Thursday, March 05, 2015

Part 3 (Whose Project is this Anyway): 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).

We continue with the discussion around the preliminary question as a sort of prologue and foundation--whose project is this anyway? We are joined by a friend, Betita Horn Pepulim (Brazil, Fundação Catarinense de Cultura).
Contents: HERE.

(Betita Horn Pepulim) Considero que o objetivo de todo o indivíduo é viver da melhor maneira que possível, em qualquer ambiente ou cultura no qual ele se encontre. Para mim, essa busca por viver melhor implica no exercício de algum tipo de liberdade, mesmo que o próprio indivíduo não perceba isto.
Liberdade plena é relativa. Mas acredito que qualquer escolha é decorrente de um nível de liberdade.
Adesão a estilos não autênticos, para mim também é relativo e difícil de avaliar e julgar.
Todo indivíduo se subjuga a algo, e isso nem sempre é ruim.
Não pode ser esquecido que a cultura do que compreendemos como infelicidade também é um modo de vida em algumas regiões. O valor a vida como conhecemos é diferente para muitas culturas. No caso de restrições, elas fazem parte do cotidiano da civilização, sempre fizeram. O ideal seria que todo o ser humano tivesse sua individualidade respeitada pelo seu semelhante. Mas esta proposição não é real, então não adianta discutir o que não vai ser possível mudar. Temos que agir aqui e agora, a educação é libertadora pois gera conhecimento. Se isto traz algum tipo de “felicidade ou paz” é uma outra questão. Mas sem dúvida informação e conhecimento são libertadores, mesmo que estes não estejam dentro dos parâmetros que consideramos “corretos”. De qualquer forma, cabe a cada um de nós nunca desistir. Através de nossos filhos, familiares, colegas, amigos e conhecidos estamos propagando algum tipo de exemplo, e mesmo que não vejamos, este exemplo tem um efeito multiplicador.

[(Betita Horn Pepulim) I believe that the goal of any individual is to live in the best way possible, in any environment or culture in which it is located. To me, this search for a better life implies the exercise of some sort of freedom, even if the individual himself does not realize it.
Full freedom is relative. But I believe that any choice is due to a level of freedom.
Accession not authentic styles, for me is also relative and difficult to assess and judge.
Every individual is subjugated to something, and this is not always bad.
It can not be forgotten that the culture of what we understand as unhappiness is also a way of life in some regions. The value life as we know is different for many cultures. In case of restrictions, they are part of everyday life of civilization, always have. Ideally, every human being had its individuality respected by his fellow man. But this proposition is not real, so no use arguing which will not be able to change. We must act here and now, education is liberating because it generates knowledge. If this brings some kind of "happiness or peace" is another matter. But surely information and knowledge are liberators, even if they are not within the parameters that are considered "correct". Anyway, it's up to each of us to never give up. Through our children, family, colleagues, friends and acquaintances are spreading some kind of example, and even if we do not see, this example has a multiplier effect.]

(LCB) It is interesting to note the ease with which we move from the question of ownership (whose project is this anyway) toi the question of individuation and from there to the issue of context. That is, in part, Betita's point, and earlier that of Paul Van Fleet. Flora remains skeptical not merely of ownership, but of the theology suggested by reference to a project. So we are left with the initial question, now considerably broadened.

"Whose project is this anyway" then, masks a set of more important issues.

Commodification is one. To speak to a project is to reference a "thing". And not just a thing in the ordinary sense--an intangible product in this case, but a thing that itself is an important element of another thing--an individual. The "thingness" of the "project" establishes its autonomy from its object (the individual). Indeed, it becomes a tool. And that is perhaps the greatest indictment of philosophy in this practical age. To engage in a "project" is to recast a journey into an object. The journey becomes manifest in its rules and pathways, which, if they can be replicable, become objectified technique. To ask about the relationship between project and individual is to suggest the construction of object--from recasts being into thing.

Possession is another. The project is an instrument a tool, to be used according to the tastes and preferences of those individuals who might be moved to possess it. Or perhaps the reverse is true. The project possesses the individual--that, effectively, is the relationship between individual and religion, sheep and Shepard, etc. Possessed or possession is at the heart of Flora's discomfort. For if what we engage in is the objectification of something that can be possessed or that can possess (through the institutional mechanisms of its philosophers or priests, of were is a state project, through its ministers) then it is something that can be used to mold, change, control, manage. Yet if liberation is the object, then the possessiveness of a project would appear to subvert the very project to which it gave rise.

