Friday, November 18, 2022

 Blog 555. Between subjugation and authenticity

 One of the problems in human life is to find a way between subjugation to the powers that be, institutions, and authenticity. Michel Foucault showed how people have to submit to authority in, prisons, clinics and scientific communities, to discipline even if they are victims of it. Such subjugation occurs in all organisations. There has to be a shared mission, ways of conflict resolution, reporting procedures and handbooks to achieve a goal. That seems to leave no room for authenticity. Michel Foucault despaired, and  could not say more than that pne should live one’s life ‘like a work of art’.

 For philosophers Emmanuel Levinas and Martin Buber, whom I have discussed before, in this blog,  the individual was not primary, but its relation to the other, which comes first and then constitutes the self. The self does retain its separateness and is to be respected in its unicity, and unification is impossible. For Levinas the relation was asymmetric, with the self being subject to the other, to whom unconditional surrender and care was required  For Buber the relation was more reciprocal, where self and other needed each other to establish their identity. Hartmut Rosa spoke of ‘resonance’ between people, as between tuning forks that adopt each other’s vibration even at some distance.

 Philosophers Lacan and Žižek rebelled against this subjugation, and claimed that one can always break away from the ties with established power and institutions. They did not explain how this is to be done.(Ruti, 2015)

 Spinoza held that life is driven by ‘conatus’, the will to survive. The ancient Greeks had the notion of ‘thymos’, the urge to manifest oneself, next to passion, to be held in check by reason. Nietzsche propounded the ‘will to power’ as the fundamental drive. Next to the ‘Apollonian’ drive for balance and harmony, he promoted the ‘Dionysian’ exuberance in transgressing boundaries. He claimed that this drive for power was stronger than the instinct of survival.

 The answer to this predicament of subjugation versus autonomy is simple. One can break away and be authentic, but usually at the cost of being punished by derision, exclusion, ostracism, isolation and loneliness. This is not only hurtful, but stunts one’s development, for lack of interaction. Thus it takes courage, strength and robustness. Most people prefer to stay tucked away in the group they are taken to belong to. But one cannot completely cut loose from one’s history of relations that built identity.

 Ostracism may take many forms. I once witnessed that an employee was not just ignored, but people turned their backs to her when she entered the room. As a scientist, one may no longer be invited to meetings and conferences, and no longer have access to scientific journals. It may take a long time to get recognition, and that may never happen.

 Ruti, M. 2015: Between Levinas and Lacan, London: Bloomsbury.


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