasement and helplessness when a post-scientific perspective is offered to the "aware" people. Thus, to endorse religious sanctimony would be merely to abandon the question which I seek to answer.
My thinking allows all people a chance to contribute, in these respects:
- One cannot determine where enlightenment will next appear. Merit does not reside exclusively in some identified social stratum.The question of whether dignity (as I conceive it) embraces the average person must be left until later. In the interests of realism, however, I must say that most people behave as if governed by sociological laws. They flow and ebb in numbers, as a herd does. Nothing that I can say here will supervene that sociological determinism. My discourse is addressed to a few who are already disconnected from social role and accredited loyalties to some degree.
- There are qualitatively incomparable abilities and emotional receptivities. It may not be possible for them to reside in a single person.
I must emphasize that this inquiry into dignity is not an exercise in priggishness.
It takes a lifetime to follow up a few hints to awaken one's faculties, to become an exemplary presence for illumination. That is because you unavoidably spend energy in compromise, in just coping, in recuperation, in indulging yourself.
In order to become what you are (i.e. what you are comfortably), it may be necessary to be not-yourself. You can't become an autonomous doer in the world by always being sealed off from the world. You have to assimilate and gain mastery of what the culture posits or imposes in the way of alternatives and conflicts. This is necessary, to become effective in actual life as opposed to imaginary life. There may have to be detours on the way to assuming your most comfortable identity at a developed level. There is a zigzag of being not-yourself in order to become what you are. These experiences of being not-yourself are indistinguishably an education--and a disillusionment.
(For the person with an unprecedented fate, these digressions into being not-yourself are detours into a debasing milieu--allowing yourself to be patronized. Subsequently, you depart as a more "steeled" person.)
A way of life should be confirmed by its resilience in an environment of testing, pluralism, and self-consciousness. Cheery imperturbability is a fraud. Self-realization is ever arduous.
What constituents must the personal totality encompass for dignity to appear? (Or for self-abasement to arise, as I characterize it?) My first completed account of the constituents of the (personal) totality came in "Personhood II." That essay showed a marked division into contrasting approaches. (section)A-(section)L sought to dissolve conventionally discerned constituents. (section)M-(section)Q presented constituents which I defined--in particular, imminent character and thematic identity. A provisional account of dignity would take its place with this latter exposition.
A hurdle for this discussion, perhaps the greatest hurdle, is that it is not enough to name generic virtues. An example is "receptivity to novelty." This latter virtue, for example, can mean drastically different things to different people. It could mean that a person would join a genuine revolution. It could also mean that a person would act as a pavilion through which every idiotic fad would blow.
And yet, candidly, I cannot escape generic names for personalistic affections. Indeed, if my thinking had proceeded beyond natural language to that extent, I would be irremediably beyond my readers' preparation. All I can do here is to qualify my use of generic names as incisively as possible.
As I have said, explanations of the puzzle of dignity cannot be facts. I work toward a warranted notion of dignity by making helpful conventions regarding the constituents of personhood. dignity can only be a focus-word, not the name of a thing.
I begin, then, by asking what constituents must the personal totality encompass for dignity to appear? (Or for self-abasement to arise, in the guises I have described?) In preparation for an account of dignity, we need to consider personalistic affections such as hope, self-confidence, morale, shame, and envy. Here I am adding to the latter part of "Personhood II."
Hope can mean the expectation of a gratifying event. Hope can also refer to a broader anticipation of a gratifying outcome--as when you anticipate that some preferred longitudinal theme in your life will be vindicated.
In turn, we find that it is a basic characteristic of lived experience that one's intentions run ahead of the present, that one plans and projects, that one is mentally ahead of the present moment. To forego or escape anticipatory comportment may not be impossible, but it is untypical of lived experience.
Also, longitudinal themes in one's life are at issue. One acts not from nothing, but from a mission one has already chosen or assented to. So one comports to one's past biography, one's cumulative identity.
Quite aside from the special claims which I make for an unprecedented fate (as in (section)G of this part), we ask, regarding any person, what the identity-themes are that are possible only to that person. What are the most comfortable identity-themes? What are the most challenging identity-themes to sustain and uphold?