Direction is another. A project, like a religion, a state ideology, requires both an architecture (a manifestation in a set of ideas, premises, practices, etc,) and a group of individuals (or others) charged with the interpretation and application of the project. But to engage in a project of the individual that requires the establishment of a caste of people vested with authenticity in interpretation undermines the very project it is meant to further. The contradiction can be overcome if everyone is her own priest. But that is unsatisfying as well. First it would mean we have nothing to talk about--we can only authentically talk to ourselves. But that conversation can extend only to ourselves. Here Paul van Fleet's concerns about the individual (who are we ourselves in the absence of the other) resonates. And to enter into the conversation we have started suggests direction may matter. We will take this up again.

Objective is the next. Betita speaks to a core of objectives--peace, happiness, knowledge, community. But one must ask whether these are in fact objects, or bundles of feelings that can be taught by reference to a number of factors which together constitute them. For example, to be happy one must be X or do Y, To identify knowledge one must have trained in the methods of P and can identify knowledge by reference to its characteristics Q and Z. The project, then would be focused on X, Y, Q, and Z, the development of which necessarily manages perceptions of happiness and knowledge.

Referents are the last. Embedded in these issues are the contradictions of referents. The individual ought to be self referential. Yet even self reference is impossible without a mirror of the self. There is always another. Indeed, the problem of the commodification of the project is itself another way of referencing the referent--if the project must be outside of the self then must it be distinct from the self, or a reflection of the self or a component of the self, or the anchoring realities from around which the self can know itself and thus engage in the project that is of the self and outside of it. It is no wonder that the project fo the self inevitably crashes on itself and requires an anchor in the form of an all knowing, unmoving, and objective source--the divine, nature, the philosopher, the abstracted self in the form of the social will and on and on. The self may only be discernible in the shadow of something greater, even if that greater thing is the aggregation of the self in the community of selves.

Thus the project of a philosophy of the self might require an anti-philosophical approach. It might require a move toward self possession, and the re-incarnation of the self from out of its modern construct as thew aggregation of the data of the self that has increasingly substituted for the individual a construct built on the re-imaging of a person in the project of mass knowledge, mass politics, mass religion, mass therapy, mass philosophy, where the person is abstracted and reconstituted as an individual manifestation of mass truth or mass expectation. This is not a variant of Protagoras (man is the measure of all things) or its Enlightenment variations. It is hardly an invitation towards that flabby therapeutic self absorption that has passed for the answer to analytic philosophy (an religion) since the 1960s. It is instead. . . . . . .

1 comment:

Paul Van Fleet said...

This discussion is getting very interesting now, and the list of ways in which we need to address the individual in this post is exceedingly illuminating.

With regard to commodification and concerns that this project will become a "thing," it will do so only if the project is regarded as static - as if the individual's being is somehow permanent or unchanging. If we envision it as a process of "becoming," without appeal to any particular objective other than the development of being, then perhaps commodification becomes less of a concern. For commodification implies that the project can be reduced not only to a thing, but a thing of some value. If we remove the value judgment, with "becoming" being neither "good" or "bad," then we are in a new realm altogether.

Possession implies a similar import. If we reduce the project to "becoming," then we have nothing permanent to "possess." That which we possessed in some past incarnation slips through our fingers the very next moment, never to be truly possessed.

Objectivity also goes out the door with the idea of removing value judgments on the process of being the individual. Happiness, peace, and the like are terms that change according to people, culture, and economic status - I always remember the counter-example of the masochist in these discussions. If we do not wish to cause pain, but the masochist desires pain and suffers in its absence, then we cause suffering for one person in the pursuit of universal objectives, which defeats the purpose. But if we focus on an individual as a process, and not whether the process is desirable or not in the face of objectives, this is not a problem.

With regards to referents, it seems to be that the individual cannot exist in a vacuum - with whom or what can be engage in a dialogue? Who or what is Buber's "thou" through which we know our reality? If the process is our anchor, however, that is the "thou," that is the dialogue. Flux, then is the continual "thou" by which we at least know we are in the process of "becoming" as an individual.

This is very much an anti-philosophical viewpoint because it is not rational. This is not the same as irrational, or against rationality; the process simply doesn't involve rationality as an anchor. We simply know: I am becoming, for I can do nothing else.