Sunday, March 15, 2015

Part 14: (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 in which Paul Van Fleet (PVF) and Betita Horn Pepulim (BHP) consider other aspects of the natural slave and Larry Cata Backer (LCB) responds briefly.

Contents: HERE
(PVF) When we speak of Aristotle's natural slave, one passage leaps out at me:

"Where then there is such a difference as that between soul and body, or between men and animals (as in the case of those whose business is to use their body, and who can do nothing better), the lower sort are by nature slaves, and it is better for them as for all inferiors that they should be under the rule of a master. For he who can be, and therefore is, another's and he who participates in rational principle enough to apprehend, but not to have, such a principle, is a slave by nature. Whereas the lower animals cannot even apprehend a principle; they obey their instincts."

It is this last passage that interests me with respect to the current discussion concerning how society potentially forms individual identity. For the Greeks, the touchstone of the wise is their able use of reason in constraining and guiding the passions. Society, in many ways, encourages the opposite. Advertising continually uses gluttony, sex, and greed to override the reasoned weighing of the consumer in buying a product. Social relations encourage the need for a muscular physique or a size 0 figure to ensure worth. The need for economic achievement overrides any balance between life and work. The instinct to fulfill natural urges dominates reason.

Some individuals, it has been posited, are naturally inclined to be a slave to this social order; that their own ability to create themselves is so stunted as to render them a doll to be animated in service of that construct. However, this concept can be taken even further down to the physical or mental level. The individual may not only be a "slave" to social constructs, but also to their own limitations.

Existential phenomenologists refer to a world that is "for-man"; in other words, because we are humans, the world we experience is only for "humans" as we cannot think of it in any other way. Thomas Nagel addressed this problem of consciousness in his seminal paper "What Is It Like To Be A Bat?" wherein he invites us to imagine what it is like to perceive a world in a way that is alien to our interpretation. While he admits that there is much we can learn from a scientific analysis of the brain of a bat, or the noises it makes, we simply cannot be aware of what it is actually "like," in the sense of being, to be a bat.

As a result, there are always going to be limitations to the individual that they simply cannot escape - how sharp the eyes are, how well the ears can hear, and so forth. I would argue that a colorblind person individuates in a very different way than someone who can see color just because of that point - individuation is directly affected by our ability to perceive.

Returning to the theory of the natural slave, is it not so that every individual is a "natural" slave not by a tendency to be dominated, but simply by natural limitation? Even if the master holds sway over a slave, that master may be a slave himself - a slave to passion, a slave to one way of seeing (take "seeing" as a term with many implications), and so forth. Is the defining characteristic of the slave, then, a tendency to be dominated only when there is some choice not to be dominated, or the inability to make a choice otherwise. Which is more of a slave - he who accepts his domination when he has a choice to reject it, or he who is completely unaware of it, from a social or natural fashion?

I would argue that both subjects are dominated, but only one is a slave - he who accepts domination when he may properly reject it. I brought this up in a paper that I wrote for the Law and Semiotics seminar with regard to the analytic-Lacanian master-servant legal discourse. Only in the acceptance of the legal paradigm as a signifier of discourse is the mind a slave to legal reasoning. But viewed through a Peircean semiotic fashion, the insistence of legal discourse on a single way of thinking is diminished by the introduction of an uncertain value for a referent. If we cannot see into the mind or soul of the "other" (as I believe), then any talk of an individual as a "natural" slave must be filed into a discussion of the unknown "L-value" of Pierce.

So perhaps our focus should not be on "slavery" but instead "domination," not only from external sources, but also internal sources. He who is a slave is necessarily dominated, but he who is dominated is not necessarily a slave.

One other note: Aristotle notes that it is not only natural, but better, that these inferiors should be slaves. I wonder what Aristotle feared about allowing these individuals self-determination/ What is the consequence - chaos? The violation of some cosmic principle? Should we have similar fears?

Personally, the latter is of no consequence to me, as there is no "cosmic principle" that exists in my mind. But I can see how it would have disturbed Aristotle, who, even if he would deny it, was shaped by the Greco-centric culture of which he was a part.

(BHP) Em relação a como obedecer regras e mesmo assim ser livre. Ou sobre, como ser escravo e ainda assim ser livre: Segundo Sartre, o homem não nasce pronto. Felizmente, na visão de Sartre, o homem tem a capacidade de construir a si mesmo. Recapitulando: O homem faz a si próprio. Ele é livre por que é dotado de total liberdade para escolher o que ele quer se tornar. Por isto a maior parte das justificativas para seus atos daninhos são apenas simples explicações. Na verdade, o homem é condenado à sua própria escolha. É ele quem constrói sua maneira de ser.

Por isto é importante estar ciente do reflexo de cada ação realizada, para a humanidade.

O que é possível entender ponderando sobre este pensamento, é que a liberdade não é algo que pertence à essência do ser humano, mas ela dá suporte a essência do ser humano.

Para Sartre, a liberdade é absoluta e incondicional, e sem limites. O único limite para a liberdade, que ele enxerga, é ela mesma. É importante ficar claro que, para Sartre, o homem não escolhe a liberdade, isto por que a liberdade precede o ser.

