Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Part 43: (Obergefell v. Hodges (Gay Marriage), the Contextual Self and the Self Coupled): 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 Flora Sapio responds to Larry Catá Backer and Betita Horn Pepulim.  

Contents: HERE.

FS: “Marriage responds to the universal fear that a lonely person might call out only to find no one there” (Michael Cobb, The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts Club, Opinion, The New York Times, June 30, 2015, quoting Justice Anthony M. Kennedy)

I laughed so hard when I read this quote that I almost chocked on my water. This is a false problem, as many married, unmarried, single, divorced and widowed persons know. Man is a social being, and marriage is only one among the long-term and committed bonds that one can maintain with another person, or with other persons. Then, there is the point of what marriage means to those who are married, and how their understanding of marriage varies from Justice Kennedy's idea. This is my answer to the questions of whether the individual can survive marriage, of whether there can be a space other than social space and so on. As I wrote on Facebook, it all depends on the individuals involved, on their psychological traits, and on their level of psychological differentiation.

But, I would like to comment on these questions in a non-intellectual way. There are a thousand different reasons why people decide to get married, and the wish to live out the myth of Lancelot and Guinevere might, sometimes, be one of them. As any other symbolic story, the myth of Lancelot and Guinevere can be appropriated, interpreted and reinterpreted in different ways. Or it can be accepted as it is, with all the consequences this choice may bring.

We know how Lancelot was committed to the conventions of courtly love, and so as he saw that Guinevere had been kidnapped he deceived King Arthur (Guinevere's lawful husband) into ordering him to rescue Guinevere...Ahem! Guinevere was given in marriage to the King and housed into his castle, then kidnapped by a villain, only to be rescued and locked up into Lancelot's cart instead – I guess Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, must have been too poor to afford ordering the construction of a castle. Guinevere did not survive her marriage to King Arthur and she did not survive her couplings to her kidnapper and to Lancelot either. She became an appendix of her kidnapper, and a trophy to be displayed by Lancelot. King Arthur, some might speculate, might have been a Fisher King but, we don't know because Guinevere never becomes a speaking subject.

Two special places in all versions of Lancelot's myth belong to Merlin and to Queen Morgan le Fay, the archetypes of all Magicians.

Merlin used his magic to help Arthur extract Excalibur from the stone, making him a True King

while Lancelot is a creature of Queen Morgana

Merlin and Queen Morgan's skills do not lie in their ability to prepare magic potions or control people, but in their capacity to make, unmake, use, interpret and reinterpret symbols – the sword that made Arthur become a King, the ritual which gave birth to Lancelot.

Guinevere, her lover Lancelot, her kidnapper/rapist and King Arthur are coupled in one way or another in two 'love' triangles (or in a 'love' quadrangle), therefore they still fall under the broad umbrella of normality.

Does this imply that Merlin and Morgana, the uncoupled ones, are deviants? Perhaps, Merlin and Morgana understand marriage in a slightly different way. When they hear the Siren Song sung by the decision: “you are alone....and you fear that one day you will call out, but there will be no one out there”, they know that being unmarried, single, divorced or widowed does not mean being alone, that marriage perhaps is not a quick fix to real or perceived needs and problems, therefore they do not rush to City Hall...

The decision is just one of the many symbols and signs we encounter every day, and each and every sign or symbol requires its opposite and as a possibility of its existence: all the Merlins and the Morganas out there are the Fathers and Mothers of Obergefell vs. Hodges. They are the ones who can decide how they want to understand coupling (which includes marriage), whether they want to be coupled, when and with whom.

LCB:  Quite right, Flora.  I agree entirely.  And the use of myth reminds us of the strength of the language of the symbolic and apocryphal for the societal construction of perceptions of the self in communal space. Societal space is inherently collective space.  And collectivity requires, as both Confucius (2 Li Chi:Book of Rites 266 (C. Chai & W. Chai eds., J. Legge transl. 1967) and Aristotle (Politics) noted, a Russian nesting doll set of inter linked couplings stretching from out of the first relationship (biological) through the structures of political, economic, social, cultural and religious spaces--each a family onto itself. 

It is within these webs of families--social structures, networks, collectives, aggroupments, communities of the faithful--that coupling is structured and reaffirmed.  And it is admittance to the family via coupling recognized therein that drove inter racial, inter-ethnic, and same sex marriage campaigns.  It was the acceptance of these variations of coupling, as coupling, that was necessary to move the individual, within a coupled space, from tolerated actor to accepted member of the family. And that space been toleration and acceptance is large indeed (see, e.g., here). The undifferentiated self is molded here, within these complex relations.  And so is philosophy, sociology, law, politics and religion.  Each is no more than a systematization, a governance structure, a command hierarchy, a normative pyramid, grounded in the primal "big bang" of relational context, repeated in infinite but related variations throughout the ultimate relational couplings--time and space.

