Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Part 15: (The Natural Slave?): Dialogues on a Philosophy for the Individual

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2015)

With this post Flora Sapio and I (and friends from time to time) continue an experiment in collaborative dialogue. The object is to approach the issue of philosophical inquiry from another, and perhaps more fundamentally ancient, manner. We begin, with this post, to develop a philosophy for the individual that itself is grounded on the negation of the isolated self as a basis for thought, and for elaboration. This conversation, like many of its kind, will develop naturally, in fits and starts. Your participation is encouraged. For ease of reading Flora Sapio is identified as (FS), and Larry Catá Backer as (LCB).

The friends continue their discussion about natural slaves and the individual in which Flora Sapio (FS) responds to the previous discussion and Larry Catá Backer considers one of the points raised.

Contents: HERE

(FS) The distinction between natural master and natural slave is not real. But, if you buy it then it comes into existence and creates yourself and the world you live in.

In this world, we are submitted to the deity. We identify ourselves with the state we were born into to the point that any rhetorical attack to any symbol of the state is perceived as an attack against us. We are dependent on our community – who would be willing to break the bond of dependence that ties us to the community? Who would do what goes against the expectations and demands of the community, even though it would objectively be good for them? Who would deny that animals and plants are there to be used and abused by us? We were taught that reason is the best part in us, that we should use reason to dominate our instinct. But....are we really only made of our mental processes and your bodily functions?

Notice how the individual is always in a position of subordination either to her reason or to other individuals and their demands. The distinction between natural master and natural slave is an exceptionally powerful idea: it makes domination/submission appear natural, necessary and inevitable, sugarcoating it in ideas about “freedom” and “equality”. The master/slave distinction drives how people think about themselves and the others, and how they behave towards themselves and other living entities. It produces the Self as reason-versus-instinct, obliterating many other dimensions of the human being. It also produces the “inferior” beings we see every day: the “immigrant” we should keep out, the “unsuccessful” person we should mock, the “weak” person we should take advantage of. It forces us to chose either the role of the master-who-serves-while -dominating, or of the slave-who-dominates-while-serving, while in reality both roles are products of a political paradigm. Who would want to be part of such a perverse dialectics?

Without recurring to extreme examples, I will say that accepting the master-slave distinction means neglecting all that cannot be used to one's advantage, and this will be true of one's relationship to nature, to others and to the self. Each exploited person, cut tree, animal corpse and lifeless sea I will leave behind me will be an enduring testimony to my rationality and power, to my cleverness and my success, and so will be my own malaise, neurosis and psychosis.

Can the master-slave distinction be overcome? It can, provided one stops following the old recipes transmitted to us over the centuries – they are tainted by the same master-slave logic they purport to overcome. The community, the general will, a religious figure, a psychologist, a guru, a political party, a brand new political system cannot liberate us. No one can liberate us but our selves. Liberation is a process of working on our selves as we exist here and now. This process does not have an end in the conventional senses of these words. This is not what you are taught in philosophy departments – there is no degree at the end. This is not what you do on your job – you earn no money or reputation out of it.

Undertaking this journey means leaving behind all those ideas (equality, rights, citizenship) we ordinarily use to think about our relationship to ourselves and the others: relying on them would mean positioning ourselves as the slaves of ideology and their ministers. To those who blaze new trails the mistakes of previous thinkers are signs posted on the dangerous paths to avoid, rather than directions to follow.

What is the internal logic of the master-slave dychotomy? How does the dychotomy work in practice? In order to understand where author X or Y have failed, these are the questions to address...

(LCB) Flors raises the core issue and points us in the right direction.  I wonder, though, whether it is important to separate the two semiotically distinct worlds in which the quest of the individual occurs.

  On the one hand the individual is made in reference to the world around here.  And that world includes both ideas, and the reality shaping structures of the world around her, a reality shaping structure that is then projected inward.  This is the world in which we understand ourselves, our limits and possibilities only within the range of the possible provided by outside structures--theology and the priest, politics and the party, society and our community, economics and the wage labor markets in which we find ourselves.  Each produces a catechism that both defines and shapes the world into which we are projected and within which we are understood as a seamless part.  This is the world in which slaves and masters are made with reference to interpretants and signs that envelop the individual and seek to serve as a sort of exoskeleton supporting  the view of the possible.  This is the cage of intermeshed regulation and premises that are meant to reduce the individual to the possibility of a finite set of acceptable alternatives within the framework provided.  Indeed the great insight and the great sin of semiotics is its embrace of the premise that reality is external to the self and can be understood and limited only in relation to what is recognizable outside the self.  This is the view that is at the heart of the great religions, the great economic systems and the determinism that shapes most politics, and thus key aspects of ourselves.

On the other hand the individual might also be made in reference to the world interior to the self.  This is a harder notion to grasp.  It is hard precisely because the interior self tends to be overwhelmed by the noise of the exterior world shaping the individual's self construction in context that it can easily be lost.  Or more likely that there will be an easy assumption made of the equivalence between the interior and exterior referents.  Indeed, much of the problem fo the self has to do with the  unlikely possibility that the interior self can exist apart from or in opposition to the exterior framework that projects itself inward.  Flora's revolutionary is usually reduced to lunatic or criminal --and certainly to deviant--within these constructs.  She is then disciplined as such.  This is the most effective method by which projection of the exterior inward is enforced through the power of the community over the body and the power of the exterior construction of the self pressed inward through reward and punishment, and through the socialization of communities seeking order and placement of persons within communal structures. This cage of exteriority as as effective in legal systems--the modern notion of a constitutional state is an excellent example of the development of a cage of exterior constraints projected inward to shape and discipline the polity--as it is in the construction of the managed individual whose appearance of free will (I recall Nietzsche0s critique here) is illusion.  

But even within this cage of exterior control of individual self awareness--and its public or outward manifestation--it is possible to liberate the individual within her interior sense of self.  That is, in effect, the individual must separate her interior from her exterior individuation. In each case a semiotic process occurs--the individual is manifested in relation to something.  But in the later case, that something is the individual herself.

It is in this context that one can begin to understand the possibility of natural slavery as an exterior construct that is attempted to be projected inward, and the character of the inward projection as seeking to displace any possibility of a contrary process of individuation that occurs within the individual.  Viewed externally, it is possible to construct a natural slave, but only form the outside.  And that process is meant to rob the individual of her individuality..  It is in this sense that one might understand the earlier reference to zombie.  The individual thus reconcieved as a natural slave would have   her  self obliterated and defined by another, but in the process would become a monster, a diseased state that would extinguish master and slave.  From within the self, the possibility of a natural slave is impossible, even when the individual serves herself.  And thus two problems are presented.  The first is the means by which the interior self can be liberated from exterior projections, even as it concedes the power of exterior forces.  The second is the means by which this liberated interior individual can reference herself.  This requires a language beyond the communally self serving philosophies of the ordering community and towards a more pacific (and not self indulgent) language of the self.

1 comment:

Ryan M. Barnett said...

Larry, a quick comment as I digest this and perhaps return.

I wonder if the dynamic, the evolution, the failure (or rare success) of individuation is perhaps very nicely captured in Rilke's, Panther (Stäbe, Stäbe, Stäbe). Our raw capability so often neatly anesthetized and blunted. And perhaps we might ask, for what purpose do we submit and reject the bars.

It seems for me lately that the poet can often capture reality better than I externally can. People often make reference to Thoreau's somewhat worn out line about men and quiet lives of desperation. I prefer his line about the one in a million who can live the poetic life.

I like this dialogue you are having.