Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Individuals without Individuality

Where were we? I've lost the thread, nor am I sure the thread, whatever it was, is worth pursuing. It had something to do with... or was leading to, at any rate, a meditation on politics and romance. Is there a relationship between where we are politically and where we are personally -- or interpersonally?

Looked at in a certain way, how could there not be a relationship? I mean, if cannibals could vote, they'd no doubt vote for a cannibal king. Which is to say, if given a choice, people relate to a leader who reflects their own level of development.

Hollander gets into one of our favorite subjects, which is the historical emergence of the individual in the Christian west. Obviously this affects everything from marriage to politics -- from the most intimate to the most public. For example, he references one scholar who notes that "For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love."

The first thing that occurs to me is that the ideas of choosing one's mate and choosing one's leaders emerge at around the same time. I wonder which was the leading edge, the personal or political? Both are predicated on awareness of the individual, of an interior horizon that is autonomous and relatively free from group coercion. For most of human history, people did not experience themselves in this way. Rather, they were embedded in networks of kinship, class, occupation, and certainly gender. No one wondered if he was a man or woman, let alone 37 other flavors.

In a certain sense you could say that people were more objective than subjective. Perhaps the earliest appearance of the latter turn is Augustine's Confessions, in which he reflects upon his own psychic interior. But he was the leading edge a phenomenon that didn't become more widespread until the 16th century or so. Only as people begin to be liberated from rigid roles do they start noticing the interior world -- that it is a world in its own right.

Interesting that if we fast forward to contemporary times, it is as if people believe there is only the subjective world, such that there is no objective limit to who or what they can be. Thus, a man can indeed be a woman, or those 37 other supposed genders. But why limit the number? Once you have detached yourself from any objective world, relativism and subjectivism are absolute.

I wonder if this goes to why our precious college snowflakes are having such difficulty assimilating the fact that the world is different from their subjective fantasies? On the one hand, their subjectivism is total; but for the same reason they cannot accept anyone else's view of reality. Rather, they flock with people who are completely likeminded, and who reflect their own subjectivism back to them. Therefore, they're back in the rigid and more developmentally primitive world from which we first individuated several hundred years ago!

This reminds me of an observation by Theodore Dalrymple. I'll paraphrase, but he points out that our postmodern snowflakes have self-exposure without self-reflection, frivolity without gaiety, earnestness without seriousness, and ultimately individualism without individuality.

Individuals without individuality. I think we're finally on to something here. Think, for example, of Cuba. The recently departed Castro was literally the only person on that slackforsaken island who was free to be himself. Everyone else was permitted to be as unique as an ant. There is a type of man "whose absolute freedom requires that he should accept no limits.." But "Starting with absolute freedom, I end with absolute tyranny" (ibid.).

But how is this different in principle from our college campuses, where one is free to think or say anything, so long as it reflects a far-left ideology? Here again, it is as if man starts out embedded in the group matrix and gradually emancipates himself from it, only to regress and re-merge with it. Thus, while the series premodern tradition --> modern liberalism --> postmodern leftist resembles a line, it is really a circle.

This is precisely what happened to Germany during the Hitler era. How, people wonder, could the world's most modern and liberal culture plunge into such primitive barbarism? Easy: it's what comes after (classical, not left) liberalism. As in Cuba, there was only one individual: Hitler. And there was one group: Germans. Individualism had absolutely nothing to do with it. Indeed, it was thought of as a desiccated Jewish abstraction, Jews representing a people who stubbornly maintained their identity apart from the larger group.

Reminds me of how Gil Bailie (or maybe Rene Girard) described human sacrifice: unanimity minus one. The Jews were the "minus one." (Although so too were any groups or individuals distinct from the German ideal.)

The point is, there are two ways to lose our individuality, the premodern and the postmodern. Of the latter, Dalrymple writes that "people are no longer born into a social role that they are assigned to fill until they die, simply by virtue of having been born in a certain place to certain parents. In theory, at least, every man in a modern society is master of his own fate. Where he ends up is a matter of his own choice and merit."

Deepak's latest nonsense is a fine example of the no-limits-to-subjectism model. Bear in mind that he is one of those pigs who squealed the loudest when his preferred candidate lost the recent election. How does this square with the idea that we invent our own reality? Don't ask.

Here are a few of his twenty principles of reality, but the very first one contradicts the idea that there can be any stable, objective reality at all: "Always think unlimited possibilities. Infinity exists in all directions."
 Moreover, "Your only identity is I am, undefined and infinite. Any label you give yourself limits you" -- which is the death of identity, precisely.

"Be your own best friend by forgiving yourself and dropping self-judgment." Er, what self? Besides, in our view, objective self-judgment is not only absolutely necessary, it is the essence of a functioning maturity.

