A Controlling Elite Will Always Take Advantage


When We Talk To Ourselves We Maintain And Perpetuate Society

George Herbert Mead’s Social Psychology

Commentary On Picture Of Self

Mead, in putting together his social psychology drew heavily upon the converging currents of thought that filtered through the universities where he took up residence. The emerging doctrines of Evolution, Functional Psychology, and Pragmatism, in various degrees, eventually found expression in Mead’s social psychology. Mead asked the question: “How do human being’s express cooperative behavior?” Humans are many times more flexible and creative then their biologically determined animal counterparts in expressing themselves. The answer to this question, according to Mead, is that what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is the ability to communicate with oneself (to have a self) and identify symbols. This particularly human ability allows for the experience of shared meanings, a common vocabulary and shared expectations. Consensus, as Mead points out, not only forms the basis of human society, it also permits dialogue to occur within oneself. In our capacity to talk to ourselves we actualize the mechanism that maintains and perpetuates society. The individual, through his/her imaginative (symbolic) completion of the act, is able to take on the roles of other people and in this way share in the social experience of the other people. By engaging in role taking we become socialized to the norms, mores and folkways of our culture, as we become part of that culture.

What’s interesting here is that my concept of self and Mead’s concept of self cannot be understood in terms of traditional psychologies which view the self as a thing occurring in a mind. The “self” is a process wherein symbolic communication occurs. The self must be conceived within the interdependent network of symbols, gestures and roles that are encountered in the daily round of one’s life. As I develop the capacity to act toward myself I acquire mind, and, as I acquire mind I begin to recognize those people who become, for me, my significant others. In the recognition of the qualities held in common by these significant others, I am able to conceive what Mead calls the “generalized other.” In so far as the self develops in this way, the beliefs, values, desires, and motives, which I internalize, are the shared beliefs, values, desires, and motives internalized by others. For Mead, this intertwining of self with social environment produces the minded activity that relates objects to meanings, images and “plans of action”. The resulting plan of action is what directs and modifies my behavior. Both Mead’s self and the self that I have described in the Venn circles, should be understood in terms of all the above characteristics.

A Controlling Elite Will Always Take Advantage

Commentary Continued

The Impacting Difference Between These Two Self-Concepts

In my self-concept, self-negation (the negation of the me-self) expands individual autonomy (as compared to Mead’s self-concept) when it comes to questioning beliefs, values and motives. Also, in my self-concept, the negative space of self (the embedded not-me-self’s social environment) transforms Mead’s socialization process and all that it entails, — self-indication, playing at role modeling, generalizing others, etc., –into an analysis of the liberation process as it moves in the direction of liberation. Unfortunately, on the societal level at least, this analysis seems to suggest that there will always be a controlling elite of the rich and powerful taking advantage of the rest of us. In order to be more clear on this subject, a closer look at the experiential side of what negation means for self, in both its social and its I-ness aspects, will be helpful. Fortunately, the concept of “angst,” in Existential philosophy, is the complement to my self-concept’s negation of the me-self.

Existential philosophers have penetrated to the source of what it means to have a self and, in the process, discovered “angst”. The Dictionary of Philosophy defines angst:

In existentialist philosophy, the dread occasioned by man’s realization that his existence is open towards an undetermined future, the emptiness of which must be filled by his freely chosen actions. Anxiety characterizes the human state, which entails constant confrontation with possibility and the need for decision, with the concomitant burden of responsibility. (1979, p.14)

We encounter angst in the existential literature of Kierkegaard’s despair concept of sickness until death, in Heidegger’s Dasein in terms of falling (verfallen) through the everydayness of meaningless trivia, and, in Sartre’s for-itself nothingness that strives to complete itself, but, given the nature of its being, must fail. There is no escape from the human condition of angst, and, what this means for the street person (if the person is not living in what Sartre calls “bad faith”) is their authentic self is lost in the wilderness, and try as he or she might, there is no retrieving it, thus, in times of weakness (or opportunity), one suffers bouts of irrepressible emptiness and alienation.

Angst, negative as it is, is not all bad. For instance, in Jasper’s existential philosophy where the Encompassing becomes, for him, Being, and angst becomes Existenz, Jasper connects Existenz with reason and reason with the ground of the Encompassing. In his book, Reason And Existenz, he states:

Existenz is the Encompassing, not in the sense of the vastness of a horizon of all horizons, but rather in the sense of a fundamental origin, the condition of selfhood without which all the vastness of Being becomes a desert. Existenz, although never itself becoming an object or form, carries the meaning of every mode of the Encompassing….

In all modes of the Encompassing, the self can become genuinely certain of itself only as Existenz. (Jaspers, l955, p. 61)

When looking for the negativ
e aspect of self we do not have to go any father then the writings of existential philosophers. The exceptions are found, in my opinion at least, in the writings of Jasper and Nietzsche. In the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche effectively turns the angst into the will to power.

The suffering caused by alienation and despair was not alien to Nietzsche. In his grasp, however, these “negatives” were forged into the self-overcoming power of his Euberminch. It began when Nietzsche’s Zarathustra proclaimed the “death of God.” The meaningless nature of right-wrong-good-evil became clear with no God to arbitrate the differences. Nietzsche’s Euberminch, with these presidents out of the way, became free to create his own presidents in action, thus, merging meaning with action.

Following the lead of Mead, Jasper, and Nietzsche, my self-concept— discontinuity occurring in continuity while itself occurring in an environment of continuity occurring in discontinuity— conceives “self” in terms of freedom, reason, and power. In the self of our own self-awareness we become free to investigate, determine, and justify the conditions of the event of our own factual existence. To put this even more simply, a power relationship connects self to its own negative condition. In order to get a better understanding and feel for this relationship, we must turn our attention to our own negative condition i.e. our environment.


2 Responses to “A Controlling Elite Will Always Take Advantage”

  1. SophiaSeeker Says:

    Our real selves lie somewhere amidst the fulcrum of [Conformity] & [Rebellion] ~sophiaseeker~

  2. dave Says:

    Thanks for the comment Sophiaseeker. I couldn’t agree more, and I think the noted sociologist Simmel also shares this view: As Simmel (1918) puts it: “we are our boundaries.”

    Psychological problems sometimes arise when we refuse to recognize that our “essential being” is a continual process of “differentiation.” Again, according to Simmel, the individual is a sociological category, in so far as she/he is a stranger to the category, and, the individual is a stranger, in so far as she/he is a sociological category. In this respect, the individual is neither social nor individual, she/he is the boundary that simultaneously separates the individual from society and joins the individual to society. In a word, we are a “mess” because we cannot escape differentiation!

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