Premodern and Postmodern: Extremists Meet
Obviously, freedom makes no sense in a pre-individual context, because the very essence of freedom is personal agency. And personal agency is a quintessential example of what Whitehead was saying yesterday about fundamental assumptions that are unconsciously presupposed by everybody. Therefore, no one thinks about it. It's just part of the human package, like hands, eyes, and brain.
But the human individual is not an artifact of our biological hardware. At best, we can say that our genetic endowment permits it, but it most certainly cannot cause it.
We can know this with certainty because for most of human history and for all of human prehistory (which is by far the larger period of time) there were no individuals, only groups.
Now, we are all members of various groups -- family, workplace, country, etc. However, it is difficult for us to experience this in the same lucid way as our individuality. This is because our individuality is explicit, whereas our group identification has become more implicit, more of a background phenomenon. It is the context of our individuality.
What we need to do -- which I think is almost impossible -- is to imagine what it would be like to have no individual awareness (or a very attenuated version of it), and imagine the group identity as being primary, or at the forefront of consciousness.
No coon do. As it so happens, the other day I evaluated a person who had served as an interpreter and cultural liaison for our military in Iraq (he was severely injured in a terrorist blast). He was there to help our military avoid cultural "misunderstandings," but it really goes deeper than that.
To translate mere language is essentially a horizontal affair: I say beer, you say cerveza. But if you are Muslim, you might say kill the grog-swilling infidel!
The problem with cross-cultural contact is that it is not necessarily a horizontal translation. Although we are no longer permitted by the left to think in these terms, there is a vertical component as well.
To a certain extent we may understand lower cultures, but they have no way of knowing about the higher, since they've never been there. It is like trying to explain color to a blind man.
This is why multiculturalism is such a fraud. Someone like me, who is truly curious about other cultures, is called "racist" for being so. Thus, when a liberal wants to have a "conversation about race," it is like when a Muslim wants to have a conversation about your religion while staring uncomfortably at your neck.
I once read a book on the relationship between developmental time and cultural space. Since it is a two-way relationship, we can have chronologically contemporary cultures that are developmentally backward, or chronologically early cultures that are developmentally advanced.
Which is another incoherent feature of progressive thought, because the distance between culture and development is measured by, you know, progress.
In short, in order to say "all cultures are of equal value," one must eliminate any notion of progress. But at the same time, their Hegelian-Marxist leanings cause them to deny the importance of culture and to superimpose some abstract notion of material progress on top of it. As I said, incoherent.
Remember Gil Bailie's Violence Unveiled? As good as that book is, I was never comfortable with reducing the Christian message to an implicit injunction against scapegoating and human sacrifice, a la René Girard.
On the other hand, I am very comfortable with the idea of seeing it as a God-given key to human development. Indeed, it must be a key, because we simply do not see this same development outside its reach.
Inventing the Individual is all about how Christianity managed to do this. Importantly, this was not an overnight phenomenon, and in many respects is still taking place today, and not just in backward places.
Rather, even here in the modern west, one might say that the essence of our political differences revolves around this question of collective vs. individual -- hence the left's insistence that "government is the one thing that unites us," or to which we all belong; or "you didn't build that," or no one ever got rich, or even got a job, without the help of the Elizabeth Warrens and Hillary Clintons of the world.
We see the same form in the pre-Christian world, only with different content. I don't want to repeat Siedentop's entire argument, but he demonstrates how the ancient family was a kind of barrier that had to be overcome, or broken out of, in order for the individual to emerge from it. It "constrained its members to an extent that can scarcely be exaggerated."
The father was a kind of totalitarian ruler who had even "the right to repudiate or kill his wife as well as his children." To the extent that there was law, he was it. Charitable sentiments for people outside the family would have been unintelligible -- one reason why the Jewish injunction to "love the stranger" was so revolutionary (let alone the later Christian injunction to love the enemy).
To be continued....
Yoinked from Happy Acres; if the family is the white base at the bottom, and God is the curved metal at the top, the blue flame of our individuality is ignited in between. We still need all three (and you could say that Jesus is the flame-come-down who first kindles the spark in the dark):