The Voice Of The We Of Humanity

This post, essentially, brings to a close the theoretical side of my thesis. Future posts (five I think) speak to fleshing out the empirical side of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self. Below, I use the concept of the not-me-self as a tool to critique the symbolic interactionist school of thought. This critiquing voice—the voice of contingency which binds “self” to society and to “others,” is then used, in the second part of this post, to argue for the legitimization of social and political institutions that practice the politics of emancipation, or the politics that sustain and promote justice, equality, and individual and collective freedoms.

The Symbolic Interactionist School Of Thought Does Not Address Macrosocietal Issues

In Translating Mead’s Generalized Other As A Collective Voice, The Next Step Is To Pose The Question: What Stories Are Told By A Collective Voice And, More Specifically, To What Extent Do Collective Stories Reflect And Even Sustain Existing Power Differences In Macrosocial Structures?

The Implicative Affirmative of the Not-Me-Self as a Value-Assessment Mechanism

According to Ritzer’s (1992) account of symbolic interactionism, although Mead’s theoretical perspective on mind and self is centered in the accumulated social relations that constitute society, Mead has very little to say about society. For Mead, society represents the ongoing social process that precedes self and mind. Self and mind are formed and shaped by society but they play little or no role in shaping social structure and institutions. Mead’s me-self is, after all, the depository of the shared sets of values that are common to the social system thus contributing to social unity. Because Mead’s theoretical system, and the symbolic interactionist school of thought that is based on, Mead’s theoretical system lacks a macrosocietal orientation and thus it opens itself up to critique. According to Reynolds, the symbolic interactionist school of thought does not address macrosocietal issues. He (1993: 137) states:

“Interactionism truly lacks a decent appreciation and adequate understanding of social structure and social organization. All of this is to say that symbolic interactionism manifests a marked astructural, or microscopic, bias, and any framework with such a bias is bound to be both ahistorical and noneconomic; with respect to power politics, it is also destined to be profoundly apolitical.”

When the concept of collective voices of generalized others is added to the theoretical orientation of Mead’s thinking, a focus on society at the macro-level becomes possible within the framework of Mead’s theory. Collective voices tell collective stories and collective stories may be analyzed from the point of view of the many different attributes of the collectivity. For instance, according to Hermans and Kempen (1993: 117): “In translating Mead’s generalized other as a collective voice, the next step is to pose the question: What stories are told by a collective voice? And more specifically, to what extent do collective stories reflect and even sustain existing power differences in macrosocial structures?”

Society is textured with many influential collective stories; stories that preserve and perpetuate social stratification and institutional hierarchy. The biblical story, as Hermans and Kempen point out (1993: 118), of a sinful and seductive Eve, tells a story that has an ongoing history of influencing relationships between men and women. Also, among persons who have a stake in maintaining social and economic inequality, the Horatio Alger story of the destitute, but brave lad who succeeds after overcoming travail and hardship, bares constant repeating in the face of the excessive wherewithal of the “haves” as opposed to the “have-nots.”

As a product of the socialization process, we are never far removed from some collective story that either consciously or unconsciously we take for granted. Indeed, it is only after we have held our practical consciousness up against the light of analysis (negation/selection) that we come to realize collective voices of generalized others speak through us, as we, in turn, speak through them. A person almost always (as we recall Gidden’s premise) knows what she/he is doing and why she/he is doing it. I would only add to this insightful assertion that people not only know what they are doing, but that they know also that they are doing what they are doing for all the “right reasons.”

The Critiquing Voice Must Speak Through The Self/Other Interdependent Relationship

In So Far As This Micro-Level Collective Voice Is Both Human And Universal, It Provides The Ideal Basis From Which To Critique The Legitimization Of Macro-Level Social And Political Power Structures, As It Provides The Ideal Basis From Which To Evaluate Justice, Equality, And Individual And Collective Freedoms

The Implicative Affirmative of the Not-Me-Self as a Value-Assessment Mechanism

If we are to analyze and interpret macrosocietal collective stories in terms of how they reinforce and institutionalize existing power structures then it is not enough to identify the stories per se. The collective voices used to legitimate these stories must also be identified. It is significant that the collective stories and voices, for example, the divine right of kings, race superiority, self-evident truths (self-evident truths that have been proven wrong-Euclid’s postulate that parallel lines never meet, the notions of absolute space and time, etc.), used to legitimate macro-level power structures are themselves macro-level collective stories; whereas, the collective voice used to critique these macro-level collective stories (for example, Simmel’s concept of stranger/sociological category, Thom’s ontologically primary opposition of difference/no-difference, and, the researcher’s own concept of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self), articulates a different kind of voice, a voice that speaks through the interdependent relationship of self/other. Developing the implications of this micro-level voice (a voice based in self/other interdependence) reveals not only a voice upon which to critique existing social and political power structures but also a voice upon which to ground individual freedoms and the emancipatory rights of “others”.

