Monday, October 17, 2005

Forest Paths

I suppose I have some 'splaining to do, and I might as well start from the begining. I also might as well steal one of Martin Heidegger's favourite metaphors for my post title.

I've been wondering how to go about explaining my recent reidentification. I've decided the best way is to trace a path through my thinking of the last little while. I thought about citing sources and crediting authors and influences for this, but I don't think anyone will care where exactly my ideas come from. If you want to know, just ask.

A lot of my thinking revolves around theories of subjectivity. Basically, ideas about how we come to know ourselves as subjects rather than objects. How do we form an image of ourselves and then our surrounding worlds? How do we interact with our surroundings?

There's a concept called "rational action theory." The idea is that we make all our choices based on benefit/cost calculations. We all act rationally, insofar as we percieve the potential costs and benefits of particular choices. I think economists tend to like this idea; I personally thing there's something valuable to be had, but you have to wade through some crap to get to it.

I do think that everyone acts rationally in that they have reasons for their choices, but I don't think it is about a benefit/cost calculation. I think our choices - and everything else about us - revolve around the creation of two things.

1) (This is first arbitrarily) We seek to create a personal centre. I think a personal centre breaks down to two things. First, our imago. Our image. We all have an image of ourselves that began developing in late infancy; the problem is that we can never quite achieve this image. People spend incredible amounts of time and money trying to fit into certain images; be it a model or a an academic, we're all chasing an image of what we want to be.

The other aspect of a personal centre is the framework used to justify that image. We all want our imago to be intelligible and justifiable. We jump on studies that show our way of life is especially healthy; we criticize statements that threaten our imago's framework. We develop philosophies that prove that our personal quirks are virtues. Often times, we believe our personal image is the ideal for humanity - "If only everyone thought/worshipped/reared their children/voted like me, then everything would be great."

So we all chase after an image, and we build some kind of intellectual framework to make that image intelligible and justifiable.

2) We seek to recreate the external world in our own image, or in other words, we seek to objectify our personal centre. There are many ways this is done. We create art that expresses either our imago or our framework. Tradesmen do something very similar - when a carpenter finishes a chair, he has objectified a piece of himself. You'll probably recognize that as a Marxist idea, and I think it's an elegant one.

We also seek to impose our imago on others; we want to shape others like we shape clay or paint on a canvas. We want to see ourselves in other people - and sometimes that requires force. Anarchy, as a movement, is geared towards rejecting this kind of imposition. Totalitarianism is this imposition run amok - a full scale annexation of one's personal centre by another. Democracy is about regulating these clashes, and since these attempts are inevitable, democracy is a powerful form of organization.

Of course, we don't need to impose our imagos on others in order to see ourselves in them; this is what empathy is about. When another is present before us, we cannot help but identify with them. We can't help but empathize with their pain, even if only on a shallow level. There's a goldmine of ethical thought here,but that's not my purpose.

And what is our primary tool in performing all these tasks? Power. That's what it comes down to, I guess; power over ourselves, over others, and over our enviroment. It sounds sinister, but power itself is neutral. Power is the way we get things done; we exercise power to create and maintain our personal centre, and it is what we use to remake the world in our own image.

There are two basic flavours of power - weak and strong. One is upfront and direct, the other is sickly and sneaky. That's another topic, though.

And how does any of this relate to Christianity? That is also another topic!

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