The “I” and the “Me”

Symbolic Interactionism

Mountain gorillas cubs

The symbolic interactionists have pretty much turned the synchronic axis of freedom into a fully articulated sociology, and it all begins with Mead’s self. Mead, like William James before him, understood the self to be divided into two mutually exclusive components. (Martindale, l981, p.333) The “me” may be thought of as the historical self, that is, that part of yourself that could be identified by others as a historical fact. Work, status and roles, (employee, chairman of board, father etc.) are aspects of the “me” self. Meltzer describes the “me” in this way, “The “Me” represents the incorporated other within the individual. Thus, it comprises the organized set of attitudes and definitions, understandings and expectations — or simply meanings –common to the group. In any given situation, the “Me” comprises the generalized other and, often, some particular other.” (Meltzer, l959, p.17)

Mead’s “I,” on the other hand, is that active aspect of the self that gives spontaneity, impulsiveness and creativity to the self. The “I” is what moves the “me” of the self in different directions. The “I” gives to the self its novelty and innovation while the “me” directs this novelty and innovation toward goals and away from resistance i.e. toward conformity. It is the nature of the opposing components of the self that provides the basis for understanding how the self is woven into the social fabric.

Mead’s “me” and “I” aspects of the self are an accurate description of the self. But, in order to give logical consistency to the “me” and “I” aspects of self,– in order to understand the interdependent link between the “I” and the “me”– the “I” must be implied by the “me”. And, in order for the “me” to imply the “I”, the concept of negation must be included in the description of the self. Instead of conceiving of the self as the “I” component opposed to the “me” component, it becomes more precise, logically, to conceive of the self as discontinuity (negation) occurring in continuity (”me”). In so far as continuity (”me”) experiences its own negation, it experiences, by implication, its “I”. Another way to think about this idea is to recognize that the existence of any negation whatsoever implies the existence of that which is negated. What I am describing here is the nature of Descartes argument, “I think therefore I am.” The fact that Descartes found himself in the posture of negating (doubting) his very existence implied that there was something there to negate in the first place. From the certainty of this one proposition, Descartes, went on to write his Discourse on Method and other philosophical works.

Once you see that the “I” of self is a consequence of the negation of the “me” of self, you encounter that aspect of self which uniquely defines the human condition. This implied “I”, in addition to characterizing everything that Mead says it does, also represents the universality of identity proper and it is this universality of identity which becomes the source of all language (in the propositional sense), number, artistic expression, religion and self-determined behavior. In so far as we are able to identify a particular state of affairs as occurring or not occurring we are, via the implicative nature of negation, able to identify the prohibitive aspect of  this same state of affairs occurring and not occurring at the same time. This principle (self-contradiction) is applied frequently in analytical thought, but we also use it to determine consistent behavior from inconsistent behavior.

After first identifying our priorities in life, we use this principle  to determine if our beliefs and behavior are consistent. For instance, if I were to quit my job in order to experience more time for myself, I would, in a very brief time, come to realize that employment is an essential prerequisite for the experience of satisfying free time, hence quitting my job would be inconsistent with my desired goal. Even though a fairly straight forward conclusion can be drawn from my thinking here, in real life things become muddy. If there is one lesson which we have to learn again and again, it is that when a person’s priorities, either by choice or by a deficiency in the basic necessities of life, are solely determined by a desire for immediate sense gratification, that in almost every case, these people become the victims and prisoners of their own fear, prejudice, greed and violence.

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One Response to “The “I” and the “Me””

  1. bwinwnbwi Says:

    Mead’s “me” and “I” aspects of self are an accurate description of self. But, in order to give logical consistency to the “me” and “I” aspects of self, – in order to understand the interdependent link between the “I” and the “me”—the concept of negation must be included in the description of self. Instead of conceiving self as the “I” component opposed to the “me” component, it becomes more precise, logically speaking, to conceive of self as discontinuity (negation) occurring in continuity (”me”). In so far as continuity (”me”) experiences its own negation, it experiences, by implication, its “I”.

    Or, in other words, the defining aspect of self—the physical space of (b~b), i.e., our beliefs and behavior, become contingent upon the ~b of (~bb)–or the product that arises from negation occurring in continuity, i.e., the source of the self’s spontaneity, impulsiveness and creativity.

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