Mind Self and Society
Section 26 The Realization of the Self in the Social Situation
There is still one phase in the development of the self that needs to be presented in more detail: the realization of the self in the social situation in which it arises.
I have argued that the self appears in experience essentially as a "me" with the organization of the community to which it belongs. This organization is, of course, expressed in the particular endowment and particular social situation of the individual. He is a member of the community, but he is a particular part of the community, with a particular heredity and position which distinguishes him from anybody else. He is what he is in so far as he is a member of this community, and the raw materials out of which this particular individual is born would not be a self but for his relationship to others in the community of which he is a part. Thus is he aware of himself as such, and
(201) his not only in political citizenship, or in membership in groups of which he is a part, but also from the point of view of reflective thought. He is a member of the community of the thinkers whose literature he reads and to which he may contribute by his own published thought. He belongs to a society of all rational beings, and the rationality that he identifies with himself involves a continued social interchange. The widest community in which the individual finds himself, that which is everywhere, through and for everybody, is the thought world as such. He is a member of such a community and he is what he is as such a member.
The fact that all selves are constituted by or in terms of the social process, and are individual reflections of it-or rather of this organized behavior pattern which it exhibits, and which they prehend in their respective structures-is not in the least incompatible with, or destructive of, the fact that every individual self has its own peculiar individuality, its own unique pattern; because each individual self within that process, while it reflects in its organized structure the behavior pattern of that process as a whole, does so from its own particular and unique standpoint within that process, and thus reflects in its organized structure a different aspect or perspective of this whole social behavior pattern from that which is reflected in the organized structure of any other individual self within that process (just as every monad in the Leibnizian universe mirrors that universe from a different point of view, and thus mirrors a different aspect or perspective of that universe). In other words, the organized structure of every individual self within the human social process of experience and behavior reflects, and is constituted by, the organized relational pattern of that process as a whole; but each individual self-structure reflects, and is constituted by, a different aspect or perspective of this relational pattern, because each reflects this relational pattern from its own unique standpoint; so that the common social origin and constitution of individual selves and their structures does not preclude wide individual differences and variations among them,
(202) or contradict the peculiar and more or less distinctive individuality which each of them in fact possesses. Every individual self within a given society or social community reflects in its organized structure the whole relational pattern of organized social behavior which that society or community exhibits or is carrying on, and its organized structure is constituted by this pattern; but since each of these individual selves reflects a uniquely different aspect or perspective of this pattern in its structure, from its own particular and unique place or standpoint within the whole process of organized social behavior which exhibits this pattern-since, that is, each is differently or uniquely related to that whole process, and occupies its own essentially unique focus of relations therein-the structure of each is differently constituted by this pattern from the way in which the structure of any other is so constituted.
The individual, as we have seen, is continually reacting back against this society. Every adjustment involves some sort of change in the community to which the individual adjusts himself. And this change, of course, may be very important. Take even the widest community which we can present, the rational community that is represented in the so-called universal discourse. Up to a comparatively recent time the form of this was that of an Aristotelian world. But men in America, England, Italy, Germany, France, have very considerably changed the structure of that world, introducing a logic of multiple relations in place of the Aristotelian relation of substance and attribute. Another fundamental change has taken place in the form of the world through the reaction of an individual-Einstein. Great figures in history bring about very fundamental changes. These profound changes which take place through the action of individual minds are only the extreme expression of the sort of changes that take place steadily through-reactions which are not simply those of a "me" but of an "I." These changes are changes that take place gradually and more or less imperceptibly. We know that as we pass from one historical period to another there have been fundamental changes, and we know
(203) these changes are due to the reactions of different
individuals. It is only the ultimate effect that we can recognize, but the
differences are due to the gestures of these countless individuals actually
changing the situation in which they find themselves, although the specific
changes are too minute for us to identify. As I have pointed out, the ego or "I"
that is responsible for changes of that sort appears in experience only after
its reaction has taken place. It is only after we have said the word we are
saying that we recognize ourselves as the person that has said it, as this
particular self that says this particular thing; it is only after we have done
the thing that we are going to do that we are aware of what we are doing.
However carefully we plan the future it always is different from that which we
can previse, and this something that we are continually bringing in and adding
to is what we identify with the self that comes into the level of our experience
only in the completion of the act.
In some respects, of course, we can determine what that self is going to do. We can accept certain responsibilities in advance. One makes contracts and promises, and one is bound by them. The situation may change, the act may be different from that which the individual himself expected to carry out, but he is held to the contract which he has made. He must do certain things in order to remain a member of the community. In the duties of what we call rational conduct, in adjusting ourselves to a world in which the laws of nature and of economics and of political systems obtain, we can state what is going to happen and take over the responsibility for the thing we are going to do, and yet the real self that appears in that act awaits the completion of the act itself. Now, it is this living act which never gets directly into reflective experience. It is only after the act has taken place that we can catch it in our memory and place it in terms of that which we have done. It is that "I" which we may be said to be continually trying to realize, and to realize through the actual conduct itself. One does not ever get it fully before himself. Sometimes somebody else can tell him something about himself that he is not aware of. He is never sure about
(204) himself, and he astonishes himself by his conduct as much as he astonishes other people.