Self-confidence has a meaning of action uninhibited by timidity, fretting, etc. But it can also mean that I judge myself favorably. I judge myself regarding effectiveness, fulfillment, sanity, etc. (as in "Personhood II"). Self-confidence, then, can involve satisfied or hopeful self-judgments.
The original meaning of morale concerns the attitude of groups of subordinates. But we can also speak of the morale of the independent individual. In that case, morale may involve self-confidence, and the ability to apply oneself to the missions one sets oneself (or assents to). Morale can mean that your life has preferred longitudinal themes and that you anticipate that they will be vindicated.
Shame is self-disgust reflecting other people's disapproval of oneself because one has behaved in an unworthy or derelict way. Envy is distress at one's lack of qualities or possessions and hatred for a person who has them. Both of these are tormenting emotions--making one feel like a vehicle of the torment.
The dictionary defines dignity as self-respect. And I invoked "autonomous self-respect" in (section)D above. But that is just the difficulty. The dictionary doesn't say what is included in a "self." Then, the dictionary does not explain "respect" as attitude and behavior. Especially, it does not explain the contrast between one's suffusion with torment in shame and envy, and the orderly activation of respect for "self."
Ostensibly, "respect" for a person would have to consist in admiring expectations of the person: expectations of responsible caring, emotional receptivity, independence, steadfastness, ability, honesty, astuteness, etc.
Self-respect would mean supportively expecting responsible caring, emotional receptivity, independence, steadfastness, ability, honesty, astuteness, etc. from oneself. Presumably, identity-themes would have emerged--themes which I was comfortable with and which challenged me; and I would anticipate that they would be vindicated. I would evince the ability to apply myself to the missions I set myself.
Admiring expectations of this sort would appear high in the hierarchy of organization of myself. The constituents of the personal totality which these expectations involve are highly integrative and attached (credulous). And yet, such an aspect of dignity as the eschewing of self-deception is supposed, in my perspective, to be possible at an elemental level. Eschewing of self-deception must precede and enable self-development, not follow it. Such puzzles are what make this topic abstruse.
We now see that my account cannot be limited to the existing notions of hope, confidence, morale, shame, envy, etc. which I have reviewed. My entire enterprise is predicated on the possibilities of meta-technological dismantling of culturally correlated credulity and objectification. There is a dispelling of deceit and gullibility, concomitantly with the awakening of faculties, and with emotional sensitization: yielding intellectual techniques which supersede the compartmentation of faculties characterizing the present culture. Thereby, new mental abilities are invented. Given the possibility of being self-conscious about the inherited view of factual reality, and going beyond it in an operative way, we accede to the level of shaping the "laws of nature" (and not only acquiescing to them). The constraints imposed by so-called factual reality are mastered, or plasticized. If this were established collectively, we would accede to an uncanny life-world.
To define dignity in terms of conventional personalistic affections would tie the individual to the ordinary person's relation to present society. It would be mere sociology. And that is not enough. And it is not enough to be an honorable traditionalist--a decent square.
I must say more about those human faculties which are culturally correlated. (Emotional receptivities; acknowledgement of perceptual illusions and dreams; the ability to pass through the gap between science and irrationalism.) Can lack of such faculties and sensitivities be remedied by enlightening experiences? Or is such a lack constitutional and irremediable? My thinking held that these faculties and sensitivities are latent in some people, and can be awakened. At the same time, I concluded that they are windfalls; and that their actual lack cannot be remedied. Notwithstanding certain Freudian notions, the faculties or sensitivities cannot be elicited in a nondescript person by lifting repression. What is involved is not only abandon, and the directing of "aptitude," but constitutional features of morale, commitment, etc.--seemingly the individual's whole fate.
Emotional sensitization and personal faculties are, again, culturally correlated. Referring to past, achieved cultures, we find that the dispelling of gullibility, on the one hand, and on the other hand, the awakening of faculties, or emotional sensitivity, may not correspond. The historical record suggests that democracy and rationalism may be accompanied by all-pervading commercialism, and thus by crassness and banality; and that nobility may accompany despotism, superstition, and squalor.
In that respect, my notion of dignity invokes dimensions of human potentiality which hitherto were supported only by different cultures. I'm seeking a unitary experience which transmits many of them. That may be an unprecedented undertaking.
And again, my perspective is that of a novel arena which outruns what was formerly considered factual reality. It follows that I have left any common meaning of dignity behind. I am extrapolating the word's meaning in an unprecedented way. That begins to be my answer to the objection that the topic is unctuous.
Dignity is one's supportive expectation from oneself of responsible caring, emotional receptivity, independence, steadfastness, ability, honesty, astuteness (and such traits).--Relative to the perspective of personal faculties and personal possibility allowed by meta-technological dismantling of culturally correlated credulity and objectification.
The preceding definition is a horizon for dignity stemming from my unique perspective. All the while, dignity must be possible to a young person who has only been told about commonplace cultural solutions. Dignity cannot only be the destination. If one does not begin in dignity, one will not seek this destination. As I say about the eschewing of self-deception, it must be possible at an elemental level; or self-development would not be enabled. That is a reason why dignity is evidently constitutional.
And--there is no question of a single destination. Indeed, dignity is not an all-or-nothing quality. Nor does it lie in a linear scale.
Long before a young person has invented a solution--or has even learned of arcane solutions--he or she can manifest dignity by the instinct and the astuteness, the integrity and the daring, with which he or she handles imposed situations--and in his or her striving. How does one handle social role?--does one submerge in it, or break from it? More than that, a person may have to digress through a series of less than worthy roles before constructing solutions worthy of full commitment.
When one is trying to find circumstances conducive to oneself, and the solutions impressed on one are the wrong solutions, that can be traumatizing. In turn, that may spur originality. There is nothing in the notion of dignity which says that life will not batter you.
One also may have to choose between solutions conducive to oneself, and popularity. Again, there is nothing in the notion of dignity which says that life will accommodate you, or will not batter you.
To underline once more how far this view is from priggishness or cheeriness, I want to recall my personal disorientation the first time I attended college. The only tools I had to work with were furnished by the inherited culture and value-system. I had to define myself by checking off boxes in a multiple-choice questionnaire in which all the options were stipulated by other people. Moreover, the conjunctions of elements to form given options, and the interpretations or significations of the elements, were supplied by other people.
When the only complex, contextualized tools you have to work with are supplied from outside, authenticity either becomes indistinguishable from merging into a supplied role; or else it is impossible. The wretchedness of a person faced with a lot of unfair choices is unedifying, since he or she can do nothing but be phony in one way or another, or else collapse. If one merely pushes away the multiple-choice questionnaire and sulks, one seems petulant and stupid to others. One's withdrawal seems futile, identical to the depressing inability to act in the world and win real gratifications which characterizes the textbook mental patient. When an individual agonizes over choices supplied from outside and competitions whose goals are unworthy, essentially the choices and competitions are at fault. In that case, the introspective content of the individual's distress reflects external culpability.
I might have been given this advice.
Sort out which of your unmet needs are real needs and which only pertain to "keeping up with the Joneses." If the Jones' status symbols are possessions you couldn't be comfortable with, go ahead and say you don't want them. Also, separate the elements that are joined to form given options or roles, and separate the elements from their inherited interpretations.
But this advice overlooks much that is crucial. You cannot separate cognitive norms from conformist norms just for the purposes of increasing your esteem. My culture didn't tell me that mathematics and physics and novels and chess are flawed ways in which flawed people demonstrate intellectual excellence; it told me that mathematics and physics and novels and chess are intellectual excellence. To say that I didn't like Beethoven and I didn't like Stockhausen would have been to say that I didn't like any culturally important music--since no category was recognized besides classical and modern (European) in 1958. If I had miraculously invented a third genre of music in one day, then since the new category was not recognized by other people, they would have continued to assert that I wasn't interested in music at all. And you can't be indifferent to those judgments by other people. The suggestion to fragment roles and interpretations falls flat also. External symbols are the only cues many people can comprehend. If you don't wear the right costume for a role, you risk instant disregard.
