Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Who Invented You, Anyway?

And now for a gear-grinding change of subjects...

No, that's not quite right, because deep down, the subject of this blog is always the same, that is, How did we get here? And with it, What are we supposed to do while we're here?, and Toward what end? Or in other words, Origin, Present Being, and Destiny; or Creation, Freedom, and Judgment. Or Who, What, and Why.

I've mentioned before that the Book of the Same Name was essentially an extended meditation on this question of How did I get here? The question provokes any number of answers, all of them true; for example, there are genetic, historical, biological, evolutionary, psychological, anthropological, cultural, economic, religious and other factors that contribute to Who We Are.

Most people seem to pick one or two and say to hell with it, but I wanted to look around, dig down, peer behind, and stretch upward, in order to consider as many angles as humanly possible, and then found my own religion. In the end, I decided to outsource the second part for reasons of comparative advantage.

Chapter 3.2 is called Humans and How They Got That Way: Putting the Sapiens into Homo. You see, we were Homos for a good long while before we became especially sapiental (wise) about it. That chapter contains some dodgy and overly generalized "history" that traces the emergence of what we call the "individual" or personal self. This self is something we cannot take for granted, nor can we simply project it into the past, as if premodern humans (including contemporary ones!!!) experienced the world in the same way.

The question is, Who invented the individual? Long story short, Christianity; you might say that Judaism did a lot of the R & D, while Christianity focused on marketing. But without this radical new philosophy, we might still be pre-individual members of clans and tribes with no personal identity, no better than the multiculturalists of today.

So, this book, Inventing the Individual, pretty much has my hair on fire. I'm only up to page 65, so I don't know the author's ultimate conclusions, but already there is plenty to playgiarize with, and more than enough to make my own theories almost seem plausible.

I'm just going to flip through the book and expand upon passages that arrested my attention. It begins with a quote from the 19th century historian Fustel de Coulanges, to the effect that the true object of historical study "is the human mind: it should aspire to know what this mind has believed, thought, and felt in different ages of the life of the human race."

Right. The problem here is that mere empathy is not only insufficient, but probably going to mislead. In other words, it is exceedingly difficult to simply project ourselves back in time, as if people of the past were "just like us."

Note that this doesn't just apply to the past. For example, I don't think it is truly possible for us to understand the mindset of Islamic terrorists, or pedophiles, or mass murderers.

(Coincidentally, yesterday's Best of the Web was on the subject of pathological altruism, in which Taranto cites an author who said of the Australian murderer that we face a "difficult test of our empathy," in that "While we do not know [the murderer's] story or his motivation, we know he was once someone just like those people whose lives he has now treated with such disdain. He must have loved ones, too. Forgiving him will be very difficult, and it will take time. Without forgiveness, though, we have to live with destructive hate." Liberalism. Is there anything it can't pervert?)

More generally -- and this is something I'll be expanding upon later -- to the extent that we misuse empathy, it will only "reveal" what we have projected into the subject. It will only tell us about ourselves, not the other person.

This was one of the most important lessons of my psychoanalytic study, first, that empathy is a tool of investigation, and second, that it must operate at the same level as the person under study. To take an obvious example, it requires empathy to understand an infant, a spouse, a friend, or a stranger, but in each case it is different.

For our purposes, when a patient comes in for therapy, they are generally operating at a certain level of development, e.g., neurotic, borderline, autistic, narcissistic, psychotic, etc. If you try to deal with a borderline patient the same way you would a neurotic, you'll get nowhere. In each case empathy is required, but in order to empathize with the borderline, you have to use it to reach a more primitive mode of experience, relating, and cognition (within both your self and the other person, the former facilitating the latter).

We have to do something similar to understand the people of the past, especially people who are or were swimming outside the Judeo-Christian stream. As Siedentop writes, "Deep moral changes, changes in belief, can take centuries to begin to modify social institutions." And very much contrary to postmodernists in all their nasty variety, "it seem to me that moral beliefs have given an overall 'direction' to Western history."

For me, a more interesting way to chart this progress is through the emergence and deepening of the individual. That is, if we trace our existence from the Big Bang all the way to the present post, what is most striking -- and most important to us -- is a gradual expansion and deepening of the subjective horizon.

In other words, our "mental space" -- the space in which we live -- expands and deepens along with our individuality; these are really two sides of the same process, as we shall see. Freedom, conscience, and personal self are all bound up together, but we also need to examine the conditions that made these possible.

What I would say is that God is of course the necessary condition -- the condition without which -- while various religious, psychological, and cultural factors provide the sufficient conditions -- the conditions with which.

Let's begin with pre-Christian antiquity. In order to even begin to understand these remote ancestors, "We must imagine ourselves in a world where action is governed by norms reflecting exclusively the claims of the family, its memories, rituals and roles, rather than the clams of individual conscience. We must imagine ourselves into a world of humans or persons who were not 'individuals' as we would understand them now" (Siedentop, emphasis mine).

Interestingly, this would imply that in order for God to save or redeem individuals, he had to first bring about conditions through which people could individuate from the group (just as humans had to first "speciate" from animals, life had to anim-ate from matter, and existence had to undergo creatio from nihilo). Thus, as we shall see, culture is the bread which shall gradually be leavened by some very wise men from the yeast, especially Paul.