This one really sums it up: "Emotional intelligence begins when you feel without labels or evaluation." No, emotional stupidity returns when we cannot discriminate, label, and prioritize our emotions. Isn't this the the whole catastrophe the left is dealing with, a primitive release of ungoverned and preliterate emotionality? Dalrymple:

"The cultural development in question is the systematic over-estimation of the importance not so much of emotion, as of the expression of emotion -- one's own emotion, that is. The manner with which something is said has come to be more important than what is said. Saying nothing, but with sufficient emotional vehemence or appearance of sincerity, has become the mark of the serious man. Our politicians are, in effect, psychobabblers because we are psychobabblers; not the medium, but the emotion, is the message."

No one should take, say, chocolate commie cueball Van Jones' -- or any other traumatized leftist's -- public tears (or rage, or grief) seriously, least of all Van Jones. When it comes to coping with objective reality, our feelings are none of our business.

14 comments:

julie said...

The first thing that occurs to me is that the ideas of choosing one's mate and choosing one's leaders emerge at around the same time.

Oh, now that's very interesting.

Reminds me of how Gil Bailie (or maybe Rene Girard) described human sacrifice: unanimity minus one. The Jews were the "minus one." (Although so too were any groups or individuals distinct from the German ideal.)

Along those lines, at Instapundit this morning was an excerpt from a professor/ journalist who was surrounded by stunned Hillary supporters after the election. One of their comments on the results: “Oh my God!” pinged a professor. “We will be the ones ostracized if he wins.”

Ah, sweet projection; they always give away their plans that way.

julie said...

Re. Chopra, if that's really what he thinks, how does he function? I mean, obviously the answer is "poorly," but I mean how does he even pull "himself" together enough to get out of bed in the morning?

Gagdad Bob said...

Prager's piece today goes to our subject.

julie said...

Prager left off one other reason that I have found to be generally true over the years: leftists identify personally with their politics. That is, if you disagree with a leftist you are not simply rejecting an idea that they have, you are delivering a personal insult. It's why they move so quickly to ad hominem arguments when the discussion hasn't called for it, and if you won't be swayed by their passion about the subject then clearly it's not that you disagree with an idea, it's that you are full of hatred for them, personally.

Leslie said...

"When it comes to coping with objective reality, our feelings are none of our business." The feminization of our culture happened because we taught boys to govern their natures, but quit teaching our girls to govern theirs. Wymyn are tedious creatures created by being encouraged to "be themselves". Uh, no. I cannot stand to be around other people's feelings. No wonder I stay home.

Magister said...

I find it difficult to believe that people take Deepak Chopra's nonsense to heart. Do they, really?

ted said...

"The cultural development in question is the systematic over-estimation of the importance not so much of emotion, as of the expression of emotion -- one's own emotion, that is. The manner with which something is said has come to be more important than what is said."

It's funny how many of my lefty friends believe Michelle Obama should now run for president because she gave a couple heart-felt speeches.

julie said...

Well, she did share a picture of herself holding up that "send home our girls" sign and making a pouty face that one time.

So Presidential. Do we even need an election?!

Plus, just think of how many more fabulous parties they can have at the White House!

Joan of Argghh! said...

The feminization of our culture happened because we taught boys to govern their natures, but quit teaching our girls to govern theirs.

Totally tweetable.

It's why I won't be a member of a church with a woman priest, pastor, or music director.

julie said...

Wise, and I also completely agree with Leslie.

Betsy said...

Ah, Joan. We're not all cut from the same cloth, my friend. But then,I've always been that one sheep that keeps wandering off.

Van Harvey said...

"In a certain sense you could say that people were more objective than subjective. Perhaps the earliest appearance of the latter turn is Augustine's Confessions, in which he reflects upon his own psychic interior. But he was the leading edge a phenomenon that didn't become more widespread until the 16th century or so. Only as people begin to be liberated from rigid roles do they start noticing the interior world -- that it is a world in its own right."

Except... that in some sense, Socrates got there first. And certainly some odd the Greek poets did as well, Homer pointed it out. But there was definitely something not quite right with the inner world that the Greeks found, or what they found was different from what Augustine did. As Thales was one of the first to ask what was out there, they'd been exploring what was 'in' there as well... but it's add if they began exploring the inner landscape without a pole star to guide them - or twelve of them to pinball off of.

Either way, it wasn't until the Judeo-Christian and the Greco-Roman halves (quarters?) came to grips with each other, that One finally came out on top.

It's puzzling.

Gagdad Bob said...

Well, They -- whoever They are -- always say that the Confessions is the first true autobiography in the modern sense, so I'm just citing the authority of Them.

Van Harvey said...

Yep, They are right on that, but the introspective sense, the awareness of am interior, that was there in the Greeks, but... wild.