OK. Let’s speak to the principio individuationis or the process of individuation as the theme and central dynamic of Modernity — the Modern Project in a nutshell. Individuation is quite evidently the whole thrust of the Modern Era since the Renaissance and the Reformation, and at least up until the period 1914 – 1945 when we entered “post-modernity” and the “post-Enlightenment”. The Lutheran Revolution emphasised the liberty of the individual conscience (then called “libertinism”), while the Renaissance, with its perspectivism, emphasised the individual “point-of-view”. So, with these developments came also an intensification of the self-awareness and the sense of individuality. This became formal principle with Descartes’ famous “cogito, ergo sum” — “I think, therefore I am”, which is very self-conscious, with its accent on the ego-nature or Selfhood and rational self-interest.
But there’s something very peculiar about this “thinking thing” (or res cogitans) isn’t there? Why not “I sing, therefore I am” or “I love, therefore I am” or “I dance, therefore I am” or “I speak, therefore I am”? Why select the rational faculty alone as distinctive of being? Why should this cogito, in the form of “Universal Reason”, have become the yardstick for the calculation of what is authentically human? This question lies at the root of what me mean in speaking of “the mental-rational consciousness structure”.
At first glance, there is no real reason for privileging thinking over any other consciousness function, or — singing, dancing, speaking, loving, or even walking. Even Pascal, objecting to Descartes’ rationalism, suggested he could just as well substitute “I walk, therefore I am” and make as much sense. But the deeper question here is why the process of individuation became identified with thinking, intellection, calculation, or mentation. As I’m sure you can imagine, “I sing, therefore I am” or “I love, therefore I am” would have led to a very different form of society. And there were indeed objections of such a nature to Descartes’ formula in his own time.
There is, of course, a hidden presumption in Descartes’ search for a method or new ground of being that precluded things like singing, loving, speaking, etc. Descartes wanted a principle that would uniquely and absolutely distinguish and differentiate the human from nature. Activities like singing, dancing, loving, or language and so on seemed just as readily found in nature as in human beings. Thinking alone seemed to distinguish and differentiate the human being from nature. “Pure Reason” was unnatural, if not supernatural. The result of Descartes formula is called “metaphysical dualism”, and it broke the bond between the human and the natural world by an act of dichotomisation — into subject and object states, mind or body, or Ego and It conditions.
Now, the process of the individuation of consciousness has been the principal dynamic of the Modern Era. In support of that process of individuation (and as mentioned in a comment to the last post) liberal democracy was conceived as ideal, and along with liberal democracy — freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom to choose one’s own marriage partner (rather than arranged marriage), freedom of choice of profession (rather than following in the father’s footsteps or being apprenticed out), social mobility, freedom of dissent, and so on. The ideal here is that everyone should have the freedom to individuate — to realise their own full human potential: self-fulfillment, self-realisation, self-articulation, and so on. Basically, these are the tenants of liberal humanism, and they are good ones. The problem here is that “human” was very narrowly understood and even misunderstood, so that “individuation” became the process of mere self-aggrandisement, and of expanding the false self, ending finally in “the culture of narcissism”.
The peculiar aspect of Descartes’ formula for the good society — the cogito — is that it is not even “individual” at all. In this “I think” lies an abstract “I”, the “I” of “Universal Reason” that is not individual, but the abstract “I” of humanity-in-general. This “I” is not at all individual. It is the abstract “I” of the universal humanity. And as Nietzsche put it, the authentic self is not the self that says “I” or which even thinks “I”, but which does “I”. The “I am” of the Cartesian cogito is a mental abstraction, and is itself only an intentional object, and not the subject. This “I” or identity is the “foreign installation”, Blake’s Urizenic “Selfhood” that is non-entity or “Nobodaddy”.
The problem is not individuation, as some have mistakenly concluded. The problem is that the individuality has been too narrowly understood. This “I am” or the cogito is not at all the centre of the personality structure. It functions on the circumference of the personality structure, as a kind of interface between the perceiver and the perceived. And that is what Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” is intended to illustrate. The “I” or ego is removed from the vital centre, and takes its place as being only one aspect of the overall individuality,
In Nietzsche’s terms, that which does I, rather than says “I” or thinks “I”, is the core individuality, which Gebser calls “the Itself”, and which articulates itself in (or radiates into) these four directions of the cross of reality. The individuality is a singular energy dynamic that articulates or manifests through this fourfold structure. The individuality assumes all these forms and yet remains ever itself. The perfection of the individuality, or fulfillment of the individuality, is called “equanimity” because all four aspects of the individuality are in dynamic equipoise. Thinking, willing, sensing, feeling are all aspects of the individuality, and they map to this cross of reality. But the vital centre here — that is what we know as “the intuitional”. “I think” has no more ontological primacy than “I sing” or “we sing” or “I dance” or “we dance” or “I love” or “we love”. The individuality can only find its fullest expression by circulating through all these forms, and not getting stuck in any one of them. Why should “I think” have any more ontological, or even epistemic supremacy than “I will” or “I feel” or “I sense”? In fact, even the assertion of the “I” in these modalities of being is a bit of an exaggeration.
So, there is nothing at all wrong with individuation. The problem is, it has not been properly understood what “individual” really means, and so you end up with absurdities like “the self-made man”. And if you properly appreciate the cross of reality, you will also appreciate why “self-made man” is an absurdity. Yet, an entire social philosophy has been erected upon this absurdity. The self-made man is a conceit of the left-hemisphere of the brain only. I’m sure your familiar with the joke about “the self-made man who worships his maker”?
There was another posting on the subject of such narcissism in today’s Guardian — “I, narcissist”. Getting warmer, anyway. At least beginning to recognise it as “the human condition”. But in broader terms, narcissism is about getting stuck on any one of the arms of the cross of reality. Wego is just as much a narcissistic construct as ego, or sensing oneself to be nothing but the plaything of external forces is also a narcissistic construct. “The spice must flow”, and it must flow through all these forms. Narcissism is stagnation — another word for decadence, really. And as Blake put it “the standing water breeds pestilence”.