To be continued....

22 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

... and then found my own religion. In the end, I decided to outsource the second part for reasons of comparative advantage.

No need to reinvent the Cross. Anyway, that leaves more slack for getting lost in the bewilderness.

12/17/2014 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

More generally -- and this is something I'll be expanding upon later -- to the extent that we misuse empathy, it will only "reveal" what we have projected into the subject. It will only tell us about ourselves, not the other person.

Heh. At the store today, little M wanted to carry a basket. I was telling her "no," and joking about her potentially being a weapon of mass destruction, when a guy in a suit looked on and said (kindly but reproachingly), "she's just a cute little girl and a child of God!"

While both of those statements are absolutely true, they don't change the fact that, given free reign, she has the capability to reduce the place to rubble if allowed to run unchecked. I'm not sure if he only disapproved of my words, or if he thought it was unfair of me to refuse her a basket, but either way it seemed that he could not imagine such a sweet little thing could cause any serious mischief in a store full of glass jars and precariously balanced produce. If only that were true.

I wonder how he would have reacted if she had burst into song about Godzilla at that point, as she is wont to do from time to time...

12/17/2014 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Failure to empathize with the bad in someone isn't empathy at all. A patient, for example, is relieved when the therapist is able to intuit and articulate the nature of the problem, which the patient will often try to avoid discussing. I think this is one reasons why confession must work...

12/17/2014 11:41:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Okay you talked me into it, Bob. It's clear that the first 65 pages alone are worth the price of admission.

12/17/2014 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I'm gonna have a fire extinguisher nearby in case this book sets my hair on fire. I gotta lotta hair, except on the top of my head.

12/17/2014 12:30:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Right. The problem here is that mere empathy is not only insufficient, but probably going to mislead. In other words, it is exceedingly difficult to simply project ourselves back in time, as if people of the past were "just like us.""

This is one of the reasons that leftist, revisionist hystery is so full of B.S.. They think people were just like them, or conservative strawmen that dwell in their twisted imagination.

12/17/2014 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I can't really tell yet if the author is religious or only has an instrumental view of Christianity as being good for society, for which reason I can't yet give it an unqualified recommendation.

12/17/2014 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

About liberal projection, this is how they can so easily condemn people who are far superior to themselves because they owned slaves.

12/17/2014 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Julie, how well I know how sweet, little girls can become WMD's at the drop of a hat, lol.
They become quite adept at using their cuteness to get what they want.
Thankfully, Patti saw through all this and convinced me how dangerous it is to give in to the lure of sweet cuteness. :)

12/17/2014 12:41:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Might as well say the theory of relativity isn't true because Einstein married his cousin.

12/17/2014 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Bob, aye, leftists have no sense of the context of history.

12/17/2014 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

For me, women are a weapon of mass distraction.

12/17/2014 12:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

Class distraction too. I could never concentrate in school.

12/17/2014 12:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Skully said...

Cousin Dupree said...
For me, women are a weapon of mass distraction.

Preach it brother!

12/17/2014 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Cuz,
School for me was only two things: tortuously boring and bullies.
It wasn't until 7th grade that I fought back against bullies and had a history teacher that brought history to life that I began to actually learn something useful that inspired my imagination and thirst for learnin'.

12/17/2014 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

I was just reading that some public elementary schools are bringing back gender-segregated classes. It'll be interesting to see the long term results, assuming some SJW harpy doesn't come charging in and demand integration before all those poor little boys and girls become irreparably warped...

12/17/2014 12:57:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Leslie is on the school advisory board, and coming up with ways to try to make school more interesting and relevant for boys.

12/17/2014 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

It's interesting to think how the non-individual mindset relates to war and violence. I was watching an old episode of "Combat!" the other day. One guy complains that if he had done as he was told he would have gotten his head blown off. Sgt. Saunders replies, "Better one head than five."

Ultimately, in the West, creating the individual has led us to see each individual as equally worthy. We lay down our lives for our friends.

On the other hand, we are repulsed for suicide bombers.

12/17/2014 02:22:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Mushroom,
i love the Combat! series. Lots of metaphysical truths in that show.

12/17/2014 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

WTG Leslie!
Boys definitely learn differently than girls, for the most part.
Leslie is doing some crucial work to help boys to learn and make their time in school more fruitful.

12/17/2014 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

But without this radical new philosophy, we might still be pre-individual members of clans and tribes with no personal identity, no better than the multiculturalists of today.

Along those lines, apparently in China there were certain crimes for which an entire family would be held responsible, and thus the entire family would be put to death.

Not that the Chinese are the only ones to think of that.

12/17/2014 03:24:00 PM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

"Interestingly, this would imply that in order for God to save or redeem individuals, he had to first bring about conditions through which people could individuate from the group (just as humans had to first "speciate" from animals, life had to anim-ate from matter, and existence had to undergo creatio from nihilo). Thus, as we shall see, culture is the bread which shall gradually be leavened by some very wise men from the yeast, especially Paul."

And that deepening in (initially) one area, not only helps to explain how we could be very different in our impression of our selves, but also how someone who was clearly a strong Individual, Cicero for instance, could be so, and yet still lack that area of depth that only Christianity opened.

Very interesting. Btw, bought the book the other day.

12/18/2014 09:19:00 AM  

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