Saturday, April 11, 2015

Part 25: (Self Love, Compassion and the Self): 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 around the problem of the individual and the liberation project.  The specific object is compassion and the individual, in which Larry Catá Backer responds to Flora Sapio.

Contents: HERE

(LCB)  Aaaaaahh Flora Sapio, you make excellent points to blunt the sharpness of my suggestion of the monstrosity of compassion  outside of the triadic relationship between thing, sign and interpretant. You suggest a naturalness that can communicate with, is activated by, and is deeply embedded in the world in which the self relates.  But at the same time it represents an interpretation freed of the triadic context in which thing as sign is given meaning by the community of interpretants.  It is then, you suggest, that it is possible to understand a thing as sign beyond the constraints of the societal interpretation (and its profound consequences for feeling, action, morality, obligation, etc. as societal expressions of assabiyah (عصبية)) at the heart of the meaningfulness of a thing (rose≠weed; dandelion≠ flower) or an act (like beating a horse).   To this end you suggest that the interpretant is really the product of a complex process of socialization that molds the world view of its object so that he or she can only interpret as it has been taught.

That view is at the heart of our education theory, both in western democracies, in Marxist Leninist states and in religious communities. The control fo the language and normative premises of interpretive communities is a critical outcome of the process of stripping the individual fo the self (assuming there was one there to begin with) and substituting for that original self (aaaaahhh, the "innocence" of youth) something less "pure"--the entire complex of societal constructions of reality; the lens through which all things and signs are "seen" and interpreted.  And thus interpreted, the way things and acts are judged.  Education provides the basis fo a reality "within" good and evil--a judgmental project of interpretation that helps mold, frame, evaluate and place all things and acts.  That is critical to the compassion of society, its societal framework within which all things must be bent to its self preservation, perpetuation, and order framing. None of this is a criticism.  It is the essence fo aggregated systems of interpretation (and judgment) critically necessary for the construction of societal order.  Law is an ultimate expression of these notions of authoritativeness in interpretative community, meaning and the coercive construction of hierarchies of compassion that originate beyond the individual but are embedded within through the socialization function of education.

And as well, as you so well describe, it is the essence of communication.  One constructs a reality, in the form of societal approaches to the naming, meaning, relationship and value of things.  And this identification, valuation ordering forms the basis of a language, the words of which serve--like money (another societal language of hierarchy and value)--as compressed bundles of meanings and judgments projected from society into the individual and outward again from the individual back to society among which the sign or act now is invested with shared meaning or value.

To fail to embed these notions within the self is to stand out.  I recall an old Japanese saying--the nail that sticks out gets hammered down; and  so it applies with even greater force through language to the meaning and value of interpretation (and the prescribed consequences such meaning and values produce). In the 19th century the societal expectation of horse beating requires little reaction; the act of embracing a beaten horse is a sign of mental illness--of a chasm between the individual and the societal expectation of individual application of interpretation to sign or act.  That chasm requires policing--a stay in a mental institution in the late 19th century; a cocktail of medications in the 21st. Even to feel the pain of another suggests not so much an individuated projection of meaning beyond the societal, but instead a rebellion against the interpretant's judgement from within the societal sphere.  One is not so much acting beyond the good and evil inherent in the rejected interpretation as one is engaging in the political act of seeking to change that interpretation--not only for the self but in its societal power.

Yet I share Flora's purpose, and her vision, of the need to envision interpretation beyond societal good and evil, beyond its collective taxonomies, meaning and expectations.  But to do that without giving up the ability to communicate with society (again the problem here is that communication requires embrace of the norms buried and inextricably linked to the word as sign, Flora's point).  Can I use societal language and impose a deeply personal and perhaps anti-societal meaning to them, and communicate with anyone but myself?  It I seek to apply a set of different referents to outward communication am I engaging in political acts within the  normative structures of societal premises? If I do not do that am I reduced to "speaking" to myself?  And if I am speaking to myself, then is my compassion, inwardly directed a monstrous form of self gratification (monstrous in the sense that it is the ultimate deviant, standing alone)?  But even the monstrous, as I have suggested is enveloped within the embrace of societal interpretants when it operates in social space--the self gratifier is understood as acting apart and thus is a deviant or is mad.  In the language of politics she may be a criminal or a traitor.  In the language of religion she may be a heretic or an apostate. Protection comes only from the development of a counter-societal community.  There is thus no beyond societal good and evil, there is only the politics of the construction of community within which language, judgement and norms can be shared (as against others) and between which a sort of meta-communication may be developed (e.g., the language of cross border trade with its meta-standards and its own language derived from the consensus of the community of those forced to work together for their mutual advantage).

Still ours is a project that is meant to break this circle--to find a place not constrained by assabiyah. might that require a break between meaning and language, between interpretation and communication?  Can we find a space free of Flora's machine?  Might we find the answer in notions of love of self; is the self possible only in the act of self love?  That might provide a window onto the possibility of compassion--that love of others is possible only as an expression of self love. Thus, "suffering with" may be the consequence of, proceed only through, the love of the self. I suffer with the woman being kicked by street thugs because I suffer with her or because I love myself?  We do not learn to love ourselves, we learn to love others; that is we learn the obligation of the self within a societal network of relations built on whatever constricts support societal cohesion--the family, the church, the village, the volk, the state. But love of others in this sense is little more than the learning of obligation to others built on the displacement of the self into the mass of others that constitute the community that share a language of mutual obligation that itself embeds the cohesive morality of the societal order. One must learn to  displace oneself to live among others. We are trained to feel indignation for the suffering of others for the preservation of the group, even as we develop societal rules that constrain or manage those feeling.  We are trained away from feeling indignation for the love of ourselves, and ourselves in others.  This self love is not the hubris (ὕβρις) of the ancients, or the Christian sin of pride--both of which are societal constructs and dependent on the relationship between a false self interpretation and its projection outward--but a self love that frees the individual from the compulsion of external and of the societally communicative so that, for a moment at leats, neither interpretant nor action is a political calculation grounded in societal structures, but instead in the structures of the self.  But to do this without becoming a monster, an individual unconstrained internally or externally?  That requires another language, and an individual morality beyond that societally constructed, that is true to itself but in the world.

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