I was a bit disconcerted yesterday to discover that the post I had just completed appears in the complete list of posts out of the actual chronological order. It was in fact completed after the "Lynx envers nos pareils" post. (The problem arises because each post is dated from the time that its first drafting began. It was a long time before I was satisfied that "Self and Other Revisited" was in a fit state to be launched into cyberspace.)
Anyway, as the title of this post indicates, I have by no means exhausted what needs to be said about our relationship to ourselves, to one another, and, indeed, everything else.
This was particularly apparent to me after ruminating on the final sentence I quoted from Elias's book. In referring to Bauman I was attempting to show that Elias's statement required consideration of a different way of thinking. In this post I'll try to extend the implications of that statement even further . . .
Perhaps a good place to start is with the question that is implied, but never directly asked by Elias in those final sections of his book. Here's one way of asking it: "Why does humankind persistently turn away from concerns about our survival?" Another way might be: "Of what service is it to us that we disregard dealing with the processes that might lead to our extinction?"
Bauman's concerns obviously indicate at least one part of the answer: We define ourselves in large part by dissociating ourselves from what feels alien to us. When we do so, we affirm that to which we feel we belong. The sense of belonging is strengthened if there is an apparent rejection of that to which, and those to whom we feel affiliated, by those whose identities are attached to a different affiliation. Such affliations may, however, not be to a particular coherent readily identifiable group, but rather to a different set of beliefs about process. Possibly it's wrong to think of these conflicts as conflicts between affiliations, but people with similar beliefs do tend to congregate together, and feel that their identities of belief are supported by those who think and feel similarly.
If, in consequence, large numbers of human beings depend for their sense of continuous meaning on consciously or unconsciously being preoccupied with questions of the "Which side are you on?" sort, they exclude consideration of the possibility that such a question already constrains reality to the two predetermined possible answers. The very asking of the question itself affirms the belief that any identity (that is, one's sense of self as inherently meaningful and valuable) is vulnerable to attack.
A logical consequence of this state of affairs is that people who primarily define themselves in opposition to others, and those others who reciprocally define themselves similarly, share a fundamental belief in the inevitability of alienation on the one hand, and the need for protective affiliation on the other. Ironic, eh? But tragic, too.
Because such attitudes are widespread, it is perhaps helpful to consider the pervasive continuities of belief that promote them. The most fundamental of those, I think, is that all human beings are vulnerable to feeling alienated from the universe, primarily because of our apparent meaninglessness in relation to it. Well, it's clearly overwhelming constantly to be preoccupied with meaninglessness in the large. Much easier to assign responsibility for it to the motives of others . . . At least we can fight against that, and them. We might well consider ourselves helpless in relation to the universe, but not in relation to one another.
In short, it's not only easier to feel we are frustrated by other people than by our failure to come to terms with our very existence, but it's helped by the unknowing collusion of those others with us. This is not to deny that there are widespread inequalities in our world, and that exploitation, disregard, humiliation and victimization of one another are also pervasive. Those final sections of Elias's book, however, correctly indicate the possible outcome for humankind if we stubbornly remain committed to denying the potential of our species to collaborate in not only fostering a positive future, but one whose potential for contributing to a larger meaningfulness than any of us can currently envisage evades our awareness.
In several earlier posts I've commented similarly on our joint responsibility for failing to register the dynamics that have resulted in this state of affairs. No deus ex machina is going to emerge to rescue us from ourselves. I think Richard Dawkins is profoundly wrong in defining altruism as doing good to others that is necessarily costly to ourselves, although his justification of that definition is cogent. ("An entity . . . is said to be altruistic if it behaves in such a way as to increase another entity's welfare at the expense of its own." . . . You may also find the post "The Prisoner's Dilemma: Ugh!" relevant to this statement.) By contrast, Elias's position, I believe––and also my own–– would be that doing good to an "alter" (an "other") is a way of doing good to our communal "we". That is, it depends on our defining our group identity in relation to a "we" that is indeed meaningful in the universe. If we continue to fail to recognize our common responsibility in relation to one another, then our extinction as a species will have been amply deserved. (A lot more needs to be said on this issue. I'll return to it in a later post.)
(Appendix note . . . Lurking in the background of this post, and indeed, several others, is my unwillingness to become embroiled in the denigration of others who, for reasons that make very good sense to them, hold to beliefs that are contrary to my own. In my own view, the whole point of Elias's final section quoted in the "Self and Other Revisited" post, is that such personal attacks and counter-attacks are themselves indicative of the polarization into "enemy" and "friend" that epitomize the very problem we need to confront.)
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