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Self-Reliance: keynote of American democracy

  1. Jul 16, 2008 #1
    Self-Reliance: “keynote of American democracy”

    Self-Reliance: “keynote of American democracy”

    When I speak of alienation I am speaking about wo/man’s alienation from his or her nature. I am speaking of the fragmentation of the individual. I am speaking of the fact that part of what we are is being defiled and rejected by the manner in which we live in our society.

    A general theory of alienation would be a body of knowledge about how human freedom and responsible choice is constricted. Evil is that which makes it impossible for sapiens to realizing their potential; this knowledge would be an expression of what are responsible human powers and how society limits the expression of those powers.

    Emerson, considered by many as the top moralist in American history, understood these facts when he stated the important challenge to all wo/men to be self-reliance. He felt that self-reliance was the “keynote of American democracy”. Whatever should limit human self-reliance works against the nature of wo/man. The great challenge to education was to develop a comprehensive theory of the limitations of self-reliance and to teach this to all Americans.

    To achieve such a goal demanded that science comprehend what all humans strive for. Emerson was convinced that sapiens strived after meaning and the creation of meaning. The crux of self-reliance then was how to advance the self-creation of human meaning.

    Our habit of seeking accustomed satisfactions prevents us from finding new sources of energy with which to see or create new meanings. Blind habit controls our every turn. Familiar modes of thought and accustomed perceptions lock our imagination and will into a strait jacket of passivity.

    What tool is available to break this passive mold of inaction and apathy? It is playful imagination that can lead us from the jailhouse we have trapped our self within. We need to remind our self of Plato’s wise expression that the gods are happiest when man plays. This playful attitude applies both to our sciences as well as our arts. It applies to all of wo/man’s symbolic activities.

    Physicists found the world inside the atom to be non-intuitive. The world inside the atom seemed to be totally different from our world. Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy was about an alien world. If, however, we were able to climb into the atomic world it is quite possible that the principle of indeterminacy would be ‘just doing what comes naturally’.

    Some of history’s great thinkers have penetrated into the human mind long before Freud. Rousseau, for example, comprehended an aspect of “unconscious motivation”. “The moral of this anecdote is that the honest man can see through himself even quicker than the honest scientist can see through nature.”

    We could have comprehended the science of the human condition much sooner than we did and the reason we did not is because of the “intolerance of method, the claims to exclusivity, the doctrine of a single valid approach to the study of man…The place where this took its greatest toll was in the fragmentation of the disciplines, the isolation of the various approaches to man. But undoubtedly the most harmful intolerance of all was the intolerance of philosophy in the science of man.”

    In the reaction to various philosophical speculations, the scientific community in the mid-nineteenth century shouted ‘no more speculations were needed about the nature of man’. The scientific community followed by the population in general decided that it was only important to discover what was going on within the organism. Psychiatry became uncompromisingly organismic. Science failed to see that its methods were narrowing significantly humanities real striving.

    Pragmatism at the end of the nineteenth century was a response to this narrow scientific approach toward the “science of man”. It became obvious that we must understand what wo/man is striving for, “as a part of nature, as a dimension of life”.

    Rousseau taught us that humans wanted meaning and maximum conviction but a major question that the scientific method could not resolve “What was behind all of man’s peculiar urges, what he was trying to do as a vehicle of the life force? For only if we could understand this abstract problem could we answer the greatest practical puzzle of all: What were the possibilities of life on the level of human existence; and, conversely, what was there about the human condition that was hopeless?”

    What are the limitations and possibilities for human life? Is it possible for humans to live in harmony or is war a necessary component of human activity?


    Ideas and quotes from “Beyond Alienation” by Ernest Becker
     
  2. jcsd
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