A generalization is that you can't dissociate conformity from the satisfaction of real needs. How is the total non-conformist to obtain the means of sustenance? It won't even do to say "conform on the job, be authentic off the job." The person who is naively strange is much more visible to others than to self. Low-level jobs come with tremendous peer pressure. High-level jobs require an embracing of the "system's" goals. Sexual needs and needs for camaraderie cannot be met independently of interpersonal acceptance. The whole point of adult sexuality, as opposed to childhood sexuality, is that is is so unspontaneous, so un-independent. It is an avenue of negotiation over societal norms, and over personal value-systems which internalize societal value-systems.
If you importune another person--when you are motivated by a project which is so strange as to be invisible to the other person--then that person will aggressively misrepresent your motives.
When I flunked advanced courses in college, people advised me to take easy courses or attend an easy school to get an easy degree. But I didn't seek a pro forma degree. (I even had a reason for wanting a fast superficial exposure to advanced science--but I didn't establish that until later. My detractors would say that I haven't established it today.) More generally, it was clear what people wanted me to do; but it wasn't clear that life could give me anything I wanted. You can't sell out to keep yourself alive if you don't know what benefit staying alive is conferring on you; if all you are getting is the penalties of being a misfit.
The lesson is that I eventually built myself an enclave in which I could be original. I had to find a way to learn conformity so I could obtain the means to build myself such an enclave. Some people who lack inner direction, and who experience unfocused alienation, are able to see that I am a sophisticated deviant. They look at me, and they do not find my example appealing. To them, I teach the lesson that the punishment of originality (if one even admits that that is what it is) is permanent exile. I cause people to redouble their efforts to make themselves fit in.
I later decided that some of my needs never had a chance of being met. Keeping my hopes alive, trying to change in order to earn acceptance, was illusion and futility. But for a variety of reasons, I couldn't have accepted this bad news earlier in my life.
In my own view, I have found a "place," even if I had to make it myself (I'm still working on it after thirty-plus years). Is it guaranteed that every misfit has an identity and life-situation which will finally be conducive and unforced?
Your comfortable and unforced option or identity may be far in the future. Authenticity, or a profound hunch, may not be able to be actualized in the present. It took me decades to define the options which I needed at age eighteen. I have had to dissent from the culture to the point where I and the culture accuse each other of being insane, relative to basic cognitive presuppositions and to modes of life. Finding the option I want has made me invisible. The elders who told me at eighteen "You must conform or else" would say to this day that the outcome vindicates them.
If a deviant vision has substance to it, hunches may have to be assembled one-by-one into a framework which challenges the prevailing conception of sanity. If a deviant vision has substance to it, then not only can it not be vindicated in one moment; it becomes a strand in history and is put on the spot over and over again.
In 1955-9, "the present moment" did not remotely contain the options that fit me. Nevertheless, like everybody else, I had to chose and act in the present. My response to this quandary was the right one; but I renounced compromises which might have lessened some of my difficulties. I sought to make, in the moment, the biggest intrinsic advance I could; and to postpone the backing and filling, the job of making myself plausible to others. I took steps which did not become plausible until decades later (if then). In the eyes of those around me, I alternated between sulking and eccentric hobbies.
I continue with an exploration of my definition of dignity. Responsible caring, independence, steadfastness may be susceptible to further explanation. In speaking of emotional receptivity and ability, I regard them as windfalls--to some degree culture-correlated. There is no vocabulary of emotional receptivity, except perhaps the Hindu vocabulary for rasa. An ability can be expounded only relative to a codified activity or discipline (so that I cannot expound extra-cultural abilities except in conjunction with delivering a new culture). Astuteness is tied to unprecedented fate, in my conception.
Honesty is a difficult trait to characterize appropriately. The message of my work is that all that has hitherto been known as intellectual achievement has the character of dogmatic fantasies which succeed socially. Do I wish to contrive a doctrine of relative honesty which makes physics more honest than astrology? Well, I consider physics to be, at least, more demanding and more courageous than astrology. And yet, to rank some ideas as less untrue than others would belie my core insights. I must try to find another axis of definition--and define honesty as not resting content with doctrines whose errors are apparent to oneself. But such judgments of error in turn interact with culture-correlated abilities--and as I said, the latter are windfalls.
What is the role of mental brilliance? What is its source? Does it shade over from an intellectual quality to a moral one? It requires honesty, independence, steadfastness--but they are not enough.
We arrive at the question of whether dignity embraces the average person or excludes the average person. The average person places a positive value on pleasure, conviviality, sentimentality, wit, cuteness, pride, wryness, irreverence, the capacity for remorse. It was a truism that the average person preferred genuine emotion and articulated signification in entertainment rather than campiness, irony, grotesquerie, abusive monotony. That is sensible. In some respects, ennoblement is a matter of distilling that which is sensible about the average person--the average person's humanness.
And yet, the good is ever the enemy of the best. The average person typically accepts the satisfaction of some real needs as a bribe to renounce and to oppose the levels of honesty, sensitivity, etc. that are exalting. The desire for material well-being becomes a hunger for material status-symbols. Dating and marriage are badges of respectability. Average people accept their jobs as their vocations. They flow and ebb with the herd. They ridicule personal qualities or ways of living that are necessary for illumination. In entertainment, the average person's debasement is manifested as a preference for kitsch. Lately, forms of entertainment have garnered mass audiences which are grotesque, campy, monotonously abusive, etc.
I commend you to be an autonomous doer in the world, and to accept the challenge of mundane existence without being dominated by inauthentic consciousness. Assimilate and gain mastery of what the culture posits or imposes in the way of alternatives and conflicts, while holding fast to your insight and trusting your astuteness; so that you can resume advancing your insight with the versatility that comes from being steeled.
This may require not only isolation, but completely detaching from other people's judgments of you. In that respect, I divorce dignity from camaraderie.
Personal identity involves social role and the status bequeathed to one from previous generations. Is it a precondition of dignity to escape these? (Via decreased credulity?) That indeed is what I said in (section)B above.
What of imminent character ("Personhood II")? Must dignity derive from it, or must a "dignified" imminent character derive from dignity? What is the overlap between imminent character and dignity?
In vanishingly rare cases, there is a progressive crystallization of a personal identity which is novel. I have speculatively given the source of that identity-theme as the future. Does that interrelate with dignity? Yes, in that it would be dignity to uphold that identity-theme.
As I have said, explanations of the puzzle of dignity cannot be facts. I work toward a warranted notion of dignity by making helpful conventions regarding the constituents of personhood. dignity can only be a focus-word, not the name of a thing. It is a moment in a circular causation, both establishing and established. There is no root remedy for a culturally correlated failure of dignity. Personhood has no base. A failure of dignity is overcome, if at all, in a circular process, or through influences from the future. Further thoughts are at the end of this section.
Let me address the new issues raised in this account in an aggressive way.
If dignity depends on longitudinal personal identity, then the issue of dignity derives from a degree of credulity or attachment. Seemingly, dignity does not become an issue without the level of self-deception or attachment to erect a longitudinal identity. And yet, it should be an aspect of dignity to eschew self-deception; and the eschewing of self-deception is supposed to be possible at an elemental level. Eschewing of self-deception must precede and enable self-development, not follow it.
Then there is "consecration." I reserve this word for a condition of heightened presence and activation, sublime relish, and uncanniness (sometimes, inappropriately, called ecstasy). (Hennix's use of "dignity" seems to have had this meaning.) Does dignity guarantee the accessibility of consecration? Is consecration a precondition for dignity? Is consecration a challenge to radical unbelief: in that the latter cannot assure consecration--might even be incompatible with it?
In Part V, I ponder that at a decreased level of credulity, constituents of dignity may be exposed as mirage-like. The meta-technological perspective envisions that one starts from an imminent posture of radical unbelief. There is no question of dignity, because there is no biographic identity of the self. I promise not "dignity" but the power to rotate reality--through a combination of principled hypocracy (selecting your arenas of engagement), and destabilization. You make yourself disappear to yourself in a non-depersonalizing way. Whoever has the capacity to "rotate" the ostensible world or cultural determination of reality is in a position to make him/herself disappear to him/herself--without reductionist half-fantasies. This is visionary, of course.
