Saturday, March 12, 2016

Part 6 (The Social Self and the Mother)--Dialogues on a Philosophy for the Individual: The Social Self

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2016)

Flora Sapio (FS), Beitita Horm Pepulim (BHP), and I (LCB) 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 Flora Sapio comes back to the mother in the formation of the social self with a nod to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. 

Contents HERE.

(FS) Gender and the societal
The notion of gender belongs to the societal, not the social world. The societal world has tried to capture the many nuances of the complex interplay among (1) outward appearance, (2) sexual preference, (3) biological attributes, and (4) mind-frame. through notions of “gender”, “gender fluidity” and other concepts. But in the Social, the notion of gender is unknown. All the possible combinations between (1), (2), (3), and (4) are as they are. It is when the Societal imposes itself upon the Social that “gender”, or any other derogatory designation for any combination of (1)-(2)-(3)-(4) come into existence.

Words should be used as tools and never be regarded as absolute truths. Words deserve the same amount of faith one would place in a hammer, a nail, or a screwdriver. They are only as good as the person who uses them.

The Social and the Societal

The social could wag the societal's tail but, much more often, the societal wags the dog of the social.

The child

The answer to the case of the child is, flatly, no. The child will know itself as

(i) what she sees through the Mother

(ii) as what she does not see of herself through the Mother.

Through (ii) the child has a possibility to achieve autonomy – see “Mirror”


As you stand in front of the mirror you see yourself as you are. And you also see yourself as

what you could be
what you are not
what you cannot be

How you can become what you could be?

Should you become what you are not?

Is there really any reason why you should become what you cannot be?

A good mirror will reflect the images of what you are, what you could be and what you are not, a bad mirror will reflect the image of what you cannot be. What does the social mirror reflect? And the societal mirror?

The Societal Signifier

The societal signifier will reveal to the societal world the nature that the societal world determined for the Self. The social signifier admits of multiple interpretations. The societal signifier produces orthodoxy and heterodoxy. The simple fact one can ask the question 'who am I' means one is in the social. In fact this question is always asked by the social. But, there is no need to ask that question, because you already know who you are.

The Biological Mother

The biological mother may not always be aware of the imprinting she is leaving on a person, before the person is born. This signification takes place before naming. Signification involves not only the biological mother, but those who exist with her, those who existed before her, and their genetic and societal make-up. Naming is only the final act of such signification.

The Mother: naming the Self.

In the act of naming the Social can, for a very brief moment, pierce a hole through the fabric of the Societal. And with this, the structure of the Societal may forever be altered albeit to a very small, almost insignificant, extent.

The Self will see the meaning bestowed upon it

(i) in the Signifier;

(ii) in the Self, as the Self will interpret the signifier, and remake it in the process;

(ii) in Others, as Others will mirror the meaning projected by the Self.

No one will ever mirror exactly the same meaning the Signifier, or the Self, are projecting. Others will see in the Signifier and in the Self not what the Signifier is, or what the Self mirrors. Others will see the meaning they want to see, as this meaning is constrained by the possibilities the Signifier offers, by the interpretive skills of the Other, and by the Societal. At the end of every cycle of the interpretive spiral, Self and Others will have changed.

Renaming the Self.

At some point in their lives, Selves can be renamed. As when an Asian immigration officer asks you what your name is, and you pronounce the name you have chosen for yourself. The act of re-naming the Self sets in motion new cycles of signification and interpretation. It forever changes the Self and the social.


The scaffoldings used by Hong Kong construction workers are the best ones, because bamboo is one of the most flexible materials in the world. Where a bamboo scaffolding holds, a steel scaffolding collapses.

Founding myths

Japanese anime authors are notorious for mixing Jewish, Islamic and Graeco-Roman founding myths, and interpreting them in heterodox ways. For appropriating them. The example that comes to my mind is the series Neon Genesis Evangelion, where the archangel Urriel (Rammiel) – which we imagine as a beautiful winged being – is not only distinct from its equivalent in Islam (Izrafeel), but portrayed as a diamond-like object.

Does this appropriation really matters? Should it be condemned? Where can the boundary of founding myths be set? The boundary lies in the interpreter, in his or her “interpretive baggage”, and in the new possibilities the Japanese interpreter will see in Western founding myths. What to us may justify an existing societal structure, may allow Hideaki Anno (Evangelion's author) to see the Self, the Other, the Social, and the Societal, from an entirely different point of view. Founding myths can straddle across the social and the societal, if they are approached exogenously. The interpretive possibilities offered by all myths are many but limited – this is natural. The ultimate potential of a founding myth however lies in what the interpreter can extract from the myth.

Justice Antonin Scalia

Interpretive skills are learned as any other skill but, interpretive potential is in part determined by the position an interpreter occupies in relation to the social, and the societal.

Speaking of which....has a biography of Justice Scalia, one detailing his early years and exploring the influence of his family and the Catholic schools he went to, been written already? Aside from the criticism of his approach to interpretation, and the consequences his interpretive choices had on American society, do we know what made Scalia such a skilled interpreter of the U.S. Constitution? This is a genuine question.

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