We, Unlike The Rest Of Nature, Stand As A Problem To Ourselves

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Similarities, dissimilarities, categorization, and particularization emerge from logi with their negations. Embedded in the set of differences out of which a particular arises, we find negation. Billig describes this condition, in the context of the rhetoric of argumentation, when he says: “Since the loci of arguments (the claim to essential set of differences) represent basic forms of thought, negation is a basic, even essential, characteristic of the thinking.” Nowhere is this clearer than in the agency of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self. If it were not for the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self we would lack the capacity to: 1) become an “object” to ourselves, 2) access reflexive thought processes and self-narratives, and 3) make manifest the reflections that are most characteristically human.

The Structure Of Thinking-Inner Deliberations Or Silent Arguments Conducted Within A Single Self

The Interdependent Nature Of Logoi And Negation-The Paradox Is That These Two Processes Seem To Pull In Opposite Cognitive Directions: The One Pulls Towards The Aggregation Of Things And The Other Towards The Uniqueness Of Things

Billig argues that people in the real world are confronted by infinitely different stimuli and in order to keep from being overwhelmed by the constant bombardment of stimuli we mentally categorize these stimuli. In the management of our everyday affairs we apply these categories to our common sense knowledge of the world so that we can reasonably proceed with our daily affairs.

In Billig’s critique, he takes exception to the cognitive social psychological focus on categorical and inflexible aspects of thought processes. These one-sided theories see human thought “as aspiring to little more than the utility of an efficient computer” (Billig, 1987: 118). Concentrating on the categorical aspect of thinking ignores, according to Billig, the “inner deliberations [or] silent arguments conducted within a single self” (Billig. 1987: 5). Cognitive psychologists emphasize the inflexible aspects of thought processes because they practice what Billig calls the psychology of logos as they ignore the psychology of anti-logos. In order to avoid this failing, psychologists should see the basic psychological units of thoughts as pairs of conflicting processes. “If thinking is seen to be built upon conflicting tendencies,” according to Billig, “then there will be less danger of pushing the conflict between logos and anti-logos to a neglected siding. Instead, this conflict will be rooted in the psychological structure of thinking itself” (Billig, 1987: 119).

Billig argues that the structure of thinking is centered on categorization and particularization interdependence. It is just as important to see the specialness or uniqueness of a stimulus, as it is to see similarities among stimuli. In so far as one can identify an infinite amount of similarities among objects, one can also identify an infinite amount of dissimilarities among objects. For every good argument for the role played by categorization in cognition, there is an equally good argument for the role played by particularization in cognition. But, and this is Billig’s point, if we look too long or too hard at the details we risk wasting our energy and time, therefore, an examination of cognition must neither concentrate on the particularization component of cognition nor on the categorization component of cognition. According to Billig, what we end up with is the interdependent nature of two opposing processes: categorization and particularization. Billig states (1987: 134):

“Categorization and particularization, inasmuch as they refer to human thought processes, are not to be considered as two distinct capabilities, as separate, for example, as the olfactory and visual senses. The two processes are interrelated, at least as far as linguistic categories and particularities are concerned. In order to use categories, we must be able to particularize and vice versa. The paradox is that these two processes seem to pull in opposite cognitive directions: the one pulls towards the aggregation of things and the other towards the uniqueness of things. The result is that the human mind is equipped with the two contrary skills of being able to put things into categories and to treat them as special. Thus, our thought processes are not held in the thrall of a single process, which inevitably leads to a distorting narrow-mindedness. Nor do our basic cognitive processes merely function to provide psychological stability and order. They also provide the seeds of argumentation and deliberation, as our logoi of categorization are always liable to be opposed by our anti-logoi of particularization. However, in order to see how this might operate, we need to move from the perceptual metaphor, used in much cognitive psychology, to consider directly logoi and their negations.”