In Modernity and Ambivalence , Bauman (1991), analyses the emancipatory experience of the human being and concludes that contingency is the necessary element common to all emancipatory experience. According to Bauman (1991: 235):

“The preference for one’s own, communally shared form of life must therefore, be immune to the temptation of cultural crusade. Emancipation means, such acceptance of one’s own contingency as is grounded in recognition of contingency as the sufficient reason to live and to be allowed to live. It signals the end to the horror of alterity and to the abhorrence of ambivalence.”

For Bauman, contingency applies equally to the otherness of the individual self and to the “other’s otherness”. This relationship is not unlike the interdependent relationship of self/other as it is characterized by the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self.

“Otherness”, when understood from within the context of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self’s self/other relationship, manifests multi-layers of “otherness”. “Otherness”, in this sense, does not stand alone. “Otherness” is always embedded in a whirl of “otherness” and unravels in layers.

[Footnote. The implicative affirmative of the not-me-self occasions “otherness” first in the form of the common values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions and expectations of the group, that is, the products of symbolic interaction. A second layer of “otherness” is encountered when the self engages the novelty, impulsiveness and spontaneity — the creative potentials of self-determination — in the self’s option to affirm, reject, and/or qualify the common values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions and expectations of the group. A third layer of “otherness” occurs in the “thickness of description” used to validate intersubjective positions concerning values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions and expectations of the group. And, a forth layer of “otherness” is occasioned when the “ought” (as in non-relative ethics and morality) is applied to intersubjective positions concerning values, meanings, viewpoints, definitions and expectations of the group.]

However, this “otherness” is grounded in the contingency of the self’s affirmation of “otherness”. Emancipatory experience follows from this contingency in that the self and “other selves” must affirm their not-me-selves (their otherness). Recognizing that contingency resides at the center of the self’s emancipatory experience Bauman states (1991: 236): “The right of the Other to his strangerhood is the only way in which my own right may express, establish and defend itself. It is from the right of the Other that my right is put together.”

It is this contingency–the contingency which binds a person’s “self” to society and to “others”–which manifests the micro-level voice of the implicative affirmative of the not-me-self, a voice whose only claim to authority is a claim to contingency, a contingency without which it could not exist. Simpson (1995: 127) in response to the question: “Are we playing the right game?” (acting on the “right” collective voice), gives voice to the “meaning of contingency” when he states: “(It is)…the virtual ‘we’ of a humanity that is a negotiated, unfinished project functioning as an ideal community, a notion that makes a virtue both of being open to and willing to take seriously the conjecture that there is a disjunction between one’s own standpoint and the regulative ideal of the ‘good life,’ and of being critically respectful of the other.”

In so far as this micro-level collective voice is both human and universal it provides the ideal basis from which to critique the legitimization of macro-level social and political power structures, as it provides the ideal basis from which to evaluate justice, equality, and individual and collective freedoms. Following from the right to my own contingency, and, following from the right of the “other” to their own contingency, arises the politics of
emancipation which articulates the rights of Government and socioeconomic institutions to procure both the collective and the individual right to contingency.

[Footnote. Giddens (1991: 215), in summary form, tells us what emancipatory politics entails when he states:

1 The freeing of social life from the fixities of tradition and custom.

2 The reduction or elimination of exploitation, inequality or oppression. (It is) concerned with divisive distribution of power/ resources.

3 Obeys imperatives suggested by the ethics of justice, equality and participation]

When Mead’s theory and the symbolic interactionist school of thought is considered from the fundamental ground upon which both macro-level and micro-level collective voices are founded (the other as contingency), then symbolic interactionist thought may be applied to macrosocietal issues. By appealing to the “rights of others,” — the right to a more egalitarian social order that is based on insuring the availability of a standard of living sufficient for the actualization of individual freedoms, that is, the right to a living wage, political liberty, and protection from wrongful harms, — a symbolic interactionist would find herself/himself in a powerful position to defend against criticisms such as Lichtman’s when he (1970: 77) states: [Symbolic interactionism] “… is overly subjective and voluntaristic, lacks an awareness of historical concreteness, is naive in its account of mutual typification and ultimately abandons the sense of human beings in a struggle against an alien reality which they both master and to which they are subordinate.”

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One Response to “The Voice Of The We Of Humanity”

  1. bwinwnbwi Says:

    My Thesis–Prejudice: Empirical Data Beckoning Toward A Theory Of Self, Ambivalence, And Tolerance begins here–with The We Voice Of Humanity post.

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