FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Sanctum of Self-Identity

by

This over-organized, techno-urbanized 21st century: we “live,” as it were, within enveloping enclosures– an ever-tightening mesh of interlocking institutional structures (1000’s of corporations, mega-banks, power plants, DoD, NSA, the Internet, etc.). Such is the over-arching scope and complexity of this “Mega-System” that a mere individual finds her unique identity virtually obliterated by the standardizing forces which surround her (“technology,” “finance,” “media,” “messages,” etc., etc.) Daily “life” has become a stream of stimulus-response reactivity—as her latitude for spontaneous, self-directed activity shrinks. As these institutional structures engulfing her have hypertrophied—through endless mergers and consolidations, as well as constant technological transformations—her autonomous space for self-direction has become further truncated. In this “post-industrial age,” mere human beings are designated at birth as raw material to be shaped and trained, to be mobilized when needed (“employed”). “Over-socialization”: into requisite skills and attitudes. Internalized tyranny: “I should–be hard at work.”

Social theorists often described this all-pervasive siege upon autonomy and self-identity with indifference (or approval). The “self,” they declared, was merely a product of social interaction—the internalized composite of the expectations of “others” (“significant” or not). “Identity,” they claimed, is merely the subjective awareness of these “responses” of others; thus, stigmatizing and labeling would invariably lead to “negative self-image” and so forth.

Sociologist Erving Goffman went even further, claiming that the “self” (if it existed at all) is merely a series of “dramaturgic” roles each of us plays in differing social contexts (“impression management”). Goffman neglected the critical issue of “power relations”—i.e., how those consigned to subordinate roles are forced into compliant (inauthentic) behaviors. Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott more accurately recognized that such enforced compliance, producing a “false self,” thereby results in clinical depression (i.e., the feeling of loss–of cherished self-identity.) “Existentialist” philosophers, confronting mass-organized modernity, resolutely insisted that each individual, even under considerable duress and containment, may retain the dignity of authentic “moral freedom.”

In my view, each person’s core of sovereign autonomy, of authentic “self-identity,” can be preserved and developed by tactically evading any socio-political demand which is not absolutely mandatory (i.e., enforced by severe sanctions). Optimizing free self-direction: avoiding “over-compliance” to demands which would compromise one’s “integrity” (i.e., one’s authentic identity/values). Apart from the daunting problems raised by needed employment—and superordinate/subordinate roles in general–I also refer to legal/social roles, such as the contractual obligations of “marriage” and the like.

“Freedom to”: think one’s own thoughts (without constant interruptions), select what to read and listen to, which “communications media” (if any) to allow into one’s mental space, what gadgets (if any) to use, which persons (if any) to seek out as friends, etc. “Freedom from”: thinking about how to “perform better” (for the employer/stockholders), “marketing oneself” (pleasing “appearance,” “winning personality,” “social networking”), craving middle-class “comforts” and “security,” “needing-to-achieve” (as a social counterfeit of genuine self-esteem), etc.

According to Xenophon, Socrates, scorning money and material trappings, prided himself on his free inquiry, openness of speech, and leisure for contemplation and moral/intellectual growth–in short, his independence and non-alienated authenticity of thought and action (which he equated with “integrity”). Likewise, Thoreau, praising independent simplicity and non-compliance with both cultural norms and governmental intrusions, preferred “poverty” to the occupational roles in which “you are paid for being something less than a man.” In our time, radical theorist Ivan Illich stressed the dignity of autonomous self-direction, wherein the resolute individual endures even material privations to remain free–of self-alienating forms of “employment,” as well as dependence upon (profiteering) “professionals” (doctors, lawyers, accountants, “educators,” bureaucrats, etc.).

The (relative) sanctuary of solitude: wherein, freed from the social expectations of roles, one communes with oneself, engages in painful (yet liberating) efforts for deeper awareness, and emerges able to offer—with hard-won insights—benevolent understanding and cooperation with others without comprising one’s core of self-identity.

More articles by:

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

Weekend Edition
February 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Richard D. Wolff
Capitalism as Obstacle to Equality and Democracy: the US Story
Paul Street
Where’s the Beef Stroganoff? Eight Sacrilegious Reflections on Russiagate
Jeffrey St. Clair
They Came, They Saw, They Tweeted
Andrew Levine
Their Meddlers and Ours
Charles Pierson
Nuclear Nonproliferation, American Style
Joseph Essertier
Why Japan’s Ultranationalists Hate the Olympic Truce
W. T. Whitney
US and Allies Look to Military Intervention in Venezuela
John Laforge
Maybe All Threats of Mass Destruction are “Mentally Deranged”
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: an American Reckoning
David Rosen
For Some Reason, Being White Still Matters
Robert Fantina
Nikki Haley: the U.S. Embarrassment at the United Nations
Joshua Frank
Pearl Jam, Will You Help Stop Sen. Tester From Destroying Montana’s Public Lands?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Attack on Historical Perspective
Conn Hallinan
Immigration and the Italian Elections
George Ochenski
The Great Danger of Anthropocentricity
Pete Dolack
China Can’t Save Capitalism from Environmental Destruction
Joseph Natoli
Broken Lives
Manuel García, Jr.
Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
Geoff Dutton
One Regime to Rule Them All
Torkil Lauesen – Gabriel Kuhn
Radical Theory and Academia: a Thorny Relationship
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Work of Persuasion
Joyce Nelson
Why Mueller’s Indictments Are Hugely Important
Thomas Klikauer
Umberto Eco and Germany’s New Fascism
George Burchett
La Folie Des Grandeurs
Howard Lisnoff
Minister of War
Eileen Appelbaum
Why Trump’s Plan Won’t Solve the Problems of America’s Crumbling Infrastructure
Ramzy Baroud
More Than a Fight over Couscous: Why the Palestinian Narrative Must Be Embraced
Jill Richardson
Mass Shootings Shouldn’t Be the Only Time We Talk About Mental Illness
Jessicah Pierre
Racism is Killing African American Mothers
Steve Horn
Wyoming Now Third State to Propose ALEC Bill Cracking Down on Pipeline Protests
David Griscom
When ‘Fake News’ is Good For Business
Barton Kunstler
Brainwashed Nation
Griffin Bird
I’m an Eagle Scout and I Don’t Want Pipelines in My Wilderness
Edward Curtin
The Coming Wars to End All Wars
Missy Comley Beattie
Message To New Activists
Jonah Raskin
Literary Hubbub in Sonoma: Novel about Mrs. Jack London Roils the Faithful
Laura Finley
After the Parkland Shooting … Teach Youth About Dating Violence
Binoy Kampmark
Frontiersman of the Internet: John Perry Barlow
Chelli Stanley
The Mirrors of Palestine
James McEnteer
How Brexit Won World War Two
Robert Koehler
The Cheapening of Human Life
Ralph Nader
Absorbing the Irresistible Consumer Reports Magazine
Ted Rall
Never Mind Millennial Apathy, Here’s Generation Z Inbox x
Cesar Chelala
A Word I Shouldn’t Use
Louis Proyect
Marx at the Movies
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail