Friday, March 28, 2008

Unfinishedness

“I like to be human because in my unfinishedness I know that I am conditioned. Yet conscious of such conditioning, I know that I can go beyond it, which is the essential difference between conditioned and determined existence…In other words, my presence in the world is not so much of someone who is merely adapting to something “external,” but of someone who is inserted as if belonging essentially to it. It’s the position of one who struggles to become the subject and maker of history and not simply a passive, disconnected object.” Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom

I am so thankful that we don’t have pre-determined existences, and that we have socio-historical vocations to determine ourselves ontologically. Call it free will, call it an ontological vocation, or call it choice. Needless to say, we have a choice and we can become active agents actively pursuing our being in this world, instead of passive receptacles of a life pre-determined by the conditioning of external forces. In the modern context, these forces stem from the market-system which conditions us, and prefers us to be and to feel as we do (reticent, tired, overwhelmed, hopeless, helpless, crazy, irrational, isolated, etc.). The perceived divinity of market forces conditions us to believe our roles as workers, students, parents, consumers, citizens, spouses, children, elderly, etc. are both predetermined and limited by the “invisible hand” of the market.

So what is one of the most radical things we can do? Become aware of our conditioning and sharpen our edge for perceiving all of the socio-cultural, historical and even genetic factors that have conditioned our construction. Recognize that “it would be ironic if the awareness of my presence in the world did not at the same time imply a recognition that I could not be absent from the construction of my own presence.” If we fail to recognize our role in determining who we are and how we’ll live our every moment, we renounce our “historical, ethical, social, and political responsibility for [our] own evolution.” So in that sense, according to Freire, we are renouncing our ontological vocation to intervene in the world.

Once we recognize that we are alive and free to pursue our ontological vocation of becoming, we must remain vigilant to external conditioning. Instead of thinking of it as burdensome “work,” we should celebrate the freedom of determining for ourselves who we want to be, and think of it as our duty to ourselves. And with the choice to become a constructive presence in our own worlds, comes necessary training, education, self-reflection, and yes, dutiful “work.” There is a two-steps-forward-one-step-back pace to life.

Here is where our vigilance and constant recognition of the conditioning is all important. Externally, market forces recognize and capitalize on our unfinishedness and lead us to believe that without the market we cannot resolve our anxieties about being unfinished. Indeed, market forces wish us to see our “unfinishedness” as simply a phase in a pre-determined life. Market forces further strap a relatively benign idea of unfinishedness with notions that the “vocation of becoming” is more burdensome than one can manage alone or with the limited time one has to pursue such frivolousness. “Oh, if one only had more energy, money and time!”

And, frankly, we have lost our time. We have lost our energy. And so we have lost our roles in our own lives. We are not actually making history anymore, though the mediated images of the spectacle delude this perception so that we see ourselves as choosing. All we are doing is surviving. We are managing pre-determined lives from debt to debt, from holiday to holiday, from grocery visit to grocery visit, or from out-dated laptop to out-date laptop. In between, we might go through a phase of cleaning house and “taking control” over our lives. We suddenly become determined to turn our lives around and get into shape only to lose track of that fleeting emotional “choice” to the burdens of economics and diminishing time. Trapped in a tide of ceaseless pounding by market forces, we are clinging to rocks like barnacles: inert, inactive and eating whatever the waves bring us.

The difference between a market-driven plan to “take control” of one’s life and the kind of conscientization called for by Freire is fundamental. Rather than a Dr. Phil “Relationship Rescue” plan that ignores the cosmic conditioning of our lives and pretends to end our problems after a pre-determined program of study, Freire asks us to recognize our incompletedness as fundamental to the human condition. Our lives require a constant cycle of research, reflection and then action. From each action will undoubtedly evoke new challenges that will require more education, reflection and subsequent action. This kind of ontological—and radical—action on our parts both individually and collectively subverts market determinism and increasingly liberates the human experience.

In order to undermine the monoliths of inevitability, and pre-determination which was historically influenced by fear, superstition, and cosmological anxiety and then institutionalized by neoliberal philosophy and religion, we must insist on the necessity of conscientization. Becoming aware of our conditioning and our unfinishedness lends itself to an honesty and curiosity that rarely manifests in our world.

Can you imagine a world of conscientious, curious and honest people?

18 comments:

Renegade Eye said...

our most radical component is vision. The history of American politics, is a history of protest. Protest is what populists, liberals, and conservatives do. Much more dangerous is what the old professor Mulford Q. Sibley calls "utopian vision."