Enfatizando que o exercício da liberdade no que tange a escolher é sempre intencional. É sempre movido por uma vontade consciente dos princípios norteadores dessa escolha e dos fins e consequências dessa ação.

E lembrando que toda relação humana é demarcada temporalmente (é consequência do momento histórico). Na visão de Sartre não existem valores éticos universais para a vida humana, mas somente a construção real e individual dos valores oriundos da condição social do sujeito. O verdadeiro conceito de liberdade, para Sartre, não implica em obter o que se quer, mas em querer de maneira autônoma, em querer por si mesmo. Com base nisto, pode-se supor que o problema da liberdade refere-se a querer algo e não ser capaz de "fazer" alguma coisa.

É por isso que o sucesso não importa para a liberdade. Ninguém é menos livre porque não consegue o que quer. Mas o homem não seria livre (o que é impossível) se a vontade dele fosse condicionada. Pode-se dizer, então, que a liberdade do homem, em sua essência, não tem relação com o homem fazer algo. A liberdade do homem está relacionada com a liberdade que ele tem para poder almejar algo.

[(BHP) Regarding how to obey rules and still be free. Or about how to be slave and still be free:

According to Sartre, the man not born ready. Luckily, in Sartre's view, man has the ability to build yourself.

To recap: Man makes himself. He is free because it is endowed with complete freedom to choose what he wants to become. Therefore most of the justifications for their harmful acts are just simple explanations. In fact, man is condemned to their own choice. It is he who builds his way of being. It is therefore important to be aware to reflex of each share held, for humanity.

What can understand pondering about this thought, is that freedom is not something that belongs to the essence of the human being. But it gives support the essence of being human.

For Sartre, freedom is absolute and unconditional, and without limits. The only limit to freedom, it he sees, is herself.

It is important to be clear that, for Sartre, man does not choose freedom, this for that freedom precedes the being.

Emphasizing that the exercise of freedom when it comes to choose is always intentional. It is always moved by a conscious will of the guiding principles of choice and the purposes and consequences of this action.

And remembering that every human relationship is marked temporally (is due to the historical moment). In Sartre's view there are no universal ethical values to human life, but only the actual construction and individual values derived from the social condition of the subject. The true concept of freedom for Sartre does not imply getting what you want, but in wanting autonomously, in to want something by yourself. On this basis, it can be assumed that the problem of freedom relates to want something and not to be able to "make" something.

That is why the success no matter for freedom. No one is less free because they do not get what you want. But the man would not be free (which is impossible), if the will of man was conditioning. You can say, then, that the freedom of man, in its essence, has no relation to the man do something. Man's freedom is related the freedom he has to power crave something.]
(LCB) These are important observations by Paul Van Fleet and Betita Horn Pepulim.  I wonder, however, whever we make a mistake in the now ages old argument about whether humans are born free or not, etc.  If I take both Paul and Betita seriously, I must instead consider another insight--that humans  are born into a double path.  First, they are given the possibilities of an interior construction, of themselves.  It is here that an individual can choose to be who she may be. Second, they are born into a complex web of societal relationships that to a large extent shape them in relation to their external circumstances.  It is here, at the center of conventional semiotic relations that most philosophers, economists, sociologists, and political theorists consider the question of the individual, free will and the like.  Yet it becomes clear, when one separates the interior from the exterior contexts in which an individual finds herself, that quite distinct possibilities arise.  A person born into chattel slavery may well be possessed within the context of the societal relationships from which she may not easily escape.  And yet she may be free within the context of her interior relationships--with herself. And even here there is room for interior conversations that leave room for a distinct way of understanding religion, economics, politics etc.

It is often overlooked that Aristotle considers both internal and external freedom.  And Sartre, to some extent, and in his own way, partially at least, does as well. It is in this context that the truly frightening condition of interior emptiness is considered.  It is the fear that the empty man exists that threatens not just the possibility of liberation, but underlies the threat to religions grounded on free will, political economies measured by determinism, and rule of law legality grounded in mass participation in government.  Indeed, there is a popular manifestation of this fear--our popular culture translates the consideration of the natural slave in quite sophisticated ways--the tales of the zombie in global popular cultural is among the most esoteric efforts to confront the issue of the living dead, the soulless human, the person unable to exist except as the construct of something else, animated by a spirit outside of the self.  That insight is understood for our popular culture today as resonating with the death of the exterior network of control which seeks in its substitution of itself for interior man, to destroy itself in the emptiness of the human thus created. The zombie as a mindless, reanimated human corpses with a hunger for human flesh serves as a perfect metaphor for the consequence of a society of natural slaves--one in which these animated bodies ultimately must destroy the only self reflexive lives which exist in part to keep them mindless.

(FS)  This is a fundamental problem. I need a few more days to reflect, read again the Talmud and stories about the Golem won't find the answer in folk legends about the Golem but, they can be a source of inspiration as powerful as author X or Y.

(LCB)  Agreed, all cultures understand the allure and the risk.  The allure produces an individual who is wholly functional form a societal perspective and passive in the receipt of knowledge and values from that community, including notions of their autonomy. The risk is that these empty vessels will eventually overwhelm the society that seeks to use them.

(PVF) Indeed, as ancient as Pygmalion and Galatea, and as recent as the movie "Her."

1 comment:

Flora Sapio said...

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...