The Cognitive Dimension Of Ambivalence From Which Psyche And Self Follow

Embedded In The Set Of Differences Out Of Which A Particular Arises We Find Negation-It Is An Essential Characteristic Of Thinking

Billig’s critique of the interdependent nature of cognition may be unusual but it is not totally unfamiliar. Simmel’s identification of a person as a sociological category and as a stranger, and, Thom’s identification of ambivalence as the ground for human nature (the opposition between the modes of difference and no difference) are not all that different from Billig’s categorization/particularization interdependence that simultaneously pulls toward the aggregation of things, and, towards the uniqueness of things. It appears that Billig, with his concept of categorization/particularization interdependence, has, so to speak, put his finger on the cognitive dimension of ambivalence that, as Thom points out, “reproduce(s) its basic structure in every form it creates or observes”…and from which ”psyche and self follow” (Thom, 1984: xi).

But Billig’s description of thinking as that which takes place in terms of conflicting yet interdependent processes does more than just resonate similarities with Simmel’s and Thom’s views concerning a person, it also brings into focus the necessary role negation plays in the processing of thoughts.

The ability to categorize, according to Billig, presupposes the ability to particularize. The categorization of thoughts depends upon the opposing process of particularization because information must be “selected” before it can be categorized. There is, however, a requisite condition permitting the particularization of a particular and that is the essential set of differences out of which a particular arises. Embedded in the set of differences, out of which a particular arises, we find negation. Billig describes this condition, in the context of the rhetoric of argumentation, when he says: “[S]ince the loci of arguments [the claim to essential set of differences] represent basic forms of thought, negation is a basic, even essential, characteristic of thinking (Billig, 1987 : 139). We may conclude from Billig’s analysis of categorization/particularization interdependence that negation is an essential constituent of thinking conscious thoughts.

If, in the processing of thoughts we exercise negation, then negation is a necessary constituent in the project of self as it “constitutes itself,” according to Giddens (1991: 244), “through the reflexive ordering of self-narratives.” Nowhere is this clearer than in the agency of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self. Just as Billig argued when he said that people must categorize stimuli to keep from being overwhelmed by a constant bombardment of stimuli, it is argued here that the agency of self, the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self, requires an affirmation of self to keep from being overwhelmed by a constant bombardment of stimuli (the not-me-self stimuli). Without this affirmation a person risks disenfranchisement, dislocation and self-image, self-esteem problems.

Beyond self-affirmation, however, there are additional efficacies in the negative facet of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self. If it were not for the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self we would lack the capacity to; 1) become an “object” to ourselves, 2) access reflexive thought processes and self-narratives, and 3) make manifest the reflections that are most characteristically human. L.C. Simpson (1995: 29), in his reflections on the nature of self-understanding, states: “We, unlike the rest of nature, stand as a problem to ourselves. How are we to make sense of our lives? How are we to comport ourselves? What stories are we enacting and ought we to enact?”

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5 Responses to “We, Unlike The Rest Of Nature, Stand As A Problem To Ourselves”

  1. fche626 Says:

    I think I’ve never commented here, but I actually read your blog a lot. I think it’s just great. 🙂

  2. bwinwnbwi Says:

    Thanks so much for the nice comment. I like to think that some of what I write is/could be interesting to some; meaning the reader probably has to wade through the uninteresting stuff to get to it.

  3. fche626 Says:

    Oh, no, all of it is interesting. Only it takes time to read, and most people, sadly, have (think they don’t have) enough time. But I enjoy your posts with a cup of green tea and some nice music 🙂

  4. bwinwnbwi Says:

    Wow. You sure have made my day! I’m one of those people you mention who lack the time to read other blogs (I do read what I find interesting though). I only know one language so that limits me also. My blog began on Yahoo 360 and moved here after 360 evaporated. Because blogs evaporate, I now post the same stuff on a couple other blogs, but you are the first person to find what I post interesting. Based on what I’ve already posted, I’d say I do not have many blogs left to post. Probably, I will then spend more time reading other blogs. I usually spend my time before I sit at the computer, drinking coffee and listening to music. Today, and over the past couple days, I’ve dusted off my Segovia LP’s. Take care and thanks again for the comment.

  5. fche626 Says:

    Well, then, I hope you find some interesting blogs when that happens. I don’t read many myself, actually. And if I had Segovia LP’s, I’d just sit and drink tea and dream my days away. Take care, too!

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