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Friday, August 13, 2004
a true self 'deep down'
The following passages are taken from Cultural Psychology of the Self: Place, Morality, and Art in Human Worlds by Ciarán Benson. Specifically, from the chapter titled "Psychologies of Maturity: Development or destination?" I'm putting them here because they relate strongly to what I'm working on in the background (as it were), and also because I thought some of you mind find this interesting. I've discussed, and dissed, Maslow here before, and will again in more depth, as long promised, but I love how he skewers the guy here -- and even more so in the parts following what I've captured. This is one of those books whose full text you can access on Amazon, so if you are interested, you can read a lot more here.
The 'view from nowhere', to use Thomas Nagel's charactrerization of the ideal scientific perspective, is radically distorted when the idea of a completely developed life is the focus of inquiry. At this level, all psychological perspectives on what constitutes a desirable pattern of human development are morally and locally contingent. There is no aboriginal 'true' self to which we can turn for guidance.
The idea of a 'true' and a 'false' self recurs in both psychoanalytic thinking (for example Donald Winnicott) and humanistic psychological theorizing (Carl Rogers and the 'Human Potential Movement', for instance). It has philosophical support in the work of Rousseau and Kant, and voices of opposition from Hegel and Dewey. 'New Age' psychologies are particularly fond of this idea of a true self 'deep down' which simply needs to be massaged or conjured out into the open....
Cultural psychology argues that we understand ourselves to be who we are through the richness or poverty of the languages of expression which we come to acquire. We emerge from and become who we are over many years through transactions with our families, churches, schools, friends, enemies, books, films, governments and others. A task for psychology is to explain how these transactions lead to a fabricated world of individual subjectivity which is our culture. The self to whom we may be true is a self whose very being is collective, so that to be true to oneself invariably means being true to something other than oneself. A psychology which fails to recognise this in its formulation of an ideal of maturity occludes a crucial part of the picture.
Some psychologists try to avoid the moral dimension by asserting that a universal ideal of maturity accompanies a universal conception of self. On this particular tendency, cultural psychology casts a cold eye. Abraham Maslow, for instance, believed that his idea of self-actualization transcended nationalism, class and caste:
I have described my self-actualizing subjects as transcending nationalism. I could have added that they also transcend class and caste, This is true in my experience even though I would expect a priori that affluence and social dignity are apt to make self-actualization more probable.
He later writes that
my prediction or guess about the future of the normality idea is that some form of theory about generalized, species-wide, psychological health will soon be developed, which will hold for all human beings no matter what their culture and no matter what their time.
This is ahistorical, acultural psychology in full self-confident flight despite the camouflage of historical references.
At the heart of Maslow's position is that man has 'an essential nature of his own' with universal needs that are 'good or neutral rather than evil'. On the basis of these assumptions Maslow goes on to claim that
full health and normal and desirable development consist in actualizing this nature, in fulfilling these potentialities, and in developing into maturity along the lines that this hidden, covert, dimly seen essential nature dictates, growing from within rather than being shaped from without.
'Good' is what assists the actualization of this nature, 'bad' is what thwarts or hinders it. Maslow believed that he was talking about a human nature discovered by modern psychology, including psychoanalysis. The contrary view is that what he took to be a true universal human nature was in fact the desirable lineaments of the modern self as it has been shaped and constituted by the forces of modernity. This latter view sees what Maslow and others take as given elements of human nature, there to be 'discovered', as instead cultural-historical achievements or constructions. These constituted aspects of self are contingent and open to significant change.
The passages above are quoted from Cultural Psychology of the Self: Place, Morality, and Art in Human Worlds, pp. 225-228. The embedded Maslow quotes
are from A. Maslow, Motivation and Personality (2nd ed), New York, Harper & Row, 1970.
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"RageBoy: Giving being fucking nuts a good name since 1985."
28 October 2004
||More of Chris Locke's photos
Until a minute ago, I had no photos. I still have no photos to speak of.
I don't even have a camera. But all these people were linking to "my photos."
It was embarassing. It's still embarassing. But I'm used to that.
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