Monday, February 29, 2016

Part I (The Social Self and the Mother)--Dialogues on a Philosophy for the Individual: The Social Self

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

Flora Sapio and I continue our experiment in collaborative dialogue. We move from the individual to the social self as we work toward a philosophy of the individual. While at first blush this appears to be well worn ground--who hasn't, over the course of the last 5,000 years, in every civilization with a recorded history NOT spent vast amounts of time thinking about the social self? But much of this thinking starts at the social and works through the issues of control, management and socialization of the individual. That is, they start from the core premise that the individual is the object of a project for which the social serves as an instrument and as an ends. In the spirit of the emerging philosophy of the individual, we propose to invert the conversation--to start with the individual and work through the issues of control, management, and individuation of the social.

But we move from the individual in herself, to the individual as subject and as symbol, as something which, when observed and transformed from itself to the idea or symbol of itself, assumes a quite distinct, and useful, position for the organization of selves--and for the structure and operation of the law of the social. To that end our conversation will likely flow around and through the following: 
1--the social self as the reflection of the mother
2--the social self as a reflection of the family
3-- social self as a reflection/result of one's ancestors
4--the social self as a reflection of God
5-the social self as a refection of the state
6--the social self as terrorist
7--the social self as orthodox
This conversation, like many of its kind, will develop naturally, in fits and starts.  Your participation is encouraged.

In this post Larry Catá Backer (LCB) begins thinking about the "state of nature", the social self and the mother.
(LCB) It is common to speak of the state of nature as the basline social condition from out of which either organic or instrumentally directed change--in whatever direction sought, or in none at all--emerges. The state of nature is the pre social.  The state of nature denotes a time of innocence--the Garden of Eden or some similar place--where the burdens and necessities of the social were unnecessary.  The state of nature, in effect, posits the possibility of the individual.  But it does so only with a backwards glance, and only by extrapolating from out of the state of the social to a set of conditions in which the social need not have been necessary.

But that requires both a heightened sense of the social, and a set of premises about the process of extrapolation back to a time before time.  That is to a time before time was "kept" int he sense that it constituted a thing by which other things were measured. 

That extrapolation was once solely in the realm of the supernatural, and then of religion.  It was the stuff of myth and legend.  And eventually, in the West, of the construction of a divine theater--a tragedy--used to explain the nature, purpose and causes of the loss of innocence, of the abandonment of Eden, of the fall of the individual, for the social.   

Extrapolation of that kind has migrated to the sciences, in parallel with the emergence of structures of society detached from religion.  Our anthropologies, ethnologies, archaeologies, and our histories attest to the scientific overlay of the lust for the reconstruction of the starting point, the point of innocence, now bereft of religion.  But not bereft of politics.  The English, especially, have been fond of using this exercise in extrapolation to further their politics; a politics that was passed on to their colonies.  Extrapolation tied to politics and spiced with science proved the perfect recipe for authoritative facticity necessary to lay the groundwork for the great edifices of political ideology that has littered the globe since. The search for truth from facts drives the American democratic capitalist toward her history with the same passion as it drives her Chinese Marxist Leninist counterpart.; and to the same ends. 

But that is not the point here.  It is not necessary to argue, yet again, the finer points of the brilliance that is Hobbes and Locke, Marx and Habermas, Rousseau, Hume and Calhoun, Rawls and Marcuse, to name just a small fraction of the great minds dedicated to the task of exposing a quite specific view of "בָּרָ֣אo. . . בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית -- in principio creavit-- In the beginning . . . . " and of using that quite specific view of a time before the social to provide an authoritative foundation for this or that political project, normative framework, or values system, necessary for or in society

Let us start elsewhere than in the society within which we operate, or the one we wish to see established--one way or another. Let us start, instead at birth.  To conceive of the absence of the social is, in the first instance, to conceive of a world in which conception is impossible. Individuals are not born alone, the product of the confluence of a serendipitous miasma that happened to come together under this or that circumstance or through the will of this or that Divinity.  Individuals are born of women and conceived in congress with men.  To speak of the absence of the social in this sense is to speak none-sense. . . . . Unless of course what is of interest is not the social but the political, not the community but its control.  Yet that both skips a crucial step. And it suggests a role for those advancing that position more akin to the serpent in the Garden than the scientist extrapolating in a disinterested manner.  

The social self begins with the self; and the self begins with your mother.  It is in the connection between mother and child--first, and thereafter between father and offspring, that the self is connected to the social. Beyond the first there is no beginning, there is connection. Is there a self, then, from which the social can be discerned from the self to the social?  Or is the inherent character of the core of the social directed from the social base into the child that knows no better and is thus corrupted by the mother on which she is dependent?  Is the mother, in Judeo-Christian terms, then, the apple of the tree of knowledge, the suckling of which strips the individual of herself? Is the social the original sin, then, so that the extrapolations of the last several millennia represent a (deliberate) inversion of the social and the self?

The state of nature speaks to the societal.  That has been clear enough for the last several thousand years.  And the societal appears to be the critical objective of thinkers eager either to defend current practice or to use their backwards extrapolations instrumentally to engineer the societal toward distinct behaviors, norms or objectives.  Fair enough.

But before one can speak to the societal one must speak to the social. The social provides the key bridge between the individual and the societal.  It creates the relations within which  the object, the person-in-herself is expressed in relation to another.  And the formative element of the social is the expression of the self-in-other in the mother.  The person-in-herself, the individual as her own self referencing object, is anti-social.  She is in and of herself and knows herself as herself.  But  this theoretical possibility is instantly erased, and transformed at the moment of birth.  It is from that point, where the individual is confronted with the world outside of herself, that she begins the transformation from the anti to the social self. She begins to know herself in relation to not herself.  She begins to become the symbol of herself, what is represents--baby, human, Hindi speaker, etc.--in her own self awareness of herself, her character, not in herself but through the "eyes" of her mother.  She is social from the moment of her birth and no longer herself alone.  She begins becoming herself alone and her social self.  And that is the preparation, the base from which the3 social self might be understood in the state of nature, that state within which all societal structures are possible.

This relationship between the self alone, the social and societal selves might be worth considering more as the foundation on which the justification for all social and legal structures are built. The relation between the possibilities of these relations and the conceits of the premises of the structures built upon them may well provide the basis for a better understanding of our psychology (as Nietzsche understood the term), politics, economics and the like.  Let us, my friends, consider this as a starting point.

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