FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Sanctum of Self-Identity

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).

August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
Dean Baker
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker on Medicare-for-All
Weekend Edition
August 10, 2018
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was
Andrew Levine
No Attack on Iran, Yet
Melvin Goodman
The CIA’s Double Standard Revisited
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament
Aidan O'Brien
In Italy, There are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees: Connect the Dots 
Robert Fantina
Pity the Democrats and Republicans
Ishmael Reed
Am I More Nordic Than Members of the Alt Right?
Kristine Mattis
Dying of Consumption While Guzzling Snake Oil: a Realist’s Perspective on the Environmental Crisis
James Munson
The Upside of Defeat
Brian Cloughley
Pentagon Spending Funds the Politicians
Pavel Kozhevnikov
Cold War in the Sauna: Notes From a Russian American
Marilyn Garson
If the Gaza Blockade is Bad, Does That Make Hamas Good?
Sean Posey
Declinism Rising: An Interview with Morris Berman  
Jack Dresser
America’s Secret War on Yemen
Howard Lisnoff
The Use and Misuse of Charity: the Luck of the Draw in a Predatory System
Louis Proyect
In the Spirit of the Departed Munsees
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Alex Jones and Infowars
Mundher Al Adhami
On the Iraqi Protests, Now in Their Second Month 
Jeff Mackler
Nicaragua: Dynamics of an Interrupted Revolution
Robert Hunziker
Peter Wadhams, Professor Emeritus, Ocean Physics
David Macaray
Missouri Stands Tall on the Labor Front
Thomas Knapp
I Didn’t Join Facebook to “Feel Safe”
John Carroll Md
Are Haitian Doctors Burned Out?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail