agency, consciousness, culture, embodiment, freedom, hive mind, identity, knowledge, philosophy, postmodernism, sociability, thinking, time, transcendence, universality
Posting 118, word count: 1,656
Post-modernist theory rejects the mental autonomy and creative agency of the individual that Enlightenment era philosophy introduced into modernity. It’s also the universality insisted upon by philosophical claims that post-modernists reject and deny. Implicit here is the post-modernist claim that individual identity is inseparable from an ambient cultural hive mind made up of specific ‘discourses’. That individuals can move their personal orientation beyond an ambient hive mind (cultural discourses), beyond an ethnic identity, and reorient into a human intelligence or spirituality that has crucial commonalities with all other individual intelligences universally, and so engage in thinking with a peculiarly philosophical universality and autonomy, is rejected by post-modernists. The claimed necessity of ethnic identity is the theory behind a postmodernist imperative to refrain from criticizing cultures, to respect the peculiarities of all cultures because criticism is always from some ‘colonizing, imperialist, alien cultural perspective’. The fragmentations of identity politics follow. Without philosophical universality you can’t criticize patriarchy or patriarchal superego. This is our point of dispute.
It is not controversial that individual people universally share both consciousness and embodiment. The question is this: is there enough that is inherent in only consciousness and embodiment for an individual to have a viable identity able to enact an exit from hive minds? Part of the post-modernist claim is that there is no coherent person, subject, or agent without the input of particular cultural norms encountered and learned from ongoing interactions with other people within an ambient community. This claim has essential common ground with the claim of David Hume (1711-76) that there is no continuity of interior subjectivity.
Hume’s phenomenology of subjectivity as a “bundle of impressions and ideas” in which he could identify no enduring self or person, emerges when experience is pre-conceived as passively receptive and determined exclusively by the bombardment at every moment of a manifold of stimuli from surrounding objects and events. Such a pre-conception is typical of empiricists with their idea of consciousness as a “blank slate” that exists only as the sensory stimuli and afterimages that appear there. That model is inaccurate, however, because consciousness doesn’t work passively. A person comes to each moment as an agent, searching, reaching, and delving as an interpretation of a personal past. Such temporal depth and agency is exactly subjective continuity since responses to lessons learned enacted as a personal vectoring into futurity are acts of a subject. Knowing is nothing like a mental photocopy of facts, not the ability to recover an afterimage of words or images from a stack. When something is known it has been made a fixture of a person’s orientation, embedded in a personal sense of context and bearing, an overall sense of where you are, where you are coming from, and where headed: the personal context for making sense of anything sensed or perceived. Knowledge isn’t afterimages but instead a rich directionality of flight, a poise or bearing. Any consciousness is already agency expressing a subjectivity whose particular identity is formed very much by embodiment but also by spiritual individuality, an individual peculiarity of sensitivity, point of view, questioning, impulses to make a personal mark, individuality of voice. Embodiment gives us the personal identity of a particular shape and placement; mobility, experience of moving and shaping other objects; gesturing, posturing and vocalizing, often in exchanges with other embodied spiritualities; ingestion, experience of kinaesthetic-metabolic energy depletion and restoration which models nature as a cost-shape of effort and effect. What persons have in common universally as consciousness and embodiment are dimensions of individual identity.
Discourses Don’t Think (Only Individuals Think)
When “thinking” is mentioned it might still suggest an outward gaze, an opening through sensitivity to objects in the surrounding world, maybe contemplated after the fact with retained impressions or from reading or hearing spoken reports. There is much to think about in the tumultuous, terrible, and wonderful world, from dinner to politics. However, there is also much to think about concerning thinking itself, the action of a personal sensibility that brings to any sensitivity all the context that gives it meaning and sense, a sensibility that delves sensations for confirmations of expectations and opportunities for personal aspirations. The directionality of any human gaze is so guided by what cannot be perceived, with subjective non-actualities such as futurity, aspirations, and lessons learned, (caring, anticipation, evaluation) that it points (in addition to a region of surroundings) to what can only be characterized as a personal interiority of spiritual non-actuality. Spiritual agency isn’t an object or a substance, has no completed outline or appearance, but it still has plenty of identity.
A spirituality’s self-awareness takes the form of a particular bearing into a semi-obscure openness of futurity which includes a structure of increasingly remote probabilities and possibilities, a structure of anticipation, evaluation, and aspiration, and so, overall, of caring (a marker of spirituality). Each spirituality is characterized by its own interiority of such temporally structured non-actuality, bearing into the openness and freedom of an indeterminate future with the force of curiosity, questioning, accumulated discoveries, an impulse to self-declare, to make a personal mark, and of empathic sociability. Personal acts of caring both express and keep constructing the most personal newness and incompleteness. In that way time is a structure of caring which uses impressions of entropy physics (of embodiment and its working: muscle knowledge and kinaesthetic-metabolic knowledge) in a construction of expectation and directionality.
For such a sensibility, time is something about now, specifically the personal context-in-flight brought to bear upon now as the portal to creating a personal future. The sense of time to come, of passing into time to come, is a glimpse of the freedom of ideality, of the ongoing (never finished) self-construction of sensibility. In a certain sense we exist entirely in our spiritual reach into not-yet in the context of lessons interpreted from no-longer. Only spirituality (intelligence) strives toward a specific not-yet or non-actuality, and that is the essence of creativity. Teleology of creation is another identifier of spirituality, to add to curiosity, questioning, accumulating orientation, and expressive gestures or voice. Consciousness, the being of a spiritual person, a self-constructing idea-of-a-life-in-progress actively opening the world by creatively thinking and working itself through the world, is a fountain of unforeseeable possibilities creating openness in an otherwise inertial and entropic world. In such a world, consciousness can recognize its temporal bearing as transcendent in its outreaching sensitivity, its caring and curiosity, its ever renewing ideality, its freedom and power of embodied intervention within the shape of brute actuality. In the strictly inertial and entropic world, this very limited freedom is shockingly transcendent.
The freedom and creativity of an intelligence is in transcending the vanishing particularity of nature, transcending its own embodied particularity by always tilting into an indefinite beyond-itself, projecting active construction and expression from interior non-actuality. Nothing defies particularity outside spiritual creativity, and the peculiarity of spirituality is in being both particular and utterly beyond particularity. Evading particularity means asserting spirituality, making sure that a manifest expression is actualized, enacted, but of a kind that includes incompleteness, an openness for surprise and newness. Self-creation is never self-completion. Instead of having any definitive personal particularity, we have precisely what we think of as spirituality, namely freedom, time to come as freedom into which a possible future extension of self, of life, is projected, a personal metaphysical non-actuality. Freedom is possible because time is a device or technique created by individual intelligences to transcend (be free of) nature’s determinism, and so it could be said that being-in-time is what distinguishes intelligences from the natural world within which we build lives. Time is the foundation of freedom from nature and as such it is the transcendence of intelligences. Individuals cannot claim to be creative masters of nature, but each person creates a time-system (a life) of possibilities and probabilities in our own universe of interiority, which is then actually imposed on brute nature with variable success, and shared by enacting interconnections with others. The flight of ideality creates a special sensitivity to other fountains of unforeseeable possibilities, other conscious agents. In such sociability we have: empathy, the comfort of companionship and sharing, co-operative bonding, community, ethics, morality, culture, and conversation.
The agency inherent in consciousness, particularized and empowered by embodiment and yet made transcendently open and creatively indefinite by spirituality, establishes that personhood, viable identity, is not fundamentally a construct of cultural norms. We can judge and criticize patriarchy, patriarchal superego, and any other cultural norms from the perspective of the inherent agency of individual consciousness which is always outside a hive mind orientation. Not only that, but the personal transcendence in spirituality is a guiding beacon in a process of thinking that judges (and discards) culturally assigned labels, categories, and evaluations of personal identity which contradict and deny personal transcendence. We still have an inherent sensitivity to other conscious agents and good reasons to re-invent empathic interconnections.
There certainly is a requirement of sociability, and we construct our sociability initially by learning, conforming to, and using the norms of interaction on display around us. Individuals imitate and twist the norms of interaction we encounter. The imitation of such norms of identity is pragmatic role-playing, constructing a sort of costume or mask which can become habitual and obsessive and yet always removable in principle. The original agency is not replaced or destroyed. The identity markers assigned by culture depend on the inherent agent to make them work, are in fact parasitic on the inherent agent, and agency remains when an individual moves personal orientation beyond a cultural hive mind or ethnic identity and reorients philosophically into a human intelligence or spirituality that has crucial commonalities with all other individual intelligences universally.
Copyright © 2017 Sandy MacDonald.