Sunday, February 27, 2005

The psuedo individual

Another quote from Niedzviecki's book "Hello I'm Special".

Alienated from religious institutions, desperate to become more ourselves, to determine the narrative of being a better me, some of us are turning to spiritual entrepreneurs [like Semon and Linn]. Why? Because they understand that we want a connection to meaning and spirituality, but we want it to be about us specifically.

As Niedzviecki says, I wonder what happens to a non-conformist when they recognize that their rebellion has just made them into the 21st century equivalent of a "suit". While I applaud any effort to try and develop one's talents, I think motivation for these pursuits is a key delineator. Like Niedzviecki observes, I think society today is more encouraging of individuality that it has been in the past. However, as arrogant as this may sound, I am not sure the number of truly independent people has kept up with the push. Part of the conflict against established institutions, like the church, may arise because society encourages true individuality. Unfortunately most people can't do this unless society supports them in their attempt.

In terms of religion, I think many of the complaints from within the church follow the logic of the new non-comformist. Rigid expectations prevent the individual from being accepted. This hinders what they are able to do and become. The irony in this complaint is hard to contain. If one truly is an independent individual, only physicial coercion is a reasonable excuse for lack of development. Sure conforming to group norms is necessary to maintain viable social interaction, but I have a hard time fathoming that someone who is going to be strong enough for full independence will be too weak for the give and take of sociality. Sure, living a double standard may be hard, but can a truly original individual expect to be faced with anything but this? Perhaps it is like Niedzviecki says, what the psuedo individual really wants is for society to change to support them. Real rebellion is not sought, only rebellion that supports their outlook and way of life. While change is inherit in this position, the rebel here isn't out for independence, they are out for fascism where they become themselves by getting others to support their endeavor. The weaker they are, they more they need society to change to support them. In this sense the new individual is like those guided clients on Everest. They want to be able to say they did a hard mountain, but they want the consequences that define it as such minimized for their window of opportunity.

Part of the irony of this problem is that many people's journey to individuality involves tearing down established institutions. Ostensibly this is done to make them more inclusionary, not to destroy them. But, in terms of the parable of the talents, this seems at odds with development of the individual. Do we become something more than ourselves by tearing down instead of building up? Perhaps this is where many institutional critiques miss the boat. Perhaps many feel that changing the old hierarchy does mean they are creating something new. Personally, I would disagree. All that is done is a course correction. The components that power the structure are still in place. Hidden though they are, they must now support the new course. The assumption is that the supporting framework does not matter. But it means that nothing has been created that was not there before.

Perhpas this is where the weakness of psuedo individuals lies. If all one does is actualize themselves, they get in a Cartesian like circle. To be taught by the outside world, one must be willing to change to it, not vice versa. Perhaps this is some of what Jesus' admonition to be humble like little children encouraged. Independence means being able to function in spite of confines. In this sense, isn't a universal God living outside our universe not the ultimate psuedo-individual? Limited to nothing singular, but part of everthing, he is never forced to act within any confines. He does not have to "be" anything because the universe always adapts to him. The personal traits required for this type of being are much different than the ones required for a God who must be independent within the universe. I think the latter would require huge amounts of humility as one learned to work with, rather than over power, what was present.

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