But has dignity really been left behind? Who and what is the doer? Engaging the mundane world in order to rotate the determination of reality is not effective without centered activation which trusts one's ability and astuteness (and emotional receptivity and steadfastness). Inarguable as that observation is, from the vantage point of radical empiricism, one's longitudinal identity would have to be a catalyst which would be discarded.
At this point, some preliminary resolutions of our puzzles can be offered. In the first place, the traits which I associate with dignity may be less invested in longitudinal thematic identity than would be supposed from dignity's common meaning of "social status." In the second place, it seems that the "traits" associated with dignity do not have to be trumpeted--unless the person is menaced. As I already noted, dignity accords with orderly activation; as opposed to personalistic affections which suffuse one with distress.
To elaborate this supposition, degradation would be seen as reactive. Referring again to "Personhood II," attachment and debasement would arise in a circular, or mutually exacerbating, relationship.
And yet that cannot be all. We do have to relate our understanding of dignity to the prospect of consecration. Consecration, it would seem, qualitatively elevates dignity. Then dignity becomes heightened presence and activation; and dignity is not exhausted by composure, by the mere absence of annoyances and abuse. And again, I'm not assured that radical unbelief and consecration are compatible. So I must end this section with many issues remaining open.
I. Conclusion: The rationale for personhood theory
At this point in the critique of Personhood II (1981 originally), I find personhood to be a state-of-action under a condition of apprehension. This includes imminent praxis: getting from one moment to the next; managing in the sense of momentary problem-solving. But it also means the high-level integration of the personal totality which "one carries" concurrently with a state-of-action under a condition of apprehension.
The constitution of one's esteem.
One's loyalty in thought to one's public role, and to one's culture/civilization. (Such a loyalty as this latter one is called "internalization" in the social science jargon. This internalization is disclosed as a nonrational militancy only under attack.)
Ordinary personhood, the self/world flux, the choice/circumstance flux, requires a habitual, difficult gymnastics to be exhibited, sustained. The simile of driving a car, or any kinesthetic skill which can be carried on absent-mindedly once it is learned. Driving a car is a better simile than e.g. walking because driving a car requires cognizance of symbols and compliance with highly artificial rules. But the similes fail on the most important issue. Namely, the gymnastics which sustains personhood is a matter of repressions of forbidden perceptions, feelings, inferences--and the management of multiple conceptual incoherences. Also, the gymnastics which maintains the consensus reality must be viewed as interpersonal. (But then, being able to drive a car absent-mindedly requires that other people also obey the rules.)
Personhood is the "human miracle"; but ordinary personhood is largely a negative miracle. Simile: the conventional view of dreaming as a negative cognitive miracle. In a dream, you exist in an entire "objective" world which you do not question; but upon awaking, it all vanishes, and you realize that the entire world was a "mirage." Ordinary personhood is a total negative miracle which includes a negative miracle of character. Compare what I said at the end of (section)F of this part ("Gloating venality") about the effect of socialization. Ordinary character and the results of socialization as a worse-than-neutral miracle?
I am committed to personhood theory because it addresses specific problems which it is out of the question to disregard. Indeed, one main approach in further developing personhood theory is to extend it in conformity with the problems for which it is already the best avenue of solution. Develop the theory by expanding on its specific successes. (Not by filling it in from positions taken on traditional metaphysical issues.)
1. The trans-cultural obscurantism facing meta-technology. Offering meta-technology to savants and others evokes an obscurantism beyond anything which is understandable psychologically or sociologically or politically. What is behind the singular reception, or non-reception, accorded meta-technology and my writings on foundations of science?
In the Seventies, it became fashionable in the rationalist sector of the academic and cultural world to express irreverence for natural science and the scientific culture. But every result which the trendy publicists counterposed to natural science was a retread of a historical superstition antedating modern science--a superstition which had fallen into obscurity because science had make a laughingstock of it.
