11 January 2008

Socially Support the King!

Okay, last time I suggested that a strong platform of humans rights creates an interesting conundrum. It assigns an arbitrary, idealized definition of self to all individuals that has no bearing on nor interaction with their role in society. It is not a social standing, but an abstract ideal. Furthermore, I suggested that such an abstract ideal was formerly reserved for nobility and the clergy, the members of which represented high level abstract notions of nobility and divinity.

Although interestingly stated, we probably haven't escaped basic anthropology yet.

So the next step and question has to do with the significance of this assertion. What happens when people lose strong, clearl defined identities for abstract and arbitrary ones? What happens is lots of discourse about the loss of self. But interestingly, though some nobility and clergy have gone insane in dramatic ways, that can mostly be explained by huge amounts of inbreeding and the fact that power attracts the eccentrics. So, if the nobility and clergy of days gone by could keep their sense of self when functioning as metonym for social abstractions, why can't everyone else.

Well, it seems there are a few reasons. The simplest is that being a member of an exclusive club ensures that the number of people arguing about what it means to be a member of said exclusive club means. In fact, there is a strong impetus for conformity so that you don't get kicked out of the exclusive club.

In other words, and the more important reason, there is a social support network, either positive or negative in its agency, that assists in creating a strong sense of self for nobility and clergy.

However, when the idealized self is abstracted out to all people, the support network does not scale with it. This is where the problem resides, and where all the discourse about the current loss of self comes from. It is not the self that is lacking, but the social support network that is now faced with many contradictory messages. On one hand, the social support network is supposed to promote one's role in society. On the other hand, one's role in society has been redefined as mutuable and fluid, something to be countermanded by one's right to change their station in life. And this mutability is in direct conflict with older social networks which attempt to define one's role in older more static social models. We have conflicting social messages that are not necessarily commensurable.

So the question then is not how to instill a strong sense of self in people again (which would involve a rather draconian solution), but rather how to create social networks that can support and promote a sense of self within the context of a deep self that is, in the end, and unrealizable ideal. Certainly the unrealizable ideal is not the issue. Pure nobility and pure divinity are also both unrealizable ideals, and yet there were social support networks to keep them in place.

It should be noted that some people are perfectly successful in the new social model, so it is not something inherint in human nature, but rather a contextual factor. I would propose that these successful people come in two categories: those who cling successfully to the old models of social station, and those who have found away to define themselves comfortably as mutable and have found a sense of self external to social station.

So, if the latter is preferable, what is it about these people that allows them to comfortably define themselves as mutable? How broadly can such a definition of self be spread to others?

Which is a good question to end on.

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