At the blog "Leftwing Criminologist", it is argued, that psychology is reactionary, because it accomodates you to the system. I think that is too extreme. To survive you need to accomodate to the system, until another is in place. Psychological hurt is hurt, as much as a headache. Some as Dr Phil and the dangerous Dr. Laura, are dangers to the vulnerable.

troutsky said...

Gourmet food for thought! and I finally found a computer on my travels. The market is the force of death,total opposite of the creative life force of participation, and also anti-duty, anti-responsibility (just let the market determine)

Our task is to break our addiction to determinancy, revel in the very becoming, the tension of the always re-forming dialectic and like Ren says, embrace utopian vision as a dance in need of choreographers.

herb said...

"Can you imagine a world of conscientious, curious and honest people?"

No need to imagine. I am surrounded at all times with a horde of such people. I discovered long ago that the error is not in who we are but how we think, and how we think is influenced overwhelmingly by our need to belong. We humans are endlessly flexible and adaptable. The Stockholm Syndrome is always spoken of as a bad thing, but the same mechanism works just as well if those who we are most influenced by are wise and kind. That is our evolutionary strategy as a species, the shape shifters of the animal world.

I have many illustrative examples to draw upon as evidence that it is not us but rather the thinking that we become contaminated with in the process of adapting to our particular circumstances that is the problem. Let me share just one.

I was privileged to attend perhaps the only progressive medical school ever. It does not seem that it has retained its progressive character, but in the mid seventies it was spectacular. Non-graded, anticompetitive, pro-diversity and anti the conventional style of medical education, and also one of a handful of the most prestigious institutions in the world. For the twenty five years prior to my starting there, one man, Dean Caughey, hand picked each class. A large percentage of his choices were people a great diversity of life experience. Many were older, as I was, and somewhat more mature than your average premed student. Then Dr. Caughey retired. The prestigious faculty, many of them Nobel laureates, took control of the admissions process, and the class after mine was drawn only from the "cream of the crop" of applicants. The highest grade and test scores possible was the sole effective criteria, as it remains in medical school admissions today. Within a month of the start of school the new class was on strike, refusing to take exams, refusing to participate in the schools still progressive program. The faculty was distraught. They found this dream class so enraged that they couldn't even talk to them. In desperation they came to our class for help. It soon was revealed as we spoke with them that these highly "conditioned" students were outraged by such issues as the fact that questions on exams were sometimes not covered in lecture. They just didn't get the whole progressive, student centered, self regulated, non-competitive thing and were experiencing something like culture shock. It took only a couple of weeks of dialogue with some of the folks in my class to help them understand the system. Once they did understand non-authoritarian schooling they transformed immediately and completely. All their "conditioning" melted away like snow on a hot day.

Conditioning depends on the continuance of the structure that enabled the conditioning in the first place. Slave masters have understood this about people since time immemorial. As soon as the institutional structure of slavery weakens slaves start to think like free people immediately and a slave revolt will predictably happen.

Our so called "free market system" is neither free nor an actual market. Rather it is a system of imposing what is just the latest version of slavery. Wherever and whenever people have found themselves free of dependence on masters for their immediate survival they quickly revert to our natural state of moral interdependence and once again experience the joys of existence.

No one wants to be a market commodity, and, given the chance, everyone refuses to be treated as anything but a free person.

Clare said...

I basically agree with "Unfinishedness." We are a "herd" constantly corraled into two chutes: production and consumption. I agree whole-heartedly that we do not have pre-determined existences, that we have eclipsed our biology, and that we are not animals instinctively responding to environmental stimuli. But I think there is a critical component missing. We are actually not free agents in complete charge or control of our lives. We never will be no matter how conscientously we try to live. Why? Well, we cannot ignore the unconscious (that thing that makes us human!) and the effect that has on who we are or who we THINK we are. Sadly, this is often missed in the analyis of human action or inaction.

We are also not free because we cannot think a single thought outside of language. We are trapped by language (something else that makes us human). Language is like a chisel. We begin life "unsculpted" and language is what gives us form. The effect of language on each of us is unique, inescapable and profound. So, it's important we don't ignore this dimension of humanity either. There are many people in the world who suffer because of the effect of language on their existence. It's why we will never be "finished" as humans . . . and what does that mean anyway? Humans are always "becoming," "just arriving." Right? We're not completing or finishing a pre-determined narrative. We're always just at the brink of the moment. Anyway, we have to be careful that in discussions of existence and "struggles to be the subject and maker of history" that we do not alienate those who will never be capable of transcending themselves beyond a "passive and disconnected object." They are part of the "human soup," too, and "victims" of language as well.

beakerkin said...

What a bunch of drivel. Radicals are assclown cultists who have no sense of individuality or logic.

Repeat the slogan.

ALL HAIL CHE SPONGE BOB. TRUTH IS WHATEVER HE SAYS IT IS BECAUSE CHE SPONGE BOB IS ALL KNOWING. WHO NEEDS GOD WHEN WE HAVE CHE SPONGE BOB

VIVA STUPIDITY.

Let me know where and when the webolutionary couch potatoes will form. The only way to get the American people to revolt is to place your inane ideas into action.

Kindly surrender your citizenship and do not let the door hit you on the ass as you depart.

Graeme said...

Wonderful post and comments (except of course Beak, who should be deleted). People don't focus on the bigger picture (economics) and tend to focus on divisive issues and nothing changes

herb said...

Deare Gareme,

Yes I agree. No description of human behavior is complete without a consideration of economics. The major problem, however, is that economic discussion has been saturated with anti-human bias. There are alternatives to classical economic theory, which is just so much rationalization of domination and done primarily to appeal to oppressive authority. For instance, Michael Albert's work on participatory economics is an example, but the micro economics that thrives in any village setting is a practical example of the reality of alternative approaches to economics that actually preserve standard human values rather than turning everything and everyone into a commodity.

troutsky said...

I think you should leave Beaks comment, it is illustrative.

Claire makes an interesting point about something we have not discussed much.We assume we can "become aware" or choose discernment, critical thinking,etc,but consider what this entails. Are some people damaged? (Beak for example)What is the norm, the healthy? Buddhism speaks of mindfulness or ways to transcend the "monkey mind" but there are many paths and anti-capitalists need to keep this in mind.
Obviously we all grow in stages just as history goes through stages of development.I hope we can combine mindfulness with our polemics and radical democratic processes. And remember to play!

Graeme said...

I thought it over and agree Troutsky. I was close to deleting all the nonsense beak writes on my blog, but the replies pretty much take care of him.

Herb,

TINA was a fraud, there are alternatives. Even within the constraints of market capitalism, there are more humane options than what the US practices.

beakerkin said...

Revenge of the Zombified Genocidal lunatcs.

How many dead is enough?

beakerkin said...

Here we go again with brain impaired Troutsky talking HAHAHAHA about impairment. All the Cubans, Venezuelans, Chinese, Albanians, Poles and Ex Soviets all come to the United States and tell the exact same lie.

Communism is evil and its adherents are cultists who are reality impaired.

Comwad Che Sponge Bob Maximum leader of the Renegade Eye Army of the Mindless Marxist Couch Potato Webolutionary Sloth Army.

How is it that poor in America own cell phones, often a car and homes?
The poor in Cuba see fresh meat and produce as often as UFO's. There is a group of Cubans now claiming to be Jews because Jewish charities send over meat. The poor in America
are often over weight.

How is it your haven requires an army of finks? How many Cubans can afford cell phones?

Sorry but your lust for power and the attempt to play God have proven
deadly.

Renegade Eye said...

Again Beakerkin's politics remain a mystery. He is hush.

troutsky said...

We learn a great deal about his empathy for others (and IQ) through such comments as "Why are the poor in America fat?"

Renegade Eye said...

See this. It seems Beakerkin was caught commenting as another person.

Ché Bob said...

Clare,

We are also not free because we cannot think a single thought outside of language.

Here I must disagree. There are many thoughts, ideas and feelings that I think in the course of a single day but that I cannot articulate. In other words, I can think without language. Therefore, I agree with you that we are not completely free and that we are restricted by our limitations to express, but language is not the only way we express ourselves! We have art. Dali, et. al. worked with the unconscious in art. How could language ever express what Dali had to "say" through his paintings? In fact, surrealist poetry gave unconscious thought a go, but were too limited by language. What about music? Physical movement?

I also don't agree that the passive, disconnected are incapable of transcending their passive, disconnected realities. Being passive and disconnected is to be understood as part and parcel of an "unfinishedness" that will not be eclipsed by any of us. I did not say that they are passive and disconnected through your lens of the unconscious. I believe they are passive and disconnected for myriad reasons, not least of which I would blame on the isolation and apathy created by market forces.

"Unfinishedness" to me is more complex than saying it's a temporary state to be fixed, transcended or overcome. Even those of us who are aware of our incompleteness are still and will always be incomplete. Makers of history will also always be unfinished, but unlike the passive and disconnected, they will be self-aware and epistemologically curious instead of ingenuously curious.

troutsky said...

There is a lot to this concept of "unfinishedness", like indeterminancy, it goes against our programming.Walking while learning demands a little trust in the Universe.

Renegade Eye said...

See Troutsky's Nicaragua post.

Barry's Changes said...

That is so true. And to think how far we have carried our struggle, and how near we lie to the finish.

You are my vanguard. I know you won't let me down!