I didn't get the draft of the short story on which I am working done in time for today's post. So I went and dug up an old paper from the last Philosophy class I took. I can only assume that it will see nowhere near the traffic that the Case Study does. I went and added pictures to go with the music, film, and television sources.
The Singular Determinant: On the Topic of the Allowance of Free Action 1
Living on a lighted stage
Approaches the unreal
For those who think and feel
In touch with some reality
Beyond the gilded cage
Cast in this unlikely role,
Ill-equipped to act
With insufficient tact
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact
Living in the limelight
The universal dream
For those who wish to seem
Those who wish to be
Must put aside the alienation
Get on with the fascination
The real relation
The underlying theme
Living in a fisheye lens
Caught in the camera eye
I have no heart to lie
I cant pretend a stranger
Is a long-awaited friend
All the worlds indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage 2
|Canadian prog-rock trio Rush|
What are we to supposed Neil Peart is addressing with these lyrics? Is he only describing the life of a famous, successful musician, or is he describing something more primal, more elemental to human existence? The former is entirely plausible, for Rush was quite successful when this song was penned (it is from Rush’s 1981 album Moving Pictures), and Rush clearly performs on a stage while performing before an audience, under many lights which serve to highlight the members. However, Peart is at the same time explaining a truth that exists for both Rush (the band) and people in general. What is at stake is the nature of the individual. Should the individual seek external definition and act merely as an object to be observed and assessed by others? Or should the individual risk alienation – being considered as a distinct other not fitting into the prescribed mold – and reject external direction and determination of one’s being?
More to the point, what does Peart mean when addressing the stranger? Is this merely a statement that he cannot engage in perfunctory glad-handing of people he does not know, or a deeper statement as to the nature of the self in relation to others, that the relationship between the self and the other is one that needs to be carefully guarded to hold on the sense of one’s own identity? Can one who was once a friend become a stranger – can the other change his or her nature, or is the nature of the other determined only be the observing being?
These questions may seem beyond the scope of a pop-rock song written and recorded by a Canadian power trio, though Rush did write several songs that are clearly influenced by the works of Ayn Rand. While Rand is a poor philosopher (the Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy describes objectivism as a “so-called philosophy”3), many have taken her decrying of altruism and religion to heart. Leonard Piekoff made an attempt to present objectivism as an actual philosophy, one of which is the is the importance of selfishness and individual achievement. Acknowledging this, it is not beyond reason to see an existential influence in a song such as “Limelight.”
What is of interest in “Limelight” is how it can be understood in phenomenological terms, specifically in regards to the self as proposed by Martin Heidegger and Erwin Straus. Rush addresses something that is presented in regards to the sense of self in regards to the other (the greater societal other rather than just an individual). To Heidegger, this is best seen in regards to the authentic vs. inauthentic life, which is indeed supposed to be a struggle. When Peart writes that “living in the limelight / the universal dream / for those who wish to seem,” he is representing the possibility that the highest achievement of the inauthentic being – a being wholly corrupted by society and robbed of a sense of self, or at least determinant self direction – is to be seen, respected, lauded by society. The authentic being, on the other hand, is sure to receive some degree of “alientation” – a supreme sense of being different from the societal other – when engaging in a struggle for the better understanding of the self on one’s own terms. For Heidegger, there is an implicit sense of guilt in failing to seek to live the authentic life, and the risk is immense – one can fall away from one’s self (though this is likely to mean one’s sense of self) and be left with nothing. As the definition of the self would come from the societal other, it is not controlled by the being. It would not be his or hers. The individual would literally be left with nothing of their own. Instead, the individual must seek “the underlying theme” – the self.
For Straus, there is another risk. The individual must interact with other beings to be sure, but there must be some sort of regulator to ensure that the sense of self is not obliterated by the societal other. Straus labels this “shame.” Straus’ concept of shame is not merely concealing shame, but also preservative shame. Here, preservative shame can best be seen in the song with the lyrics: “Cast in this unlikely role / ill-equipped to act / with insufficient tact / one must put up barriers / to keep oneself intact.” The barrier (singular) for Straus is shame. It allows for the self to determine the risk of exposing oneself in one’s actions. Shame is what allows for the continued sense of self. Much as phenomenology posits that the being finds itself in the world, Peart imagines a being with necessary social interactions but not sufficiently equipped to deal with the societal other without risking the self.
Can one act freely? The question may not seem to logically flow from the material covered above, but that is precisely what is at issue. While Peart may only be pondering the risk of self identity due to the perils of fame, there is always the risk of the individual being defined by the societal other and not the self. This is more devastating because if the concept of self is defined by external measures and means, then there is no possibility of self-determinant action. In short, if one does not accept the struggle to lead the authentic life, if one does not learn and exercise the proper level of Strausian shame, one will be denied any stripe of free will. [It is beyond the scope of this paper to address the nature of freedom, or the possibility of absolute freedom. Free will is, for the purposes of this paper, understood to be the ability for the individual to be the cause of one’s own actions – for there to be the possibility of their being actions attributable to the individual rather than of situational factors, of which the individual may be one.]
There are those who think that life
Has nothing left to chance
With a host of holy horrors
To direct our aimless dance
A planet of playthings
We dance on the strings
Of powers we cannot perceive
The stars arent aligned ---
Or the gods are malign
Blame is better to give than receive
You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path thats clear
I will choose free will
There are those who think that theyve been dealt a losing hand
The cards were stacked against them ---
They weren’t born in lotus-land
A prisoner in chains
A victim of venomous fate
Kicked in the face
You can’t pray for a place
In heaven’s unearthly estate
Each of us
A cell of awareness
Imperfect and incomplete
With uncertain ends
On a fortune hunt
|Movementarian mass wedding, with The Leader on stage.|
The leader is good
The leader is great
We surrender our will
As of this date
– Mantra of the Movementarians 5
What are the religious implications to the Heideggerian and Strausian suppositions as to the sense of self? Is the self-realized individual a threat to theology? Can a flawed and finite being do a better job of understanding and defining itself than a Divine Being? Does the need for an understanding of the self eliminate the possibility of a Divine Being?
Part of the problem may be that free will has become part of the ethos of Judeo-Christian theology despite there being contradictory evidence as to whether there is such a thing for humanity. Indeed, the Bible states that free will may be only an illusion, but since the individual is unaware of the external cause of his or her actions (be it God or the Devil), the individual is still (morally) responsible for his or her actions. This is troubling on several levels; it denies the ability for self-determination, threatens the concept of the self (the individual is a directed object and not a being of consequence), but still imposes possible punishments (individual accountability) for actions directed by a supernatural other.
Again, Neil Peart of Rush has something to contribute on this matter. Indeed, the song “Freewill” presents both sides of the argument – actions are the dictates of a Divine Being (or are fated to happen) which makes self-determination, indeed the self, an illusion unworthy of indulgence, or that actions can only have consequence to the individual if the sense of self, and with it a sense of self-determination – a sense of free will – is accepted. Peart once again evinces some existential influence in his lyrics noting that the individual is “a cell of awareness / imperfect and incomplete.” While it can be argued that indeed, all ends are certain (death), Peart is not denying the cessation of being when he pens “uncertain ends,” but rather that the events between the present and the ultimate end (death) are not predetermined, but consequences of the choices and actions undertaken by the individual. Furthermore, as the ultimate end cannot be denied, there is a finite amount of actions of consequence to which one can commit.
The alternative is a ridiculous lamentation of one’s fate (if it is preordained, if it can be no other way than how it is, what is the point or purpose of seeking an alternative, let alone bemoaning the fact that things are how they are instead of different – they cannot be other than what they are, there is no alternative to be found). Peart asserts, perhaps rightly so, that a denial of free will is still an exercise of free will. This would mean that free will is not something that can be given by something other than the self, nor can it be taken away; it must be surrendered to an outside entity if one is to lose control of one’s sense of being, understanding, and actions. Peart also addresses the psychological component of denial of free will, that in distancing oneself from one’s actions (removing the self as the cause of actions), one can attempt to avoid negative consequences for those actions. Instead, this blame can be directed at a faceless, shapeless, non-apparent being that is responsible. This speaks to the fear of retribution, and is in-line with Straus’ understanding of concealing shame, but would require a sense of self to enact; this allows for Peart to destroy the possibility of an aware being that is directed solely by an external force (without first surrendering its free will).
Peart also addressing the troubling issue of predetermination. One is either saved or not, and no amount of prayer or dedication to the tenants of the faith (or good works, or even acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior) can alter the fate of one’s soul, of one’s being. However, what is mankind to do? Human beings are, according to Christian dogma, born with original sin. It is the nature of man to be a sinner. Are the options to struggle against one’s nature and give the appearance of being good (and only do good actions) or to accept one’s wickedness (and engage in sin and debauchery) without reservation? No, for there are not even options; one cannot deny one’s nature. Moreover, since this nature was set by an external power, it is entirely possible that the individual is unaware of his or her own nature. The logical conclusion is that the sense of being (there is no self since there is no ownership of identity, motivations, or actions) must be defined using external criteria, by an other.
So what of “The Simpsons” then? Why include a reference to cults and cult-like behavior? This actually allows for an easy manner to again speak of free will in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Why does God grant free will to humanity (and only to humanity)? Why do so many religions and cults ask for the surrender of free will?
The reason for the Judeo-Christian call for the surrender of free will is rather simple – man has nothing of his own worthy of sacrifice to God, so God gifted him with choice. Man can choose to embrace God’s divinity and love or retain a sense of self and identity separate from God. (It is unclear as to how animals experience God – the Native American traditions held that the animals, being more attuned to nature, were closer to God, where the Judeo-Christian tradition holds that the animals are the dominion of man and thus have no direct relationship with God.) The angels are not given this choice. Instead, they are made (by their nature, as designed by God) to sing God’s praises and of His greatness. Man can crudely attempt to emulate this, prostrating himself before God and praying for forgiveness for each and every action that doth offend the Lord (see the Book of Job), but can he truly divorce himself from a sense of self before death? More importantly, can one surrender control of oneself – identity, actions, understanding – to an external being that cannot be directly witnessed (without the miracle of faith)? One can clearly surrender the sense of self and determination of actions to a terrestrial being, such as a religious (cult) leader (see 18 November, 1978 – Jonestown, Guyana) or to an institution (such as the military) to some degree. Can one wholly lose the sense of self? Can one become part of the collective whole? Is there a chance of not only being defined by the societal other, but of actually becoming the societal other? This destroys the self, and there can be no worse fate for the individual – it is death without dying, experiences that are forever unknown though experienced. Again, Strausian shame acts as a construct to hamper this from happening. As one is seeking only to engage in meaningful, intimate acts (of consequence), one does not reduce oneself to an object to be directed (or even observed as something that can be directed as an object) or risk exposing oneself enough for the self to be defined by a societal other.
She walks into the outhouse
The cold night breathes into her face
The flies are standing still now
The moon it spills through the place
And she starts wondering its like to be liked by everyone
And like everyone be just like anyone
And just wants to be so just like anyone
She reaches through the darkness
Her fingers touch the porcelain seat
She spins and pulls her pants down
The cold air holds her like a thief
She starts wondering what they mean, do they just mean to be mean
And thinking about the scene, do they just want to be seen
And trying not to seem so just like anyone
The door comes screeching open
She walks into the evening air
She disappears in the darkness
All that’s left is the faint smell of her hair
She’s done wondering what its like to be liked by everyone
And like everyone be just like anyone
And just wants to be so just like anyone
And wondering what they mean, do they just mean to be mean
And thinking about the scene, do they just want to be seen
And trying not to seem so just like anyone 6
What is the purpose of society, then? Why is man such a social being? If Heidegger is right, even though the individual has interactions with others, the other is not really “there.” The other is part of the apprehended world, and may in fact be a threat to the sense of self. The other represents a threat to proper understanding of the self, as the other can be the basis for an external measure – the presence of the other allows for the inauthentic life. At the same time, without the other, without the apprehended world, there is no fear or dread – there is no impetus for care, and while this may seem all well and good, it also destroys the possibility for the individual to orient itself to the self, and thus at the same time destroys the possibility of authenticity.
At the same time, though the individual is a part of society (to some degree of another), he or she is always separate. The individual is always a self; he or she is his or her own being. Society, the societal other, can be a maddening beast to understand, even whilst interacting within it. Dave Pirner paints a picture of a young girl trying to grasp the demands and desires of the societal other (while making use of an outhouse) in “Just Like Anyone.”
Does external validation matter if one has a well-defined sense of self? Maslow would argue that it doesn’t. Aristotle would contend that an individual with all of the virtues would receive societal admiration without having to seek it (as virtues are specific to one’s own society). Pirner, however, presents the dilemma through to unsteady eyes of an adolescent. Is it possible that those seeking validation through others care more about being validated than being themselves? Is it truly that simple? It is unlikely that in the space of a single use of the outhouse an adolescent girl could gain such an insight into those who allow themselves to be molded by the societal other, that conformity is first served through a desire for recognition that cannot (or has not) been attained by the individual from the self. This would allow for a type of belief that it is better to be realized as an object than ignored (and be of no consequence) as a being.
|Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald, the sisters from "Ginger Snaps" (2000).|
Perhaps the best example of this type of thinking as evinced by an adolescent girl comes from the 2000 movie “Ginger Snaps” 7. If one ignores the transformation of the Ginger Fitzgerald character into a werewolf and instead focuses on Ginger’s transformation from disaffected outsider to marginally accepted member of the high school ‘society,’ then both sides of the societal other can be seen. After losing her virginity, Ginger bemoans her new situation to her younger sister, Brigitte. The boy (Jason McCardy) will be transformed into a hero by the other whereas all she has become is “a lay...a lousy lay.” Ginger warns of the danger of being defined by the group. “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease, or the virgin next door.” None of these allow for any level of personal complexities or actual individuality; a girl can be categorized and classified without regard to her desires or her being. At the same time, Ginger revels in being accepted (in however a limited manner) and does not wish to return to the sad desperation of being both unknown and alone (“Do you think I want to do back to being a nobody?”). Of course, one can point out that at the time Ginger has embraced the false identity given by the group, she has become a homicidal monster. More importantly, Ginger represents a special danger because her own identity was never so much self-defined as it was defined through her subjugation of her sister.
Ginger is a being who imposes her will upon others (to no spectacular ends) as best she can, who is against the society and others more than she has any real sense of self. In this way, Ginger is a special quandary. She is not unlike a cult leader (though with only a cult of one) who will violate the self of an other, but she is not promoting anything. The identity that Ginger allows for Brigitte is only a shadow of the one she has crafted for herself, and even that is only defined as an undirected rebellion against quiet Canadian suburbanism (though on a more universal note, both Fitzgerald sisters have a real and unabiding fear that they will become their mother). Still, she yearns for some level of acceptance (such as using an art project to simultaneously outrage a teacher and excite the boys in the class) from someone of consequence. The fact that there is no one of consequence to Ginger (not even herself, really, and Brigitte is an object to be directed and controlled more than a being to be respected and engaged) makes this a real problem.
When Brigitte confronts Ginger with her changing behavior and is rebuffed as remaining a little girl, Brigitte is really experiencing a loss of intimacy. She follows the Strausian model of shame and beings to restrict her sharing of experiences with Ginger. Brigitte develops a sense of self separate from her sister as a result, though this is a purpose driven (cure Ginger) self more than a deeply realized and considered self. It could be argued that the film uses a contrived model of Heidegger’s concern approach, but that is too far a reach to maintain. Where Ginger does become driven by a force that is not of her choosing (the lycanthropy), Brigitte continuously confronts real and actual (within the story) danger in an effort to save her sister, and in doing so, save the one person with which she can share herself.
What does this have to do with free will? The question becomes, does Brigitte have free will (as a character within the film)? The sense of self that Brigitte develops is still contingent on her sister and directly related to her sister’s condition. Whatever free will Ginger had is gone the moment the infection hits her and she, in her very being, becomes changed against her will by a foreign entity. Ginger is unsure of herself because she is ceasing to be herself. Does it not follow then that a strong and accurate sense of self are the best instruments through which one can exercise free will? However, how does one develop a sense of self without being self-determinant? Is Heidegger right in that one finds oneself encountering the world, faced with the terror and dread of the unknown and the potential dangers to the self (which need not be entirely physical for Straus) and needs to immediately start exercising free will to properly orient oneself not just to the world, but to the self? Perhaps he is very right.
Tonight, tonight I say goodbye
To everyone who loves me
Stick it to my enemies, tonight
Then I disappear
Bathe my path in shining light
Set the dials to thrill me
Every secret has its price
This one's set to kill
Too loose, too tight, too dark, too bright
A lie, the truth, which one should I use?
If the lie succeeds
Then you'll know what I mean
When I tell you I have secrets
Do you think I'm beautiful?
Or do you think I'm evil?
Will you take me for a ride?
The one that never ends
Too loose, too tight, too dark, too bright
A lie, the truth, which one shall I use?
If the lie succeeds
Then you'll know what I mean
When I tell you I have secrets
Tonight, tonight I say goodbye
To everything that thrills me
As I throw the chains
I forged in life
To shatter on the floor
As I dream all the evidence
Is piling up against me
As I breathe all the essence rare
Is falling off the vine
And if you knew, just how smooth
I could stop it on the dime
You could meet me at the
Scene of the crime 8
|The song "Crime Scene, Part One" appears on the album Black Love.|
This is not unlike the Kantian problem. While Kant does try to side-step reason being antithetical to free will by having each individual be the author of reason (never mind that there should be a total homogeneity given perfectly reasonable people), is the problem not that the individual is serving not the self but an abstract concept that cannot even be directly experienced? Yes, Kant does a fantastic job of detailing personal responsibility for actions, but it is unclear if reason is a better means of exercising free will than serving one’s own inclinations is.
Kant is very concerned with morality, though. Heidegger does not appear to be. Indeed, how can one experience morality? Kant may argue that morality is a self-created construct, a derivative of reason, but it appears to be an external force that can be used to control one’s actions. At the same time, Kant’s instruction to always treat others and ends and not as means is not dissimilar to Straus’ call for respect for all patients as full human beings or of respecting the primacy of the sense of self in the other and not treating them as an object.
There is a completely different question to be posed by both “Crime Scene, Part One” and Kant – is reason representing actuality? For Straus, there are real possibilities of intimacy. The self can be shared with others without becoming an object, without surrendering control of one’s actions or hijacking another’s. However:
[Y]ou might have a strong feeling of being “at one” with a lover. Reason tells you this is not literally true for you indeed have separate brains and bodies. But in a different and very real sense it is true; you share similar values and are committed to each other’s welfare. 9
What good is reason then? Reason denies a real experience and the act of intimacy being one of actual transcendence of the self, does it not? Maybe. What of experience, though? Professor Jonathan Smith notes that :
We are something like addicts when we feel that our most important
concerns are a permanent “given,” somehow locked into out bodies. Teenage lovers “cannot live” without their soul-mate passions. “Life can’t go on” after receiving a diagnosis of cancer. “Everything is ruined” when we lose a job. What is important to note is at their peak such self-centered cries are genuine and catastrophically real. We are utterly convinced that something at the very core – perhaps “life” itself – has been destroyed. Of course, in time we gain perspective and realize that life does go on, that our utter conviction of complete personal catastrophe was nothing more than self-centered delusion. We learn that our attachment to a love-object, perfect health, or a certain job was not permanent or written in stone. It was an attachment, or more precisely, an exaggerated belief. Our permanent, life-destroying catastrophe was just a thought.
...Our feeling of who we are, our sense of “identity,” “agency,” “self,” or “I” represents an experience that is obviously quite real. If I ask you to point to who you are, few would have difficulty pointing to themselves. Now, close your eyes, and in the quiet of your mind, point to the “I,” the “inner agent,” your “you.” Most people have little difficulty with this experiment. You would probably point to something in your head. This “I” see out of your eyes and hears through your ears – the windows of your body. This “I” is locked inside the body. That’s how it feels.
In Chapter 9 we noted a recent and ground-breaking self-concept experiment in which a simple set of virtual reality goggles can literally change your view of yourself and your environment. Suddenly you are standing outside of your body looking at yourself. This experiment is much more than a parlor trick. It shows that the most central and core experience of your life, who you are, your “I” need not be subjectively locked into your body, but can subjectively exist outside your body (yet not in some ethereal ghost). You cannot claim that your “I” is permanently housed in your body while you are outside looking at your body, looking at the very house windows you believe you are looking through. Confused?
...If while wearing virtual reality goggles you actually experience your very self, your “I” as external to your body, then your very identity is also made of the stuff of illusion. You are a “cognitive construct.” You are a thought, yet you are not dreaming. And thoughts can be put aside. Thoughts can be forgotten. Nothing is permanent. 10
While this seems to have some of the elements of Heideggarian thought, it does not allow for the self and denies the importance of orientation. The more accurate answer is that illusions can be experienced, and taken to be real, but that only makes the experience (and not the illusion) real. There must still be a being to have the experience, and as that being is having a distinct experience within the framework of its own capacities, it must be happening to an individual. It is true that the being is not permanent, but if it were, then of what consequence would experiences be? Without knowing of one’s mortality, where is the drive to realize? With the confirmation of identity comes the prospect of free will.
You know, you don't act like a scientist.
Dr. Peter Venkman
They're usually pretty stiff.
You're more like a game show host. 11
|Dana Barrett in her kitchen, moments before confronting Dr. Venkman.|
How should one comfort one’s self, then? Does the need for distinctive individuality preclude social graces? Is tact part and parcel of inauthenticity? No, but service to social graces for their own sake is tantamount to denial of the self. One is not acting in accordance with the self but rather external rules if one serves the social graces, the societal other’s expectations, above or before the actual needs of the individual. This is a self-denial of free will, placing an institutional construct first. It allows for and mandates some level of external dictates of behavior. This is not to say that social graces are dangerous; they allow for respectful interactions between individuals as well as between the individual and the societal other. They should not, however, be the purpose of interaction.
In the 1984 film “Ghostbusters,” Bill Murray portrays Dr. Peter Venkman, an atypical parapsycholigst. He has an absolute sense of self (this is ignoring 1989's “Ghostbusters 2") and comports himself in a manner that some may find charming (and others abrasive). Still, he is genuine, and there in lies his appeal. In being authentic, Venkman can have real intimate relationships (the Strausian type of intimacy). Having a strong sense of self, Venkman can be and is self-directed. Peter Venkman is a self-determinant agent. Peter Venkman, in addition to being “a man who can get things done” is capable of exercising free will, and does. Dulli’s protagonist, on the other hand, is more akin to Hume’s sensible knave in that he is aware of the tools necessary to navigate the societal world, but has not internalized them, nor does he assign any value to them except as means to achieve his own ends. He may seem as though he is self-determined, but is he? At the very least, he cannot share any of his real self with others, and thus is forever alone. He is the man who “has no real and actual relation to the world; the world is a source of disturbances from which [he] turns away from himself.” 12
Heidegger, Martin. History of the Concept of Time
Straus, Erwin, “Shame as a Historiological Problem”
Smith, Jonathan. [Psuedoscience & Parapsychology Textbook awaiting publication], 2008
Rush – “Limelight” and “Freewill”
Soul Asylum – “Just Like Anyone”
The Afghan Whigs – “Crime Scene, Part One”
The Simpsons – “The Joy of Sect”
Ginger Snaps (2000)
1 In keeping with one of the themes of phenomenology, this paper has incorporated songs as well as excerpts from two feature films and a long-running television show. As the nature of man may best be understood not through diligent scientific enquiry, but rather through the examination of the art created by man, this appeared to be an appropriate choice.
2 “Limelight,” lyrics by Neil Peart, music by Geddy Lee (performed by Rush)
3 The Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 469
4“Freewill,” lyrics by Neil Peart, music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, performed by Rush
5 From “The Simpsons”, Episode 913 5F23 The Joy of Sect
6 “Just Like Anyone,” lyrics and music by Dave Pirner, performed by Soul Asylum
7 “Ginger Snaps” (2000) written by Karen Walton & John Fawcett
8“Crime Scene, Part One,” lyrics and music by Greg Dulli, performed by The Afghan Whigs
9 Prof. Jonathan C. Smith, Chapter 15 2008
10 Prof. Jonathan Smith, Chapter 11 2008
11 Excerpted from “Ghostbusters” (1984), written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis
12 Straus, “Shame as a Historiological Problem,” p. 218