Meta-technology has been ignored by a public which has not offered any challenge to modern science matching (not to say overmatching) science's level. The overthrow of reality is so far from being passé that it has never come up. Let the intellectual see even a microscopic serious challenge to science. Face him or her with the prospect that there can be a technology which will downgrade scientific gadgets to the status of tinker toys. Then the intellectual may withdraw behind impenetrable denial, or go berserk.
A correct constructive proof that 0 = 1
would amount to a certification of the
insanity of the human race.
Nicholas Goodman, in Constructive Mathematics
Meta-technology, then, has had a singular reception or non-reception. What is it all about?--and how may I contrive a way past the obscurantism? An analysis of the obscurantism must find a framework such that the above-mentioned phenomena can occur within it. The framework must embrace all of the constituents necessary for trans-cultural obscurantism to be possible.
2. Most of my studies of personhood have concerned ordinary personhood. But it would be a miscalculation to judge personhood theory before it has been rounded out by the addition of accounts of non-ordinary personhood, or the avenues of dissolution or supersession of ordinary personhood. To complete this phase of the theory is crucial, because it shows that personhood theory does not bind us to the "negative miracle" of everyday life. It shows that personhood theory does not insidiously become a legitimation of the negative miracle. Hence Parts IV and V.
Also, it is not enough to dismiss the issues of dignity, the "mystical longing for union with the infinite," etc., because they seem smarmy. We must march through these issues and come out on the other side--establishing that we have truly responded to the impulses in question with genuine alternatives.
3. Personhood theory is turning up aspects of "consciousness," the "ego," etc. which strict meta-technology overlooked, but which overlap with and affect meta-technological elements. Examples from the present manuscript are my remarks on geometry, Part I, and the family of new languages which I will present in Part V.
Another achievement of personhood theory is to provide a standpoint from which the scientific framework of total objectification is seen to be nonsense without a tortuous, counter-intuitive rebuttal.
[On the other hand, it spoils people to teach them that they are entitled to dismiss a entire tradition without any effort on their part. Meta-technology can be realized only in the disintegrating structures of an advanced civilization. My discovery of reductionist half-fantasies and consenting shams is a great step forward; but it does not mean that we could have dispensed with the scientific phase, or that "scientific maturity" is not worth having.]
I have set off (2) and (3) because these fortes of personhood theory, elaborated in Part V, are placed in an ironic light by extreme results in Part IV.
There would be a technodeterministic objection to the foregoing rationale for personhood theory. I am fetishizing our humanness; I am fetishizing the conventional structures of the human psyche. Is it impossible for there to be an extra-terrestrial sentient being who has the advantage of us and yet is not an anthropomorph? Why are human capacities taken as the immutable limits of thought? I would be accused of returning to pre-scientific anthropocentrism. What if the best avenue to superior sentience and the superior medium of thought is not to bumble on with the human species, but to replace the human species through the intensification of known directions of scientific progress?
My present reply is as follows. (These observations, too, are placed in an ironic light by Part IV.)
a. Our scientific indoctrination has caused us to give too much credence to fantasies of extra-terrestrial supermen who are in fact super-machines. Science fiction and Carl Sagan's exobiology are cargo cults in a society supposedly too sophisticated for cargo cults. The European fantasizes that some off-world monster who is an extrapolation of current directions in technology will overrun him. (Because it's a metaphor for what he did to preliterates.)
As long as science is grossly reductionist, and insufficient to the human "miracle"--and as long as our modern desensitization hinders us in appreciating the qualitative range of the miracle--this is not the time to dismiss the miracle.
Closely related to the foregoing point, the human community is the only tangible "audience" there is. The human community is the most advanced, complicated "machine" or process that we have.
b. Even if the human community is beyond redemption, one who claims to have acceded to consecration cannot dismiss the question as to one's own person-world. Who and what is the self-announced enlightened person? One who claims to have acceded to consecration may be beyond all other humans (and I can abstain on the question of whether one is biologically human). Nevertheless, the person tangibly continues to belong to the interpersonal collectivity.