Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Bit More On Social Disinterest

I talked to my dad today about my post on social disinterest. He shared his experience of the working world with me. That he was so preoccupied with his work and his family that he just didn't have the time or energy to really be interested in other people. Which is entirely understandable. It is really difficult to make time for everyone. Working takes up so much time. Plus, I would say that my dad did engage people with interest. He was interested in his coworkers. He talked nicely to service folk.

But I am totally aware and sympathetic of the point he made. I just don't know how to deal with it.

And this is what I really want to say here and what I want to think about it right now: This criticism in social disinterest is in no way directed at real people that I know or encounter; it is directed towards the social and economic conditions that our community has created for itself, for you and I. The problem is not that people are too stupid, irrational, ignorant, or oblivious to pay attention and treat everyone with interest. The problem is that our system encourages people to be disinterested in one another, to get along with the business of money, to say hello and goodbye.

All of this reminds me of Collingwood's concept of the non-social community. He argues that it is possible for people to live in a functional community without every willfully consenting to that way of life, thus failing to meet the criteria of a society. For Collingwood, a society, as opposed to a mere community, is something that people choose to be a part of, it is a way of life that individuals freely consent to. Society, or civilization (its ideal form), therefore, is a process of converting the youth from a non-social community into a functional society. Because children are always born into the world ignorant of the goals of a given society or civilization. That is why children are raised in certain ways, to transform them from a non-social community into a society. Collingwood refers to this portion of society the nursery, because it is a collection of children that have not yet been brought into the traditions of a given civilization, and that are to be raised up so that they will freely consent into and perpetuate a given lifestyle. The nursery is at the core of Collingwood's notion of the non-social community.

Collingwood believes that the theory of the non-social community is one of the principal contributions of The New Leviathan. He claims that classical political philosophy (Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau), failed to account for the existence of the non-social community. Instead, they contented themselves with references to 'the state of nature'. Collingwood believes that the 'state of nature' can be done away with in favor of a philosophy of the non-social community. I'm inclined to agree with him and I'm very pleased to have placed this concept more firmly in my mind (with today's thinking and this writing). It seems like it would have to be an essential component of John Searle's 'philosophy of society'. Collingwood prompts us to ask, How does a society or civilization perpetuate itself? Why are society's constantly changing into different things? How can we be sure that the nursery is being successfully transformed into the next generation of consenting members of a civilization?

I fear that America is some type of non-social community. I don't feel like I'm consentingly involved in a mental process with the people around me, I don't feel like we are consciously working towards a mutual goal. I feel like we walk past one another on the streets without saying a word feeling like the things going on around us are beyond our control. I certainly feel a bit helpless. I'm doing my best, though. And everything's fine.

Nevertheless, social disinterest is a real thing. And I do believe it has a lot to do with the conditions our society has created for itself. It is just hard to know what to do when the world is so big and so small. When there are so many people everywhere, yet, for one reason or another, it can be so hard to talk so many of them. What is it about water water everywhere? Something about people people everywhere and not a one to... to what? Blink? Wink? Think? Hug? Speak to? Perhaps I should add, 'without the mitigation of the economic system and its offspring?'

This reflection on the relationship between social disinterest, the idea of the non-social community, and the socio-economic system will go somewhere into a short essay I'm working on, which is called 'Civility and Power in Collingwood and Foucault'. There I'll be addressing the similarity of Collingwood's notion of civility and Foucault's aesthetics of existence. At the core of both of them is the attempt to use dialectical and historical forms of thought to cultivate an attitude that seeks to minimize the inequalities in relationships. This, for Collingwood, is the essence of civilization, it means that although the presence of force "is inevitable in human life;... being civilized means cutting it down, and becoming more civilized means cutting it down still further” (TNL, 326). This, too, is what Foucault means when he says that power relations in themselves are not the problem, "but to give one’s self the rules of law, the techniques of management, and also the ethics, the ethos, the practice of self, which would allow these games of power to be played with a minimum of domination" (The Final Foucault, 18). Clearly, Collingwood and Foucault were on to a similar idea: that a discussion of civilization must be about an attitude, a way of thinking and living that seeks to reduce the amount of force in our relationships.

Their different approaches to this issue are the topic of my current, smaller writing project. That project, in turn, will contribute to the final portion of AZI, where these ideas undoubtedly come into play.

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