Flora, you speak to Merlin and Morgana, Michael Cobb to the uncoupled self in "Coupledlandia". That this form of undifferentiated self exists suggests a coupled relation between the uncoupled individual and coupled organisms (marriage, family (including criminal families), society, religion, the state, ideology, etc.).  Merlin and Morgana, the hermit, the artist, Nietzsche are all models that I might speak to here as ronin (浪人), the masterless samurai, as the very societally necessary undifferentiated and uncoupled self, the masterless adept.  The ronin is uncoupled in a conventional sense--without family, without social group, without allegiance structures, and without the strict bonds of ideology, religion, politics, etc.  He or she may cross coupled boundaries at will, but is also outside of those bond, and thus also outside of its benefits--wealth, position, stability, place (and notice here too the relational nature of each of these terms).  He or she is the instrument of change of the restoration of order or of its transformation.  He or she is the grease necessary in times of crisis to move from one equilibrium point to another. Culture understands the "type" and his or her societal role--consider recent films (society's modern transmittal vessel of cultural knowledge in this age of audio-video): Yojimbo (用心棒), A Fistful of Dollars, and most famously Sanjuro (椿三十郎).  The uncoupled are necessary, like Marx's lumpenproletariat, but only in crisis. They are essential for the restoration of social order, but must slip back into the shadows until needed again.  Merlin sleeps.

Our friend, Keren Wang interested to see use of "ronin" as a metaphor for the uncoupled.  He pointed out, though, that "during feudal Japan the term "ronin" were commonly written as "牢人", which literally translates as "prisoners", not "transient individuals". In fact, until late Edo period, master-less samurais were specifically referred to as "牢人 (prisoners)", whereas 牢人 being commonly found in a state of transience was more of an unintended consequence. To that end, ronin during feudal Japan typically had little opportunity to hop between different positions; they were more typically branded as "homo sacers and resort to perennial banditry and organized crime...."  That is true, though there were times in the epochs before the Shogunate when ronin were more likely to find work with other daimyo, it is true enough that uncoupled in a society grounded in coupled relations, the only possible result would be to label them as criminal and to suppress them, and where unsuccessful to understand that ronin might indeed find societal coupling, but in the criminal underworld. Either as criminals or prisoner, or masterless transient individuals, the ronin stood apart from but acted on coupled societal institutions.  

 And that brings us back to the language of  Obergefell vs. Hodges. The undifferentiated self is understood as possible only within societal relations.  Marriage is central to those societal relations.  From these spring the good order of society and its sense of itself as at the heart of the societally sanctioned good. These notions must be central as well to the construction of the political community within which marriage is embedded. That political community, then, must reflect its incorporation of coupled relations as its bedrock. And its core political documents through which it is self constituted as a communal coupling must be interpreted to give this effect.  The issue then, is reduced to the simple one, in a well ordered society, where does one draw the line between suppressed, tolerated and embraced couplings. This pattern, of course, is at the very heart of the common law process of integrating ideology to custom and tradition. Within those societal patterns of self reflection, Oberfell moved the line a little, but did not eliminate it entirely.  Marriage is reinforced as the basic form of coupling, now redefined to include all 2 person couplings; fornication is tolerated (and in some other places temporary couplings as economic activity); and deviations from these two forms open to suppression (polygamy, inter species unions, particular unions between adults and children, etc.). The quibbles, and they were quibbles, were of two distinct kinds,.  The first went to power (the opinion of the Chief Justice) and the second went to line drawing (the Chief Justice and Justices Scalia and Thomas). The dissenting voices deploy the same techniques as the majority, but to an opposite purpose--to draw the line at a different place.  In place of current custom and the development of substantive ideology, they offer tradition and the obligations of power process. But both reaffirm the societal value, the grounding of the individual, within coupled relations, or in the preparation of individuals for such coupled relations--relations into which they are born. No one is born alone, and thus it follows for the undifferentiated self the the foundation of the self must reflect this un-differentiation, though recognizing a space for variation. Justice Scalia, of course, adds only a dollop of hysteria. For him, such line drawing imperils the American Republic. That threat comes from the continued deployment of the traditional system of common law ideology to the American constitutional system, a pattern inherited from the colonial period and as traditional as the older boundaries of marriage that the dissenting justices seek to serve. But of course, Americans have never been powerless int he face of the judiciary--and that is the point of common law interpretive power (see, e.g., here).  The real threat, of course, does not arise in the case; that threat might occur only if coupling itself was threatened.  The great triumph of Obergefell vs. Hodges is also its tragedy.  It continues to reinforce the social dimension of the undifferentiated self, and indeed moves more aggressively to defend a system of individuation grounded in conformity to relational baselines--now reinforced precisely by operation of its societally salutary extension of the coupling baseline to a larger subset of bonded pairs. The undifferentiated individual remain sin an odd position in relation to that baseline--either as an individual in waiting for or between coupling, past coupling, or in training for coupling.  The individual uncoupled remains our ronin--but can she serve as the foundation for a differentiated self or is she merely a useful tool of the undifferentiated self--the white cells of our relational social systems?  

No comments: