Archive for September, 2009

Critical Thinking/Meaning and Meaning Making

September 30, 2009

It is not unusual, upon a careful reading of another’s work, to discover themes unintended by the author. Such is the case here as Mead’s behaviorist account of self and society is given a more expansive interpretation. As a result, Mead’s me-self and I-self are transformed into conflicting collective voices, that under this new interpretation—begin the process of the dialogical juggling of multiple collective voices that ultimately “… bridge(s) the domains of social conflict and unity, because dialogical relationships allow for the existence of both agreement and disagreement and for both intersubjective exchange and dominance.”

As A Society Is Rent By Hostile Divisions, So Will Be The Selves Of Its Citizens

The Self Derives Its Unity, Not From Empathic And Rational Internalization Of A Generalized Other; Rather, It Is Forged In The Emotional Intensity Of Mob- Like Hatred Of An Out-Group

Collective Voice and the “Other”

In his critical evaluation of Mead’s self-concept, Gregg (1991) concluded that Mead is proposing two different self-models. There is, of course, the self-model heretofore described where the self is emphasized as rational, based in society, and unified by the generalized other. Gregg, however, has identified another self in Mead’s work that tends to dominate in social relations and therefore expresses more of the irrational side of human affections. It is the tension that occurs between these two selves that, for Gregg, proves to be critical in reflections on the relationship that exists between self and society.

Gregg takes the position that Mead developed, (Mead’s theoretical notion that society is a unified system resulting from a person’s cognitive ability to adapt the attitude of the generalized other, which, in turn, becomes the attitude of the community as a whole), and counters this position with Mead’s other theory that connects the concepts of superiority and opposition to the relation of person and society. In Gregg’s analysis, a “reconciliation of differences” is emphasized. According to Gregg (1991: 185), “Unsocialized, the individual would founder in irrational selfishness; partially socialized, he becomes rational and moral, and the interests of his multiple selves are consolidated into a superordinate self-interest, which in its turn has been coordinated with the interests of all.” Gregg posed the question: “But from whence does unity come?” and concluded that Mead’s social structure is not unlike Rousseau’s “General Will” which reconciles the opposing interests of individuals to the common good.

It is this theme of differentiation of interests, that is, the division of the superiority of in-group opposed to out-group, which Gregg traces in Mead’s work (Mead, 1934: 207-208; 220-221), and identifies as Mead’s counter theory of self. For instance, expressing an interest in the relation between primitive and civilized societies, Mead compares the primitive’s conception of the ‘double’ with a child’s imaginary playmate (Mead, 1934: 40), and considers them, in relation to the preceding higher game stage, to be both lower forms of self-development. Mead (1934: 265) further states, in reference to a more integrated civilization: “We are struggling now to get a certain amount of international-mindedness… The vivid nationalism of the present period should, in the end, call out an international attitude of the larger community.” Gregg (1991: 185) points out the natural corollary, which follows from this distinction of levels of civility:

“By making this primitive versus civilized distinction, by asserting with such confidence that personal unification is in fact achieved in the social, and by lamenting that a generalized other has yet to be attained in the sphere of international relations, Mead made it clear that he believed “modern”–or at least modern American–society had achieved a harmonious unification of its various differentiated parts. But this view also implies a neo-Marxist corollary he was unwilling to state: to the extent that a society is rent by irreconcilable and hostile divisions, so will be the selves of its citizens.”

It is the case for Gregg that the realization of self requires the ability to see oneself in terms of distinctions of superiority/inferiority, me/not me distinctions, and, as is the case for Mead, this self-realization may be reflected in a person’s identification with the “superior group.” Accordingly, Gregg (1991: 186) is able to answer his own question, “From whence does this unity of self come?” when he states: “The self derives its unity not from empathic and rational internalization of a generalized other that has been made possible by the modern age’s achievement of rational social institutions. Rather, it is forged in the emotional intensity of mob-like hatred of an out-group.”

The Me-Self In The Role Of Multiple Voices Adds A Narrative Dimension To Mead’s Self

When A Person Is Mentally Able To Differentiate, Oppose, And Synthesize Conflicting Collective Voices, Meaning Is Birthed, Values Are Tested, and Judgments Are Authenticated

Hermans and Kempen (1993), in their book, The Dialogical Self, reconstruct Gregg’s analysis of Mead’s self-concept in order to show how the me-self or generalized other can function as a relatively autonomous (as opposed to an internalized, conventional given) creative voice in the self.

[Footnote. In the dialogical view of self the concepts of dialogue and self are brought together in a conversationalist view of self which holds that the self is not “… an intrapsychic but a relational phenomenon, that typically transcends the boundaries between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside.’ This view of the self,” according to Hermans and Kempen (1993: xxi), “opens a possibility to study ‘meaning,’ and ‘meaning making’ in particular, as a ‘movement’ between dialogical positions.”]

Hermans and Kempen, as with Gregg before them, did not cite Mead’s two different theories, –societal unity as expressed in the generalized other (his main theory) and reflections concerning conflict and superiority (his counter theory), –in order to reject Mead’s theory. Rather, it is the tension that exists between these two theories that Hermans and Kempen, and Gregg cite as the starting point for further analysis.

This analysis, for Hermans and Kempen, becomes expressed in a reformulation of Mead’s me-self and I-self as the collective voice of the generalized other. Interpreting the tension between the two models of Mead’s opposing theories as Mead’s own use of collective voices, Hermans and Kempen, are able to show how the me-self, in the role of multiple voices of different generalized others, adds a narrative dimension to Mead’s behavioristic account of self and society. In order to illustrate this narrative dimension Hermans and Kempen cite an example from James’ book, The Principles Of Psychology, in which James (1890) states: “As a man I pity you, but as an official I must show you no mercy; as a politician I regard him as an ally, but as a moralist I loathe him.”

From a theoretical point of view, this example is instructive for the following reasons: 1) An individual person is speaking through the viewpoint of the group–Mead’s generalized other; 2) The voices that are being used are collective and in disagreement; 3) These two collective, but opposite, positions are, in the mind of the self-reflective person, being interrelated in a constructive or (co-) constructive manner. When taken collectively, these three positions represent the capacity of a person to mentally differentiate, oppose and synthesize conflicting collective voices. At the heart of this process meaning is birthed, values are tested, and judgments are authenticated against realizable human experience. James’ politician, in this respect, is not responding “…to an internalized and stabilized attitude or set of rules, but as a person-in-a-social-position, who is involved in shaping the world of politics” (Hermans and Kempen, 1993: 115). According to Hermans and Kempen (1993: 116), it is this dialogical juggling of multiple collective voices that is taken up in self-narratives and it is this process of self-narrative that “… bridge(s) the domains of social conflict and unity, because dialogical relationships allow for the existence of both agreement and disagreement and for both intersubjective exchange and dominance.”

There is, I believe, a way to understand the collective voices of the generalized other without departing from Mead’s conceptual framework, and, without reverting to a Jamesian model of self.


The Origin Of Meaning

September 30, 2009

Non Being’s Positive Side Chap 6 Being What Is Not (I Self) While Not Being What Is (Me Self). What makes humans unique is that they have selves, an I-self and me-self. The origin of meaning can be traced to the intermingling of these selves in the I/me couplet. The human capacity “to think” develops as a consequence of this intermingling.

Two Exclusive Self-Components In Relationship-Me-Self, I-Self, Social Identity

The Complete Self Is Thus A Reflection Of the Complete Social Process

Self-Reflexive Identity

Mead’s Self and Society

Mead’s particular social behaviorist interpretation of the self was influenced by the behaviorism of Watson (1958), the psychology of James (1910), and the psychophysical parallelism of Wundt (1920). According to Mead’s behaviorism, human beings have self’s, and because they have self’s, human beings can be understood as a product of their environment.

Mead drew upon Wundt’s analysis of the role of gesture in language as the means to describe the social mechanism for the inner restructuring of experience into self and other. According to Mead, we learn to recognize and attach a social meaning to gestures as they are presented to us in a social context. For example, we learn very quickly, after a physical encounter with a bully, that the gesture of a clenched fist is not an invitation to freely speak one’s opinions. In this sense, a person, through the imaginative completion of a portentous act, is able to share in the social experience of the other person. By engaging in role taking (hopefully under more friendly circumstances) we become socialized to cultural norms, as we become part of culture.

From this notion of meaningful gesture Mead was able to develop his theory, which recognizes that we act toward ourselves in the same manner that we act toward other people. Mead (1934: 80) developed this idea in his characterization of the logical structure of meaning when he described meaning as:

“…found in the threefold relationship of gesture to adjustive response and to the resultant of the given social act. Response on the part of the second organism to the gesture of the first is the interpretation–and brings out the meaning–of that gesture, as indicating the resultant of the social act which it initiates, and in which both organisms are thus involved. This threefold or triadic relation between gesture, adjustive response, and resultant of the social act which the gesture initiates is the basis of meaning….”

Mead’s social psychology is not a deterministic model of human behavior however. Novelty and spontaneity are permitted within the reflexive point and counterpoint of Mead’s I/me couplet. Mead, like James (1910) before him, understood the self to be divided into two mutually exclusive components, the I-self and the me-self. Mead’s theory asserts the me-self to be the identity — the social identity — of which the I-self becomes conscious in the development of the child.

This process occurs in two stages. In the play stage the child learns to take on the attitude of others toward them. At this stage the child learns to imitate behavior as she/he begins to play at taking on the different roles of some significant other, for example, doctor, policeman, teacher, etc.. In the second stage, or, the game stage, the child learns to internalize social roles and the rules governing the roles of significant others. The game stage is the “completing” stage of self.

In the game stage of self-development there arises, in the child, an awareness of the socially defined roles of the generalized other. The personality develops, indeed, the capacity to think at all, develops from the ability to take the attitude of the generalized other toward oneself. It is this generalized other that, in addition to giving the self a sense of completeness, also, permits the social process to have a determining affect on the persons involved in carrying it out. Mead (1934: 144) states: “[T]he various elementary selves which constitute, or are organized into, a complete self are the various aspects of the structure of the complete self answering to the various aspects of the structure of the social process as a whole; the structure of the complete self is thus a reflection of the complete social process.”

The “I” Both Calls Out To “Me” And Responds To It

The I-Self Is Identical With The Analytic Process Of Cognition And Implies That Human Beings Can Never Be Mere Reflections Of Society

Once the I-self has become conscious in the child’s development, or, to put it another way, once the child is fully able to take a position concerning the generalized other, then novelty, spontaneity, impulsiveness, and creativity become realizable potentials of behavior. The awareness of creative behavior, however, is always discovered within the me-self. The “I” gives to the self its novelty and innovation while the “me” directs this novelty and innovation. Mead (1934: 178) expresses this idea as follows:

“The two are separated in the process but they belong together in the sense of being parts of a whole… The “me’ does call for a certain sort of an “I” in so far as we meet the obligations that are given in conduct itself, but the “I” is always something different from what the situation itself calls for. So there is always that distinction, if you like, between the “I” and the “me.” The “I” both calls out the “me” and responds to it. Taken together they constitute a personality as it appears in social experience.”

Mead’s me-self, as it may be understood to represent the common values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions, and expectations of the group, is not a controversial idea. Mead’s I-self, on the other hand, does represent something of a paradox. For instance, it is, according to Zeitlin (1973: 227), “essentially biologic and impulsive, it is blind and unconscious” but it also “represents freedom, spontaneity, novelty, initiative.” Reynolds (1993: 61) further elaborates on the complex and potentially confusing nature of Mead’s I-self:

“Suffice it to say that the “I” is a manifestation of both natural needs and impulses (Mead lists 10), that it is a process of thinking as well as acting (Mead, 1912:405, says it “is identical with the analytic or synthetic process of cognition”), and that, because it represents the truly spontaneous and unpredictable, its existence implies that human beings can never be mere reflections of society and will never be those completely passive agents Dennis Wrong (1961) referred to as oversocialized.”

If Mead’s “I” represents “the truly spontaneous and unpredictable” in human behavior then it becomes awkward, if not impossible, to understand how the “I” can function in a narrative role, especially in the sense that Giddens’ used the term narrative; that is, “to keep in touch with one’s self-identity”. I do believe, however, that it would take only a slight modification in the way we understand Mead’s I/me couplet in order to understand the “I” in terms of narrative, and thus to understand the role narrative plays in Mead’s description of self and society.

“Contemporary self understanding requires,” according to Weigert (1995: 6), “social psychologies that bridge biography and history, self and society, body and self.” In keeping with this plea for consistency, I will attempt to address all three categories in my discussion of the self-concept, starting where I left off; that is, with a follow up to Mead’s social behavioristic model of self and society.

The Future Is Drawn Into The Present By Means Of The Reflexive Organization Of Knowledge Environments

September 30, 2009

My short story has a changed title: Non Being’s Positive Side. The being of non-being is about more than non-being, for starters try reflexivity. In this post I tell the story of an ambivalence-inducing culture that produces a positive affect. According to Giddens, modern society’s complexly mingled and juxtaposed messages from many sources may be reflexively channeled by the individual to not only liberate the individual from the constraining aspects of traditional culture but, also, to self-actualize the individual in the reflexively mobilized order that characterizes late modernity.

Ambivalence-Out Of The Darkness Shads Of Light

If Individuals Are To Organize Their Own Relation To The Encompassing Social World, A Maximum Of Reflexivity Is Required

The Self-Actualizing Aspect of Ambivalence in Late Modernity

If, however, the human being is naturally inclined to produce an overgrowth of cultural objects (as is the result when the individual is identified with the boundary that simultaneously separates and joins the individual to society), then perhaps a description of ambivalence in negative terms is incomplete. Perhaps, in addition to ambivalence’s negative consequences, there is something about ambivalence that brings forth the essential creative capacities of human kind. This is precisely the direction Giddens (1991) takes in Modernity and Self-Identity. In this book Giddens discusses the “emergence of new mechanisms of self-identity” in relation to the liberating aspects of an ambivalence-inducing culture. Without loosing sight of an ambivalence induced cultural pathos (for example, living with the fear of: apocalyptic catastrophe–the bomb, ecological catastrophe, the rise of totalitarian superstates, the elimination of questions of morality and ethics from the sciences, technology that instrumentalizes one’s relationship to nature, the collapse of global economic mechanisms, the continued differential exclusion of the haves from the have-nots, etc.), Giddens describes how modern society’s complexly mingled and juxtaposed messages from many sources may be reflexively channeled by the individual to not only liberate the individual from the constraining aspects of traditional culture but, also, to self-actualize the individual in the reflexively mobilized order that characterizes late modernity.

[Footnote. Two types of reflexivity are defined in Giddens’ Modernity and Self-Identity. Both types characterize modernity, albeit on different interactive levels with the individual. Giddens (1991: 243-244) states:

“Institutional reflexivity: the reflexivity of modernity, involving the routine incorporation of new knowledge or information into environments of action that are thereby reconstituted or reorganized.
Reflexive project of the self: the process whereby self-identity is constituted by the reflexive ordering of self-narratives.”]

According to Giddens (1991: 15), “modernity can be understood as roughly equivalent to the industrialized world.” In this sense, both the industrialized world, or, the social relations implied in the production processes of technology, and, capitalism, which for Giddens means “a system of commodity production involving both competitive product markets and the commodification of labor power,” come together to form a risk culture.

[Footnote. According to Giddens (1991: 196), “modernity opens up the project of the self, but under conditions strongly influenced by standardizing effects of commodity capitalism”. This capitalistic commodification turns labor into a commodity and creates abstract commodities for consumptive purposes–all in an attempt to shape consumption habits as well as monopolize the conditions of production.]

When Giddens uses the term risk culture he does not mean that social life in modern society is any more risky than it use to be. Rather, he (Giddens, 1991: 3) states:

“[T]he concept of risk becomes fundamental to the way both lay actors and technical specialists organize the social world. Under conditions of modernity, the future is continually drawn into the present by means of the reflexive organization of knowledge environments. A territory, as it were, is carved out and colonized. Yet such colonization by its very nature cannot be complete: thinking in terms of risk is vital to assessing how far projects are likely to diverge from their anticipated outcomes.”

In other words, for Giddens, risk and reflexivity, on an individual level and on an institutional level, are the essential ingredients of modernity. Whereas in traditional cultures social environments were more stable, change was routinized, and, the need to calculate outcomes for possible futures were minimized, in modern culture, if individuals are to organize their own relations to the encompassing social world, a maximum of reflexivity is required. In the setting of modernity, the connection of the personal with social change takes place in the reflexive process of self-identity.

A Person’s Identity Manifests In The Ongoing Process Of Personal Narratives

In Order To Have A Sense Of Who We Are, We Have To Have A Notion Of How We Have Become, And Where We Are Going

Giddens did not hesitate in making the distinction between ‘identity’ of the self (as opposed to the self as a generic phenomenon), and the necessity of a reflexive awareness of self. Since Mead (1934) it has been widely recognized that the self constitutes a reflexive process. Although some people are more likely than others to be reflexively self-aware, it is presumed by Giddens that reflexive self-awareness, as an essential element of biography, is a common, cross-culturally practiced phenomenon. It is especially practiced, according to Giddens, in order to “keep in touch” with one’s self-identity. Giddens (1991: 54) states:

“The existential question of self-identity is bound up with the fragile nature of the biography which the individual ‘supplies’ about herself. A person’s identity is not to be found in behavior, nor — important though this is — in the reactions of others, but in the capacity to keep a particular narrative going. The individual’s biography, if she is to maintain regular interaction with others in the day-to-day world, cannot be wholly fictive. It must continually integrate events which occur in the external world, and sort them into the ongoing ‘story’ about the self. As Charles Taylor puts it, ‘In order to have a sense of who we are, we have to have a notion of how we have become, and of where we are going.’”

From whence does a person’s self-narrative or biography come? Giddens would probably respond to this question by saying: reflexive self-awareness arises from a person’s need to sustain a healthy state of mind [especially] under the conditions of modernity which, more often than not, is characterized by a person’s evaluation of her/his future in terms of fragmentation and uncertainty. Thom (1983) and Simmel (1918) would probably agree with Giddens, but they would add that the experience of fragmentation and uncertainty could just as easily arise from a person’s processing of self-reflexive awareness as it could from the “risk conditions” of modernity. Mead, on the other hand, would probably answer the question, not by referring to the concepts, fragmentation and uncertainty, but, by locating the genesis of narrative and biography in the socialization process itself.

Mead would probably agree that self-narrative and biography are products of the reflexive nature of self, but he would also point out that within the contextualization of self, whether it is taken as an object or subject, there will always exist the “content” of some basic form of social relation. We never experience reflexive self-awareness in its pure form, since we never experience it in a social vacuum. The self, in its reflexivity, will always set itself apart from, and, in the process, be able to communicate with some meaningfully rich social construct. According to Mead (1934: 142), “It is this fact [that the individual is an object to himself, and,…he is not a self in the reflexive sense unless he is an object to himself], that gives a critical importance to communication, since this is a type of behavior in which the individual does so respond to himself.” It is for this reason that self-narrative becomes even more meaningful (less fragmented) when the individual integrates her/his self-narrative back into the social continuum from whence it came. Once again, according Taylor (1989: 234), “In order to have a sense of who we are, we have to have a notion of how we have become, and of where we are going.” It is my contention that the experience of fragmentation and uncertainty can and does arise from the active processing of self-reflexive activity, albeit certain kinds of self-reflexive activity. In order to understand why this occurs it will be necessary to more fully develop Mead’s concept of self.

Genocide Escaping The Ambivalence

September 30, 2009

Being What Is Not While Not Being What Is has provoked more than one atrocity. The atrocity to end all atrocities didn’t happen. However, the doomsday cloak during the Cuban Missile Crisis hit 11:59 and as one of the adolescent boys attending a sleepover on that critical day, I was the only one in the group worried that I might never see my parents alive again. Back then the possibility of Genocide was a mere button push away. According to the two authors cited below there are good reasons to believe that in the future dehumanizing and immoral behavior will increase, not decrease. Advances in science and technology will not help; in fact, in this respect, as the scope of science and technology increases so will the frequency and boundaries of atrocious behavior.

The More Modern Society Attempts To Abolish Ambivalence The More Ambivalence Expands

As The Desire For Exactitude And Discreteness Continues To Departmentalize The World, The More The Ambivalence-Producing-Process Characterizes Modern Society

Ambivalence: The Negative Affect

Weigert (1991: 25) suggests that human beings are prone to ambivalence because primary ambivalence may be understood as an outcome of “an anthropological possibility rooted in a philosophical understanding of the relatively instinctless nature of the human organism.” Ambivalence has also been described by Weigert, as a “cultural pathos,” which, for the most part, gets expressed in terms of the conflicting emotions that are encountered in the daily round of human experience.

In pre-modern societies there were numerous cultural mechanisms that provided a means to escape ambivalence. According to Wiegert (1991: 157), myths, art, and religion were, in past cultures, “more influential in presenting paragons of action for the purpose of channeling contradictory emotions.” It is because, in modern society, the cultural forms of myth, art, and religion have been reduced to a secondary or inferior status, vis-à-vis science and technology, that persons, today, lack the “synthesizing mythopoeic transcendental stories for reconciling their contradictory emotions” (Wiegert, 1991: 157). Thus, for Wiegert, these conflicting emotions have become recognized as a social object, which we have come to know and identify with the word ambivalence.

Ambivalence, as a consequence of a shift in values away from traditional culture to the more modern, digitally based processes of transformation, will increase over time and this, according to Wiegert, is why modernity may be described as a cultural pathos. Modernity, try as it may, will not reconcile this cultural pathos with its rapid colonization of the future. Wiegert (1991: 165) states:

“[I]ts characteristic features, such as science, technology, computer rationality, near instantaneous communication, bio- and material engineering, indeed, any form of functional rationality cannot resolve ambivalence. These forms of rationality generate further ambivalence by enlarging the scope of responsibility; entailing more and longer lasting consequences, both foreseen and unforeseen; and providing no intrinsic values to guide action. In a word, the characteristic institutions of modern society are the driving forces of an ambivalence-inducing culture.”

Ironically, the more modern society goes about its business of abolishing ambivalence the more ambivalence gets produced.

This negative connection between modernity, culture, and ambivalence is further elaborated in Bauman’s (1991) Modernity And Ambivalence. Bauman, rather than identifying ambivalence with conflicting emotions, as is the case with Weigert, focuses more on the symbolic aspect of ambivalence. Ambivalence emanates from the human being’s capacity and need for symbolic expression. According to Bauman (1991: 1):

“[A]mbivalence, the possibility of assigning an object or an event to more than one category, is a language-specific disorder: a failure of the naming (segregating) function that language is meant to perform. The main symptom of disorder is the acute discomfort we feel when we are unable to read the situation properly and to choose between alternative actions.”

Ambivalence, in this sense, becomes a side-product of the desire to classify. As the desire to classify breaks out into the language of certainty and reasoned justification, the world becomes departmentalized. As the desire for ever more exactitude and discreteness continues to departmentalize the world, more ambivalence gets produced and this ambivalence-producing process is what characterizes modernity.

Floating Responsibilities, Purposeful Action, And Misplaced Moral Principles

New Technologies Produce More And Longer Lasting Consequences, Both Seen And Unseen

Bauman traces the modern penchant for division, domination, order, reason-induced artificiality, technology, and the “domain of the experts,” to the over zealous hopes and promises generated at the time of the Enlightenment philosophers. It was this newly discovered “faith in rational thought” that eventually would transform uncertainty into certainty, and, with time and knowledge, transform ambivalence into transparency. Instead, modernity, in its turbulent rush onward, has, according to Bauman (1991: 50), “emancipated purposeful action from moral constraints (in the name of social engineering and the quest for truth), thereby rendering human genocide possible.”

An ambivalence-induced cultural pathos, in its most extreme case, may result in the blurring of boundaries between purposeful action and moral principles. Modernity may not be the sufficient cause of genocide, according to Bauman, but it is its necessary condition. He (Bauman, 1991: 50) states:

“The ability to coordinate human action on a massive scale, a technology that allows one to act effectively at a large distance from the object of action, minute division of labor which allows for spectacular progress in expertise on the one hand and floating of responsibility on the other, accumulation of knowledge incomprehensible to the layman and the authority of science which grows with it, the science-sponsored mental climate of instrumental rationality that allows social-engineering designs to be argued and justified solely in reference to their technical feasibility and availability of ‘under-employed’ resources (all these to be put in service of the relentless lust for order, transparency, unambiguity) are all integral attributes of modernity.”

Weigert, in his discussion on Lifton’s (1986) study of Nazi doctors operating the genocide of the German concentration camps, describes this same set of concerns when he suggests that the act of genocide is an escape from severe ambivalence into a psychological condition where everything is permitted as an expression of one’s “scientific identity”. According to Weigert (1991: 177):

“The Nazi doctors double forth an “Auschwitz self” within whose social world the daily degradation, torture, and murder of thousands of victims not only is acceptable but is transformed into a preferred moral act. The Auschwitz self believes in such contradictory imperatives as ‘therapeutic killing’ that is not in violation of, but demanded by, their identities as doctors.”

As science and technology advance, the scope of individual and collective responsibility becomes blurred. New technologies do not produce intrinsic values to guide action. Rather, new technologies produce more and longer lasting consequences, both seen and unseen; consequently, the more modern society goes about subverting ambivalence through technological progress, the more modern society produces ambivalence. This ambivalence may have, as has been pointed out by both Bauman and Weigert, devastating consequences.

Wikipedia Predicted In 1918

September 30, 2009

Being what is not while not being what is– is steeped in travail. Neurosis, anomie, existential angst, alienation…all have been mentioned as possible outcomes, but perhaps the most interesting outcome was pointed out by Simmel in the early part of the 20th century when he basically said that we humans are fordoomed to overcome our boundaries creating an overgrowth of culture impossible to assimilate or master “thus the misery.” As a result we moderns not only live in a culture that demands more time than we can give “just to keep up,” we also live in a culture that as Giddens (1991) says, has “institutionalized the principle of radical doubt and insists that all knowledge takes the form of hypotheses: claims which may very well be true, but which are in principle always open to revision and may have at some point to be abandoned.”

Simmel (1918) Used The Concepts Of Neither/Nor And Ambivalence As Heuristic Tools

The Inability To “Keep Up” May Also Be Seen As, In A Society That Demands More And More Of A Person’s Time For Mere Information Processing, The Cause Of An Ambivalence-Inducing Cultural Pathos

Simmel’s sociological interests moved him to study a wide range of subject matter. He studied historical life from the standpoint of sociological forms. He studied the problematic philosophical borders, which surround sociology in general, and, in a more applied sense, he studied the day-to-day expressions of what he called pure societal forms.

Simmel fit his theoretical orientation to the study of these subjects, both in their selection and in terms of analysis, and was able to use the concepts of neither/nor and ambivalence as heuristic tools for the analysis of these subjects. In the sociology of sexuality, for example, Simmel explored the eroticism of flirtation. In flirting behavior there is an offer and then a withdrawal. The illusion of a promise is first made and then broken. Within the context of a maybe yes, maybe no, the promise remains unfulfilled.

In a like manner, Simmel explored the sociology of conversation, and, relations of inferiority and superiority. In both of these areas Simmel noted the interplay of dependencies, the significant influence of inferior on superior and the reverse, and, in terms of the sociability of conversation, the necessity of two-wayness. When talk becomes talk for its own sake, as opposed to goal-directed inquiries, conversation shifts back and forth, without purpose, rule, or direction, linking one association to another. This is called talk for the sake of talking.

The study of fashion, for Simmel, was also open to a two-way description that could easily be constructed in terms of ambivalence. “Fashion, any form”, according to Thom (1983: 192), “speaks to a fundamental ambivalence: the need to be different and outstanding and unique on the one hand; the need to belong, to imitate, to be equal or to fuse on the other.” Being fashionable, as a sociological form, succeeds at the expense of its own destruction. The more people partake in fashion, the more fashionable the fashion becomes; the more fashionable the fashion becomes, the less distinctive and fashionable become the people who partake in the fashion.

Simmel investigated metropolitan life forms and, in the process, discovered the phenomenon of the overgrowth of objective culture–”the sum total of all the results of man’s form-giving creativity” (Thom, 1983 : 194). For Simmel, the human being, as boundary and overcoming boundaries, is fordoomed to create an overgrowth of culture. He recognized that ever increasing amounts of cultural information could have an overwhelming, negative affect on the individual. According to Thom (1983: 196), Simmel points out that in the excessive growth of cultural objects we discover “the obvious limitations on our capacity to assimilate, master, use, and gain information about cultural objects…it cannot be said that they [cultural objects] are completely meaningless. Thus the misery.” This inability to assimilate the multifarious aspects of culturally meaningful information is, for Thom, seen to be the cause of anomie. The inability to “keep up” or “go on” may also be seen as, in a society that demands more and more of a person’s time for mere information processing, the cause of what Weigert (1991) calls “an ambivalence-inducing cultural pathos”.

At the turn of the century, when Simmel pursued his sociological investigations, there occurred a proliferation of cultural forms. Modernity, in the 1990’s, in addition to compounding the availability of meaningful information that cannot be processed by any one person, creates, also, the anxiety that follows from not knowing how to judge the significance of the available meaningful information. Modernity, as Giddens (1991: 3) describes, “institutionalizes the principle of radical doubt and insists that all knowledge takes the form of hypotheses: claims which may very well be true, but which are in principle always open to revision and may have at some point to be abandoned.” In the 1990s the ambivalence-inducing informational onslaught continues unabated. What Simmel first described as an overgrowth of objective culture, has now become, for modern and post-modern thinkers alike, a very serious subject.

We Are Our Boundaries

September 30, 2009

Whether the theme—being what is not while not being what is, is encountered in Sartre’s Being And Nothingness (the “hole” in my self-consciousness that permits human reality while remaining just outside the reach of this reality), or in Freud’s simultaneous attractive and repulsive forces, Eros and death wish, or in Thom’s definition of self, or in Simmel’s self as sociological category—the subject matter of this post, the effect is almost always immediate, a thoughtful person’s head start’s to spin (sometimes out of control).

Life Is A Process Of Continual Differentiation And Then Death- Dedifferentiation

Primitive Ambivalence-The Self Is, Only In Its Relation To What It Is Not, And, It Is Not, Only In Its Relation To What It Is

Thom (1984), in his book, The Human Nature of Social Discontent, raises the attractive (binding) and repulsive (destructive) forces of what Freud takes to be Eros and the death instinct to a new level of self-definition. Drawing upon various diverse literatures, for example, Schrodinger’s discussion of the nature of life, symbolic anthropology, Sartre’s “psychoanalysis of things,” and comparative religion, Thom understands the life process to be one of continual differentiation, while death becomes dedifferentiation. Life, for Tom, becomes associated with what is conscious and death becomes associated with the unconscious. In Thom’s definition of self, this conscious/unconscious distinction gets synthesized and expressed. Thom (1984: xi) defines the self as:

“…the symbolic union of the conscious and unconscious: the overcoming of the primitive ambivalence or opposition between the modes of difference and no difference. As such, it appears to reproduce its basic structure in every form it creates or observes, since every form can be expressed as some combination of difference and equality, dividing and making equal or identical. This is true of the most elementary distinction we might make, since any distinction not only establishes difference but also ‘makes identical’ both what it distinguishes and what it distinguishes from.”

Thus, for Thom, the relational structure of self is such that it is, only in its relation to what it is not, and, it is not, only in its relation to what it is. This ambivalence-self dichotomy becomes the self’s ontologically primary experience which must be continually overcome in a person’s day-to-day experience. In this way, the self, as a constructive process, accommodates life’s trials and travails as it is continually brought into existence, and, it is this condition, where, according to Thom, we find the seeds of alienation and anomie.

Ambivalence, as a subject for theoretical investigation, has its own history. Ambivalence has been described in literature dating at least as far back as the ancient Greeks, but it was not, specifically, coined as a word referring to various kinds of conflict until Bleuler (1910) coined the word around the turn of the century. Bleuler identified three types of ambivalence which, according to Merton (1976: 3), may be characterized as: “the emotional (or affective) type in which the same object arouses both positive and negative feelings, as in parent-child relations; the voluntary (or conative) type in which conflicting wishes make it difficult or impossible to decide how to act; and the intellectual (or cognitive) type, in which men hold contradictory ideas.” Ever since Bleuler, ambivalence has been an object for investigation by psychologists and, to a lesser extent, sociologists.

In sociological terms, Merton (1976: 7) analyzed ambivalence and located ambivalence in the social definitions that “deal with the processes through which social structures generate the circumstances in which ambivalence is embedded in particular statuses and status-sets together with their associated social roles.” As an example of this kind of ambivalence, Merton suggests that a doctor encounters ambivalence every time she/he is compelled to honestly inform the patient of her/his condition, even though this information may cause the patient’s suffering to increase. Merton believes psychological ambivalence originates from different types of socially induced encounters with ambivalence.

If we take the position that ambivalence is, at least to some extent, governable by what Angyal (1941: 118) calls the “narrower conscious of the symbolic self,” then, it seems to me, that a psychological approach to ambivalence becomes desirable. This debate, however, becomes mute in the thought of the man who affectively merged the psychological and sociological perspectives concerning ambivalence.

As Simmel Puts It: We Are Our Boundaries

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

Ambivalence: Interplay of Social/Psychological Dependencies

For Simmel (1918) the individual is simultaneously social and individual, social, in the form of the product of sociological categories, and individual, as the stranger existing outside of sociological categories. In this way, according to Thom (1983: 187), “Simmel inserts a conceptual wedge between the development and cultivation of individuals and the progress of objective culture. It is, then, within the range of penetration of this conceptual wedge, where an eruption of social/psychological ambivalence can be found.

Encountered in Simmel’s conception of man as a social animal we find the interplay of dependencies. 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. As Thom (1982: 185) states:

“(T)he notion of ambivalence as a split between these two basic modes of being [gets reflected in Simmel’s] preoccupation with boundaries which mark and maintain differences. As Simmel puts it: we are our boundaries. We are also the reaching out across them. We are too ready to see one or the other faction as our essential being.”

Because of the way Simmel defines the “social animal,” the socialization process, for Simmel, is unique. The individual and society form a complex unit of interdependently woven parts. “Society,” says Simmel (1918/1971: 72), “in order to attain a determinate shape, needs some quantitative ratio of harmony and disharmony, of association and competition, of favorable and unfavorable tendencies.” From within this entanglement of circumstance society progresses from simple to more complex forms of organization and, accordingly, a proliferation of complex relations between people arise.

In this web of human interactions, the whole and the parts are, to paraphrase Aron, reciprocally opposed to each other; while at the same time they define a natural unity (Martindale, 1981: 233). The individual who constitutes society expresses this natural unity, but this expression is itself a result of the unifying experience of the social unit. It is in the framework of the social unit where the behavior of the individual gets realized and this realized behavior is itself a reflection of the many diverse group behaviors that constitute the social unit.

The socialization process, for Simmel, occurs within the unifying context of the social unit, which, in turn, may be understood in terms of conflict and ambivalence. Simmel (1908/1971: 71) states:

“[T]he individual does not attain the unity of his personality exclusively by an exhaustive harmonization, according to logical, objective, religious, or ethical norms of the contents of his personality. On the contrary, contradiction and conflict not only precede this unity but are operative in it at every moment of its existence. Just so, there probably exists no social unit in which convergent and divergent currents among its members are not inseparably interwoven.”

This relationship, where society and societal structures are composed of persons who are simultaneously inside and outside of them, where social integration becomes a consequence of polar opposite tendencies occurring between people, is understood by Simmel to be a consequence of what he calls the a priori of society. And, according to Martindale, the meaning of the a priori peculiar to society “is revealed in the fact that between individual and society the ‘within’ and ‘without’ are not two determinations, but rather they are properties of a unitary social being” (Martindale, 1981: 227).

Ambivalence-The Psychological, Ontological, And Sociological Origins

September 30, 2009

This is the first chapter of my non-fiction short story entitled: Having Fun With Being What Is Not While Not Being What Is. I think it will be around 15 chapters, short chapters, all relating to the title of the story. Actually, it’s the best part of my MA thesis that I wrote back in the ‘90’s; I say best part because what I’m saying stays pretty much on theme and applies really well to the cultural milieu of the present day–And so reads my introduction on Booksie where I am also posting this post. Because I believe the introduction to these next posts are important (at least some of them), I’ll be adding them to my posts here on Blogger.

The Human Animal’s Symbolic Expression Allows For Greater Autonomy

Freud Turned The Concept Of Ambivalence Into The Basis Of His Life’s Work
Chapter One

Freud (1939) turned the concept of ambivalence into the basis for his life’s work. Freud recognized, in his analysis of neurosis, that character traits frequently can be analyzed into combinations or fusions of opposite tendencies. According to Freud (1960: 68), “there is no neurosis without conflict between contradictory and opposed wishes,” whereby “one side of the personality stands for certain wishes, and the other stands for opposed wishes.”

In Freud’s analysis of taboo, ambivalence takes center stage as the affect encountered when there is a strong desire to violate a norm, that is, by definition, a prohibited action. Freud identified the concept of the unconscious mind, at least in part, as the receptacle for these repressed ambivalences.

Perhaps the most well known of the psychoanalytic principles and consequently the one that has generated the most ambivalence, is found in Freud’s Oedipal crisis. The commonly held belief (Oedipal complex) that a son both hates and loves his father, wanting to be close to the father while at the same time wanting to be rid of him, is one of the main themes in psychoanalytic literature.

In a like manner, ambivalence underlies Freud’s death instinct. The simultaneous attractive and repulsive forces of the binding force (Eros) and the destructive force (the death wish) became conceptualized and prioritized in Freudian theory, and, as such, became the cornerstone in the framing of psychoanalytic theory. According to Thom (1983: 104):

“The death instinct, deflected outward by the muscular apparatus, manifests itself in aggression, conflict, strife, hate. Eros, whose task is to build up, join together, make ever greater unities–creator of culture, of civilization–must embezzle instinctual energy from the death instincts, curbing and sublimating aggression. It thereby burdens mankind with an ever increasing sense of guilt, based on destructive impulses and fantasies which are proscribed and prohibited at every turn.”

In order to insure one’s own psychological health, the most productive attitude is one in which the death instinct is directed outward. But, this attitude (with its attendant behaviors) is exactly what the socializing (civilizing) process attempts to block. Freud, with his death instinct, reached into the depths of the psyche and discovered, once again, ambivalence.

Before moving to a discussion of sociological ambivalence, I want to turn attention to ambivalence, as understood by both Angyal (1941) and Thom (1984), as an ontologically primary experience. Angyal’s psychology may be thought of as giving a positive definition to the attractive (binding) and repulsive (destructive) forces of what Freud takes to be Eros and the death instinct.

Acts of aggression, conflict, strife, and hate, although they may be destructive, are, nevertheless, acts of self-determination, that is, acts of qualified self-expression. Life, according to Angyal’s psychological perspective (1941: 48), is a form-giving process, teleologically oriented around ever more expressive forms of self-determination. According to Angyal, “…(it) is an autonomous dynamic event which takes place between the organism and the environment.” In this sense, organisms strive to expand autonomy, but they also move in the opposite direction towards homonomy, or the need to be in harmony with those forces that impinge upon the organism. The tendency toward increased self-determination gets expressed in terms of libidinal, aggressive, and adjudicating behaviors while the movement towards homonomy requires cooperative behavior for group-oriented relationships to work, that is, the binding force that forges ever greater unities.

Again, according to Angyal, “…the human animal is differentiated from other animals by its capacity for symbolic expression and this symbolic expression allows for greater autonomy.” Although a person’ s motivations and self concept may extend into areas which are not directly apprehended by her/his symbolic consciousness, that is, the unconscious mind, it is the symbolic part of the biological subject that “…tends to establish its own autonomous government…The symbolic self becomes a state within a state.” (Angyal, 1941: 118)

[Footnote. It is in the consequential physical acts of the biological self (which, for Freud, are preformed in the service of self-preservation) where Freud locates his death instinct. Freud states: “It really seems as though it is necessary for us to destroy some other thing or person in order to guard against the impulsion to self-destruction. A sad disclosure indeed for the moralist!” (Thom, 1983: 94)]

It is then, the symbolic self, working in unison with the biological self, which, in the first instance, engages in the differentiating movement toward more autonomy as it assimilates randomness (from the environment) and transforms it into order (meaningful and useful information), while, in the second instance, the symbolic self moves toward homonomy when it seeks to share and participate in family, social groups, and a meaningful world order–Umwelt in the Goffman sense of the word. The unfolding of this process is, of course, limited by outside influences and the nature of the organism, and, accordingly, resistance is always a part of this process.

[Footnote. According to Goffman (1971), a person’s Umwelt is “a core of (accomplished) normalcy with which individuals and groups surround themselves.”]

When the death instinct is understood in terms of the autonomous determination of both the biological subject and a person’s psychological activity–the symbolization involved in perception, imagination, thinking, and emotion, then the death instinct as such, may be thought of as the symbolic self working in unison with the biological self to transcend the heteronomous forces (blind happenings) of the physical and social environment. Physically acting out aggressive and violent behavior, and, the act of evaluating the desire to act violently, are expressions of autonomous self-determination, and, accordingly, represent the determination of autonomy over “an ever increasing realm of events” (Angyal, 1941: 48). In other words, a person’s self-determination occurs at the expense of a person’s homonomy (the need to be in harmony with those forces that impinge upon the organism), while, perpetuating homonomy, prohibits the active expression of self-determination. Ambivalence is the inevitable outcome of a person’s desire to both engage self-determination and secure homonomy; one comes at the expense of the other.

Prejudiced Persons Avoid Ambiguity, Non-Prejudiced Persons Do Not

September 30, 2009

Prejudiced Persons Avoid Ambiguity, Non-Prejudiced Persons Do Not

Individuals With A Low Tolerance For Ambivalence Reveal A “Theoretical Resemblance” To Potential Fascists And Ideological Extremists

In Adorno’s classic study (1950), The Authoritarian Personality, we find yet another critique of ambivalence, prejudice, and their connection. According to Adorno et al., the authoritarian personality is the result of a child’s idealized attitudes towards parents who believe child-rearing practices are most successful in highly structured and disciplined environments. Consequently, children, who are not allowed to express mixed emotions and pent up anger toward parents, are likely to vent these negative feelings on weak and vulnerable outgroup members.

[Footnote. Adorno uses Freud’s psychoanalytic principles for the theoretical orientation from which to interpret his data: “For theory as to the structure of personality we have leaned most heavily upon Freud…” (Adorno et al., 1950: 5). In this respect Adorno understands the authoritarian personality and her/his intolerance of ambiguity from a Freudian perspective. Thus, according to Adorno (Adorno et al., 1950: 463):

“High scorers show more rigidity and avoidance of ambiguity; low scorers tend toward greater flexibility and acceptance of ambiguity. The inability, on the part of typical high scorers, to face “ambivalence”–which is emotional ambiguity–has been discussed previously, mainly in connection with their attitude toward parents and toward the other sex: in these and other areas hostile emotions were found to have been repressed and hidden behind a facade of glorification.”]

As a result of these child-rearing practices, an individual tends to harbor within herself/himself pent up hostilities, anger, and aggression. This pent up hostility and anger then, gets vented upon persons who lack authority and power, that is, minorities and weak and defenseless people. Michael Billig condenses Adorno’s characterization of the authoritarian personality in the following statement (1982: 103):

“The picture of the prejudiced person to emerge from the extensive surveys and interviews conducted by Adorno et al. [depicts] ….an individual whose features included a rigid adherence to conventional values, a resistance to introspective self-examination, an admiration of power, an exaggerated and prurient concern with sexual ‘goings on’, a tendency to think in rigid categories, and a belief in the inferiority of outgroups. These disparate traits were linked psychologically by a syndrome which was based on an inability to handle ambivalent feelings.”

Adorno et al. concluded that a deep psychological malaise contributed to the formation of the authoritarian personality, and this malaise was characterized by an intolerance of ambiguities and ambivalences.

The motivational effect of ambivalence as a factor in the formation of the authoritarian personality, and, as a general malaise to be avoided, has not gone unnoticed in other psychological theories. In Festinger’s (1962) A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, and in Rokeach’s (1960) The Open and Closed Mind, ambivalence is seen as a motivating force directed toward the elimination of dissonance. A person who is preoccupied with the elimination of dissonance sees issues in terms of rigid categories. Billig (1982: 146) states:

“Towards the end of A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Festinger in a short section discusses possible individual differences in tolerance for dissonance… Those with a low tolerance for dissonance would have a far greater need to seek consistency in their cognitions and one would expect a person with low tolerance for dissonance to see issues more in terms of “black and white” than would a person of high tolerance for dissonance who might be expected to maintain “grays” in his cognition.”

According to Billig (1982: 146), descriptions of an individual with a low tolerance for ambivalence reveals a “theoretical resemblance to the description of Adorno et al.’s potential fascist, Rokeach’s ideological extremist, or, Festinger’s individual who ‘effectively’ reduces dissonance.”

Best Phrase To Describe A Tolerant Person-Tolerance For Ambiguity

It Is A Serious Error To Ascribe Prejudice And Discrimination To Any Single Taproot

Prejudice: Other Perspectives

The motivational effect of ambivalence suggests that prejudice and closed- mindedness may be predictable responses to the psychological need to escape ambivalence. But, prejudice, as a subject for investigation, is not limited to this particular theoretical perspective. It is, however, probably true that if it were not for the work of Adorno and his associates (1950), Sartre (1965, p. 53) might not have been so sure of himself when he said: “[W]e are now in a position to understand the anti-Semite. He is a man who is afraid. Not of the Jews, to be sure, but of himself, of his own consciousness, of his liberty, of his instincts, of his responsibilities, of solitariness, of change, of society, and of the world – of everything except the Jews.” Sartre’s characterization of prejudice is not unique, however. Lowenthal and Guterman (1949) identified the rigid and dogmatic beliefs that characterize prejudice as “the wish fulfillment of the ‘little man’ who seeks to be less lonely, threatened and isolated” (Held, 1980 : 140).

On the other hand, Adorno et al., probably did not influence Aboud (1988: 4) in her definition of prejudice when she stated: “[P]rejudice refers to an organized predisposition to respond in an unfavorable manner toward people from an ethnic group because of their ethnic affiliation.” Aboud, in her discussion of prejudice, draws upon the theoretical perspective of social-cognitive developmental theories of prejudice.

According to the social-cognitive developmental theory of prejudice, cognitive limitations in the way thought processes develop in children make prejudiced attitudes a developmental by-product in the normal maturation process of a child. Qualitative differences in prejudice, according to this theory, result from the different cognitive stages (Piaget and Weil, 1951) that a child experiences at various ages along the course of his or her development. These stages focus on the egocentric world of a child, first, and then, at around the age of seven, the child begins to perceive a more sociocentric world. At this preoperational stage of cognitive processing prejudiced attitudes are common. Once the child acquires the cognitive skills necessary for concrete operational forms of thinking, around twelve years of age, evaluative judgments become more readily accessible to the child, which, in turn, allows for an increase or a decrease in the frequency of occurrence of prejudiced attitudes.

Another theory of prejudice, Allport’s (1954) reflective theory, proposes that people, in general, are a product of their environment, and, more specifically, people with prejudiced attitudes are a product of an environment where power, status, and competition are reflected in the attitudes of the people who compete for power and status. Prejudice, in this sense, becomes a natural consequence of the socialization process. This is not to say that in Allport’s classic work, The Nature Of Prejudice, a particular perspective on prejudice is presented as “the way it is.” Allport (1952: xvi) is the first to admit that, “It is a serious error to ascribe prejudice and discrimination to any single taproot.” But, it is also the case, that Allport (1952: 506) goes on to critique the various theories of prejudice when he states: “Whether sociological, psychological, or both, the structural point of view has great merit. It explains why piecemeal efforts are not more effective than they are. It tells us that our problem is stitched into the fabric of social living. It convinces us that the cinder-in-the-eye theory is too simple.”

Allport, however, does devote a significant amount of attention to the cognitive processes that encourage prejudiced attitudes. Allport (1952: 175) states: “the cognitive processes of prejudiced people are in general different from the cognitive processes of tolerant people.” In this regard, the significance of ambivalence or ambiguity is not lost in Allport’s discussion of prejudice. According to Allport (1952: 438), the distinctive cognitive processes that mark the mental operations of prejudiced/tolerant people are:

“…the rigidity of their categories, their proneness to bifurcation, to selective perception, to simplification of memory traces, and their need for definite mental structure–even in processes that have nothing directly to do with prejudice. In all these instances our evidence came from studies based on contrasting groups of prejudiced and unprejudiced subjects. Therefore we can assert with confidence that the characteristic mental operations of tolerant personalities are also marked by distinctive (and opposite) attributes… It is not easy to designate with a single phrase the flexibility, the differentiation, and the realism that, on the whole, seem to characterize the mental life of the tolerant individual. Perhaps the best single phrase is that suggested by Else Frenkel-Brunswik, “tolerance for ‘ambiguity.’”

If we are to get a better understanding of how prejudiced attitudes are effected by a tolerance of ambiguity, then we will want to take a closer look at the man whose psychological principles were not only used as the theoretical model for the studies on the authoritarian personality, studies which emphasized the intolerance of ambiguity, but, these principles are themselves, it could be argued, grounded in an abiding concern with ambivalent attitudes.

Racial Beliefs Can Result From Cultural Dilemmas

September 30, 2009

Racial Beliefs Should Not Be Taken As Facts That Can Explain Discrimination

Racial Beliefs Can Result From Cultural Dilemmas Like-Getting Paid For Something You Know Is Wrong


[Footnote. A literature survey has produced a paucity of literature concerning sociological ambivalence and the proposed interdependent linkage concerning ambivalence, self-awareness and prejudice. The researcher has, therefore, chosen to combine the literature on ambivalence, self-awareness, and prejudice with the theoretical foundation used to relate the interdependent relationships between ambivalence, self-awareness and prejudice. The researcher, with this goal in mind, describes: 1) the prejudice-ambivalence connection, 2) the social ramifications of the prejudice-ambivalence connection, 3) the reflexive nature of self-awareness, 4) the reflexive nature of self-awareness as a major component of modernity, and, 5) the resolution of self-reflexivity and ambivalence in what the researcher calls “the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self,” that is, an understanding of how the “inner life of a person”, argumentative consistency, and normative guidelines can be incorporated into a shared discourse in the postmodern era.]

The Prejudice–Ambivalence Connection

In the article entitled, “Prejudice or Ambivalence? Attitudes toward Persons with Disabilities,” Soder (1990) suggests that ambivalence, rather than prejudice, may be taken seriously as a point of departure for exploring the negative affect of attitudes towards persons with physical disabilities. Soder (1990: 227) states:

“Attitudes toward persons with disabilities are often assumed to be negative and prejudiced… The assumption of attitudes as prejudiced is questioned in this article … Instead an interpretation in terms of ambivalence is suggested, where reactions toward persons with disabilities are seen as a result of conflicting values.”

What Soder has in mind is an ambivalence-centered theoretical perspective, which will help us to better understand attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities. This theory will incorporate conflicting values. These conflicting values, Soder informs us, are based on the results of sociometric studies (MacMillan & Morrison, 1984; Altman, 1981; Lapp, 1957), where respondents were seen to show a real preference for real persons with disabilities, and, survey research studies where disabilities were associated with devalued characteristics (Whiteman-Lukoff, 1965). These conflicting values are identified as, on the one hand, benevolent sympathy toward persons with disabilities, and on the other hand, negative valuations of the disability. According to Soder, these conflicting values cannot be understood as indicators of prejudices, and require, if they are to be reconciled, a new theoretical understanding.

Soder, after citing researchers who have, at least in some respect, attempted to use ambivalence as a modeling concept for interpreting a person’s attitudes towards persons with physical disabilities (Lewis, 1973; Farber, 1964; Livneh, 1980), proposes an explanation for why this aspect of inquiry has remained unexplored. Soder (1990: 237) states:

“The traditional methods leave little room for exploring this ambivalence. They are usually designed in order to fulfill the wishes of the researcher to find a one-dimensional explanatory variable for predicting behavior… The bulk of such theories seem to be focused on finding rational ways people use to reach consistency among different conflicting entities (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1975). No matter how sophisticated those rational mechanisms are supposed to be, they leave little room for the idea of people being exposed to and living with constant ambivalence.”

Following a thorough critique of the restrictive nature of attitude research, Soder offers the example of Myrdal’s study (1964), which links the struggles of the American Negro to the values and social structure of society, to make clear how situational influences and conflicting values can be understood in an encompassing theory of ambivalence. Myrdal, instead of reducing racial problems to prejudice and a set of false beliefs, suggests that the source of these problems, at least in part, can be traced to the moral dilemma that, on the one hand, is posed by the American Creed (as it is expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution) and, on the other hand, to the specific economic and political interests which followed from America’s investment in the slave trade. Racial beliefs then, according to Soder (1990: 238), “should not be taken as facts that can explain discrimination. Instead, they should be seen as expressions of the real dilemma that lays at the root of the problem and which is just as much a cultural dilemma as an individual one.”

Soder, in conclusion, offers no conceptual linkage between attitudes towards persons with disabilities and prevailing ideologies and social structures in society. But, he does offer ambivalence “as a sensitizing concept that can guide such research” and, hopefully, at some future date, according to Soder, the conflicting values that coincide with people’s responses to persons with physical disabilities will be analyzed in terms of ideological and structural moral dilemmas.

Attitudes Toward Marginal Groups Tend To Be Conflicted, Uncertain, And As A Result Given To Exaggerated Appraisals

An Overt Expression Of Ambivalence In A Person’s Social Relationship With Others May Cause Friction Within Social Relationships

Another critique of the ambivalence–prejudice connection is found in Katz’s social psychological theory of ambivalence-induced behavioral amplification. According to Katz (1981: x):

“…attitudes toward marginal groups are not simply prejudiced, neutral, or accepting, but tend rather to be deeply conflicted and uncertain, a complex mixture of sympathetic and aversive elements. It is further proposed that as a consequence of the ambivalence, behavior toward group members can be erratic and extreme–either in a positive or negative direction depending on how situational factors affect the attitudinal equation.”

Some of Katz’s research tends to support Myrdal’s thesis (1944) that the key to understanding race relations in America will be found in a theoretical understanding that explains why Whites maintain ambivalent attitudes toward Blacks. In two relevant studies (Katz et al., 1986; Katz and Hass, 1988) it is demonstrated, for example, that “Whites are ambivalent because some of their values compel them to sympathize with Blacks (e.g., egalitarianism), whereas other values imply Blacks have failed to use their opportunities (e.g., Protestant work ethic)” (Leippe and Eisenstadt, 1994: 397).

Two more studies suggest ambivalence-induced negative affects, at least indirectly, may produce prejudiced attitudes (Hass, Katz, Rizzo, Bailey, Eisenstadt, 1991; Hass, Katz, Rizzo, Bailey, Moore, 1992). In the former study ambivalent attitudes were found to produce extreme effects in cross-racial attitude appraisals. Black participants tended to be appraised at the extreme ends of the good/bad scale by White participants in the completion of a task-related project. This result was in opposition to White participants appraising White participants for the completion of the same task. This study lends credence to the claim that attitudes toward marginal groups tend to be conflicted, uncertain, and as a result given to exaggerated appraisals.

In the latter study (Hass, Katz, Rizzo, Bailey, Moore, 1992), support was generated for the claim that ambivalence evokes a negative affect in people who are made aware of their ambivalent attitudes towards Blacks. We are aware, at least since Goffman’s work with stigmatized individuals (1963), that an overt expression of ambivalence in a person’s social relationships with others and in one’s self-presentation may cause friction within social relationships. “Smooth social encounters,” according to Katz, “are governed by presentations of self that are consistent with the expectations and assumptions of the participants. A profuse display of ambivalent emotion, attitudes, or behaviors would certainly disrupt the ‘working consensus’ of the participants and would create conflicts in their ‘definition of the situation’” (Katz, 1981: x). As this study shows, the more a white person is made aware of their ambivalent attitude toward Blacks, the more that person will experience a negative affect, for example, states of agitated anxiety which may “take the form of negative behavior toward members of the out-group” (Hass, et al., 1992: 796).


September 30, 2009

This Theory Is Expected To Help Us Better Understand The Conjugate Complexity Of Prejudice

1997 Thesis

“For every difference that makes us more unique there is a common thread which connects us all. We share the need for home and community, for love and respect. May these common threads form a beautiful world in which all people and all cultures are honored.” — unknown



This research proposes a Self-Awareness theory that theoretically connects prejudiced attitudes with the conceptual framework of self-focused attention, attention directed at personal domains of enduring feelings, opinions, and behavioral tendencies of self, and, with ambivalence, the psychological stress of not knowing how to proceed in a given situation. The claim that ambivalence is a frequent effect of private self-consciousness activity is explored in this thesis. The claim that prejudiced attitudes arise when the presence of ambivalence is excluded from salient private self-consciousness activity is also explored in this thesis.

Responses to a survey questionnaire were collected and the data has been analyzed in order to measure the linkage of prejudiced attitudes, ambivalence, and self-focused attention. Three scales, the 9-item Private Self-Consciousness Scale, the 20-item Multifactor Measure of Whites’ Attitudes Toward Blacks scale, and the 20-item Evaluation of Physically Disabled Persons Measure scale, and two ambivalence-inducing vignettes, were administered to college students.

Results were varied. Of the nine proposed hypotheses four resulted in statistically significant results consistent with the researcher’s expectations. It was concluded that more research is needed if the hypothesized connection between prejudiced attitudes, private self-consciousness activity and ambivalence is to be conclusively established.


Statement Of The Problem

This thesis attempts to advance an understanding of prejudice whereupon the likelihood of a person to seize upon prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans and the likelihood of a person to seize upon prejudiced attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities will be conceptually linked to the proneness of a person to engage self-focused attention.

In this regard, a Self-Awareness theory is proposed that theoretically connects prejudiced attitudes with the conceptual framework of self-focused attention, attention directed at personal domains of enduring feelings, opinions, and behavioral tendencies of self, and, with ambivalence, the psychological stress of not knowing how to proceed in a given situation. The claim that ambivalence is a frequent effect of private self-consciousness activity is explored in this thesis. The claim that prejudiced attitudes arise when the presence of ambivalence is excluded from salient private self-consciousness activity is also explored in this thesis. Responses to a survey questionnaire were collected and the data has been analyzed in order to measure the linkage of prejudiced attitudes, ambivalence, and self-focused attention.

This thesis attempts to advance an understanding of prejudice/tolerance by measuring respondents’ attitudes towards private self-consciousness, prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans and prejudiced attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities. More specifically, this thesis research explores two different sets of data. Individuals were surveyed in order to test whether the self-perception of self-focused attention and prejudiced attitudes are related; and, individuals were surveyed to test whether individuals prejudiced toward African Americans were also prejudiced toward persons with physical disabilities.

Since prejudiced attitudes are manifested, for the most part, through injurious acts and judgments occurring on the global stage ad infinitum, this theory is not meant to suggest a definitive explanatory account of prejudice. Albeit, this theory, as a tool for illumination, is expected to help us better understand the conjugate complexity of prejudice.

The Inner Life Of The Individual Is Either Abandoned Or Not Taken Seriously

In America, Prejudice Against Such Groups As African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, Homosexuals, Jews and Others Is All Too Prevalent

Significance Of The Problem

A study of prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans, prejudiced attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities, and attitudes towards the self-perception of private self-consciousness is also a study of human nature, group membership, and intergroup relationships. Human needs are best satisfied when individuals organize themselves into groups. Group membership may be voluntarily selected or ascribed. When individuals organize themselves into groups, they tend to classify and evaluate people according to intergroup norms. Group members tend also to evaluate other people according to whether they are a members of the group, or, members of an outgroup. Prejudiced attitudes towards members of other groups are the outcomes of this process. According to Gaertner (1986 : 322), “…at the intergroup level, people act in terms of their social identity, more faithfully conforming to the group’s norms and also treating others in terms of their corresponding group memberships rather than their personal identities. Outgroup members, in particular, become depersonalized, undifferentiated, substitutable entities.”

In social relationships intergroup dynamics of prejudiced attitudes towards outgroups are usually described in terms of confrontation, violence, and, depending on the scope of animosities, war. In American society, the evidence is all too convincing that prejudice persists at alarmingly high rates against such groups as African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Mexican-Americans, American Indians, homosexuals, Jews and others. In human costs, prejudiced attitudes and racial discrimination are measured in terms of poverty, drug addiction, physical and mental health, and crime. Deriving a better understanding of the relationship between prejudiced attitudes towards both racial minorities and persons with physical disabilities will help us to better understand both intergroup relationships and prejudice.

This research project has offered an opportunity to further our understanding of the process that results in prejudiced attitudes towards outgroups by furthering our understanding of the boundary-making (labeling) process. Cognitive boundaries do not stand alone, they are continuous with, and informed by, socioeconomic status, linguistic expression, and cultural values [and, in the absence of values, by feelings of detachment, displacement and groundlessness].

[Footnote. Sociology, in this era of postmodern sensibilities, is under attack. For postmodernists, the assumptions of Enlightenment rationality, traditional Western epistemology, and any supposedly “secure” representation of a reality that exits outside of discourse, are, according to A. J. Vidich and S. M. Lyman (N. K. Denzin and Y. S. Lincoln, 1994), a subgroup of assumptions that fall into “an all-encompassing critical skepticism about knowledge.” As a consequence of the postmodern critique of Sociology, the “inner life” of the individual is either abandoned or not taken seriously. Further, the desire to reach agreement on normative guidelines for scientific practice or argumentative consistency is also not taken seriously. A Self-Awareness theory, as it is proposed in this Thesis, speaks to these concerns while remaining within the discourse of postmodernism.]

This thesis contributes data and a theoretical foundation for why attention frequently focused on private self-consciousness activity facilitates the likelihood of cooperative, self-restrained behavior among individuals, and, by extension, cooperative interaction between groups. A major theoretical premise directing this research project maintains that the need to reconcile ambivalence-inducing thoughts, feelings, and desires has the potential to reshuffle and expand cognitive boundaries (intergroup identities).

The data generated in this research project is directed toward answering two questions: 1) Does a preoccupation with private self-consciousness activity, for example, the tendency to think about feelings, beliefs, values, generalizations, and, self-identity, lead a person to be tolerant of ambivalence and therefore less likely to exhibit prejudiced attitudes?; and, 2) Are people who demonstrate prejudiced attitudes toward African Americans also likely to demonstrate prejudiced attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities? If the answer to the first question is yes, then a new direction would open up for studies of prejudice and intergroup boundary manipulation. If the answer to the second question is yes, then this data, in addition to supporting the juxtaposition of prejudiced attitudes and authoritarian syndrome, [that is, the phenomena of authoritarianism as it is linked with anti-Semitic ideology in the classic work, The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno, et. al., 1950)], would also act to underscore, at the risk of stating the superfluous, that persons with physical disabilities face similar obstacles that confront other racial minorities, for example, discrimination in employment, education, income, and housing.

The sequel will address the interdependent link between prejudiced attitudes and ambivalence. I would like to suggest that on a different level, a more significant level perhaps, acquiring an understanding of ambivalence (as opposed to acquiring an understanding of the specific elements of prejudice), may have an impact on sustaining (or creating) a healthy, caring society; that is, if our common objective is to reduce unnecessary human suffering.