Friday, January 20, 2012

social spheres

A quick continuation of that last essay -- my tongue is wet tonight


Social Spheres



            The experience of the "social sphere" or the world and its people, which is an aspect of the logosphere, or the world of language, and evokes the world of ideas and feelings, needs no deliberate attention to explore. We feel it. We feel trapped in a relationship. A man is living with a woman who demands all his time and energy. Somehow he feels she is draining him, and yet he cannot leave. Clearly there is no lock on the door and she does not have a gun to his head. Our social relationships are as real as such physical things, and yet invisible. This complex web of language binds us: we are bound by words. It is hermetic to set such verbal boundaries, and freely transgress them, but who else but Hermes could traverse worlds with impunity? If you commit a crime, betray a loved one, or insult an enemy, you are world-building. You are making intelligible objects, as real as that cup on the table. If anybody doubts the importance of such ideas and the relationships they create, read a few suicide letters. It is not concrete objects that kill a man, despite the noose or gun, but the world of relationships, emotions, and the ideas those things grow from. Interpersonal relationships unfold from language. And yet insincere speech cannot do the trick: words are magic if anything is magic, but they must be spoken from faithfulness and conviction.

            To read life with metaphorical eyes is like reading a novel with a certain interpretive apparatus. A feminist reading may say "the only thing that counts, the only thing of interest, is in how women are represented, and what attitudes and values pertain to women." A novel is more than that of course, much more, but for the agenda of the reader, who is looking to understand a well-defined world, the feminist world, such a reading gives her resources from which to build from. And we all interpret the world according to some table of values, to some philosophical apparatus of logical equations and arguments, which support an interpretive mode over books in are hands or the book of life.

            Most of language is euphemism. The images in our minds are toned down ten degrees and set in a form they will best be received. We mean the other person to catch our drift without saying the words. To say to a man you've been dating, "After these few dates I realize I don't like you or want to know you anymore," which is after all a natural reaction and does not necessarily impute anything wrong with the man, merely identify his incompatibility with this particular woman, could only be heard as a direct violence to his heart. When we speak we always assume the standard of convention, of politeness, and civility. If one eccentric man meant to say the direct, honest, literal truth in every situation, he would quickly and constantly be reminded of the convention of politeness, and simply could not formulate his words without reference to it. Convention itself is a violence: agree with it and the people smile, oppose it and they frown. Oppose it too much and their violence may become physical. If a man walked up to a cop, and using his free speech to say exactly what he thinks about cops in general, though he broke no law -- unless disrespecting a cop is a law -- he could be arrested. For those without a work code to back them, such as telling the motorcyclist what you think of his gang, your safety might be in worse shape, and even among the gentle people at church it doesn't take much eccentricity during a church service to be escorted out. We are so thoroughly immersed in conventions, expectations, morale, and proprieties, that it is only their ubiquity and thoroughness that leads us to say "we are that free country and no other one is free like us."

            We idealize freedom, that's the difference. A good difference too, but really, other countries are not unfree merely because they have conventions which would be painful to you. They feel themselves to be free too. They've been educated, so that what they feel comes naturally is also what is conventional. I don't think refugees in our country feel especially free when they are gawked at in grocery stores and pestered to explain their story, as if they presence required some justification. The political freedoms we practice are boon unto the world. But the social freedoms of personal independence, though praised here louder and better than anywhere else, from such gold throated gods as Emerson and Thoreau, become mere truisms for saying and not doing in public practice. Only in large cities are the truly eccentric tolerated. Thus the greatest creative geniuses live in great cities.

            Only in large cities can individuals emerge? Why is this? Are there not individuals everywhere always? Yet consider the individual at home. Dad is dad. He acts like a dad. If you do something illegal, he plays the policemen, if you play with matches he gives the a fireman's lecture, if you need help with your homework, he is teacher. Because the world of the family must abbreviate the whole world, each member stands for many things: to the preteen, the parents represent all of society, must explain to the child how whole classes of people will react to them.

            Societies need all of us to fit a role. I think there are men who will not become the town drunk because the role is filled. We all seek our perch of privilege and our throne of importance: we want to offer something new to the world. As we are all voyeuristic, and participate in each person by hearing his story -- with the millionaire we are all rich, with the beggar we are all power, with the suicide, we all coax our suicidal urges, with the mystic, we all touch God -- and so we all want to find our niche. In a small town, the most important roles must be filled first: the gossip, the moralist, the political conservative, the black sheep, the scapegoat. Like the family, we have to do double duty.

            Only in a wide sprawling city are there so many roles available, amidst all the crowds there is finally space to be yourself, there is a sense of anonymity, no body to force you to be his goddess, no one to force you to be her savoir, there is space between people, one can blossom his inner being. There is space for differentiation. Out of 100 people there will seldom be anything but the necessary roles. Amidst large populations there will statisticians, architects, spoon artists, chess masters, bird-trainers, magicians -- and what's more, these odd balls are living close enough together to discover each other, to be together, to be misfits in a club. And interestingly enough, get enough psychoanalysts together, enough nuclear physicists, enough conceptual artists, that these people can first of all let their defenses down -- its okay to be a philosopher, no you don't think you are better than everybody, no you don't hate religious people, no your not an anarchist -- your people get you. For the first time, instead of being a philosopher among nonphilosophers, you can be a philosopher among philosophers, without defenses are endless and annoying explanations, you can finally be a philosopher, and what's more, you can be your own philosopher: you again differentiate at. No longer do you have to stand out for the world for just philosophy, but now you are an existentialist philosopher. To others it would require enough energy explaining philosophy. Now let's say you have a set of existentialist philosophers you hang with. Now for further differentiation: you like the early Camus with a touch of Kierkegaard at his best moments, minus the apologetic elitism of his Christianity, with ambivalent feelings towards Sartre and his seeming misanthropy, etc. etc. To your parents you were just "the bookworm" and that's it. But among these people you are able to cultivate a private, personal, and individual aspect of your mind.

            The internet is the World City. Everybody is your neighbor on the internet, you can talk with them instantly, you can discover those rare folk who share exactly your bent of interests. How else could you find so many parrot lovers, other than on a parrot club online? In your hometown not one other person owns a parrot. In this, the internet, which tends to greater and greater anonymity also tends to greater and greater individuality: the double gesture so characteristic of democracy. As Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman, the minds of democracy, both approved the masses and emphasized the infinitude of the private individual. Egalitarian lends itself to elitism: the balance is always present. Where rank and aristocracy is sealed off in artificial forms of social habits, there is role playing: where aristocracy is based on individual self definition, the game is different, better.



Life becomes first beautiful then eternal


No comments: