Monday, 13 June 2011

Subconscious civilization

As a voracious reader, I often forget where I've read an insightful piece that I wanted to discuss and incorporate into a discourse - as if I had a discourse to join in. At any rate, as reader and thinker I find or come across many things that I consider worthy of discussion and reflection both for personal growth and for social development.

Anyhoo, I once read somewhere a reflection on whether giftedness and in-born talent was better than learning through effort and knowledge/talent made conscious. Personally, I think giftedness in children is a very fragile thing given that it normally doesn't translate into adulthood and is easily destroyed by incessant attention by doting, well-meaning adults which the child is yet incapable of coping with in a healthy manner.

At the level of society and civilization there is a corresponding element of claims to juvenile (ie, in-born) giftedness called, exceptionalism. In my readings and reflection on the history of Western philosophy I strongly suspect that it was a cynical reaction by Sophists of ancient Greece who were confronted by social and cultural relativism at its awakening awareness to other cultures and mores that challenged its (naturally) cherished sense of place and identity.

Exceptionalism, it seems, is the dark side of unheeded, as-yet-unarticulable needs of individual/societal growth where things are in a state of flux in an intellectual wilderness that one finds oneself in when confronted by challenges of I-Thou questions. This is a place of existential horror - a moral/ethical and political/ideological hell, if you like - which few if any rise up to in rational, humanistic terms. All of its consequences are horrific: out-right war; racism; general social displacement; devaluation of life; political apathy and disenfrachisement... for exceptionalism is really society's way of burying its head in the sand.

Wikipedia says of it: Exceptionalism is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is "exceptional" (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles. Used in this sense, the term reflects a belief formed by lived experience, ideology, perceptual frames, or perspectives influenced by knowledge (or lack thereof) of historical or comparative circumstances.

I would add that the term also reflects - more fundamentally - uncritical, subconscious thought that feels a disporportionate amount of entitlement while insisting that others ("them") live up to its espoused ideals of human rights, equality, and fraternity without affording the prospects of realizing them.

I'm not singling out any one group because, existentially, exceptionalism makes victims of all: the displaced, the "conquerers"; the "winners" and "losers". Where true cuplability lies is when a corporate body is created to arrest the process of social growth and transcendence from moral relativism that initially challenged the "normal rules or general principles" in the first place. Rightwing ideology, by its very nature, is exceptionally prone to this disease because it is, at its core, an unabashed indulgence of the sense of "separateness" and "entitlement" to the fruits not of its own labours (ie, it takes by force and/or cunning sophistry because of its barbarity and unsatiable will to power).

Unvoiced, unconscious assumptions of exceptionalism is an all-pervasive element of lop-sided power relations. The enlightened noble ideals of Canada, for example, are perversed and emptied of content when it comes to aboriginal-government relations where "the term [that] reflects a belief formed by lived experience, ideology, perceptual frames, or perspectives influenced by knowledge (or lack thereof) of historical or comparative circumstances" determines the life prospects of a mass majority of aboriginals from childhood on (wards of the state) with ersatz social programs and services which are perpetually under review and subject to fixing and reform (which never comes). Nothing good, it seems, is ever allowed to take root.

Buber's I-Thou, along with many others, should be required reading for non-aboriginal service providers and government employees who seem to come in two different flavours: those who resent and begrudge us; and, those who come with missionary zeal to reform us. There are good and decent people too, of course, but all end up, it seems, victims of the "success" of the system. The language of the discourse at some point has to shift from preponderance of clinical-psychological (pseudo-science) to humanistic-practical (phronesis).

Jay

No comments:

Post a Comment