The possibilities in our nature, those sorts of energy which William James took so much pleasure in indicating, are possibilities of the self that lie beyond our own immediate presentation. We do not know just what they are. They are in a certain sense the most fascinating contents that we can contemplate, so far as we can get hold of them. We get a great deal of our enjoyment of romance, of moving pictures, of art, in setting free, at least in imagination, capacities which belong to ourselves, or which we want to belong to ourselves. Inferiority complexes arise from those wants of a self which we should like to carry out but which we cannot-we adjust ourselves to these by the so-called inferiority complexes. The possibilities of the "I" belong to that which is actually going on, taking place, and it is in some sense the most fascinating part of our experience. It is there that novelty arises and it is there that our most important values are located. It is the realization in some sense of this self that we are continually seeking.
There are various ways in which we can realize that self. Since it is a social self, it is a self that is realized in its relationship to others. It must be recognized by others to have the very values which we want to have belong to it. It realizes itself in some sense through its superiority to others, as it recognizes its inferiorities in comparison with others. The inferiority complexes are the reverse situations to those feelings of superiority which we entertain with reference to ourselves as over against people about us. It is interesting to go back into one's inner consciousness and pick out what it is that we are apt to depend upon in maintaining our self-respect. There are, of course, profound and solid foundations. One does keep his word, meet his obligations; and that provides a basis for self-respect. But those are characters which obtain in most of the members of the community with whom we have to do. We all fall down at certain points, but on the whole we always are people of our words. We do belong to the community and our self-respect depends on
(205) our recognition of ourselves as such self-respecting individuals. But that is not enough for us, since we want to recognize ourselves in our differences from other persons. We have, of course, a specific economic and social status that enables us to so distinguish ourselves. We also have to some extent positions in various groups which give a means of self-identification, but there is back of all these matters a sense of things which on the whole we do better than other people do. It is very interesting to get back to these superiorities, many of them of a very trivial character, but of great importance to us. We may come back to manners of speech and dress, to a capacity for remembering, to this, that, and the other thing-but always to something in which we stand out above people. We are careful, of course, not directly to plume ourselves. It would seem childish to intimate that we take satisfaction in showing that we can do something better than others. We take a great deal of pains to cover up such a situation; but actually we are vastly gratified. Among children and among primitive communities these superiorities are vaunted and a person glories in them; but even among our more advanced groups they are there as essential ways of realizing one's self, and they are not to be identified with what we term the expression of the egoistic or self-centered person. A person may be as genuine as you like in matters of dollars and cents or efforts, and he may be genuine in recognizing other people's successes and enjoy them, but that does not keep him from enjoying his own abilities and getting peculiar satisfaction out of his own successes.
This sense of superiority does not represent necessarily the disagreeable type of assertive character, and it does not mean that the person wants to lower other people in order to get himself into a higher standing. That is the form such self-realization is apt to appear to take, to say the least, and all of us recognize such a form as not simply unfortunate but as morally more or less despicable. But there is a demand, a constant demand, to realize one's self in some sort of superiority over those about us. It appears, perhaps, more definitely in such situations as those to
(206) which I have referred, and which are the hardest things to explain. There is a certain enjoyableness about the misfortunes of other people, especially those gathered about their personality. It finds its expression in what we term gossip, even mischievous gossip. We have to be on our guard against it. We may relate an event with real sorrow, and yet there is a certain satisfaction in something that has happened to somebody else but has not happened to us.
This is the same attitude that is involved in the humor of somebody else tumbling down. In such laughter there is a certain release from the effort which we do not have to make to get up again. It is a direct response, one that lies back of what we term self-consciousness, and the humor of it does not go along with the enjoyment of the other person's suffering. If a person does actually break a leg we can sympathize with him, but it was funny, after all, to see him sprawling out. This is a situation in which there is a more or less identification of the individual with the other. We do, so to speak, start to fall with him, and to rise up after he has fallen, and our theory of laughter is that it is a release from that immediate tendency to catch ourselves under those conditions. We have identified ourselves with the other person, taken his attitude. That attitude involves a strenuous effort which we do not have to carry out, and the release from that effort expresses itself in laughter. Laughter is the way in which the "I," so to speak, responds under those conditions. The individual probably sets to work helping the other person to get up, but there was an element in the response which expressed itself in the sense of the superiority of the person standing toward the person on the sidewalk. Now, that general situation is not simply found under physical situations, but is equally evident in the community in which a person committing a faux pas; we have here the same sense of amusement and of superiority.
I want to bring out in these instances the difference between the naive attitude of the "I" and the more sophisticated attitude of the "me." One behaves perfectly properly, suppresses
(207) his laughter, is very prompt to get the fallen person on his feet again. There is the social attitude of the "me" over against the "I" that does enjoy the situation; but enjoys it, we will say, in a certain harmless way. There is nothing vicious about it, and even in those situations where one has a certain sort of satisfaction in following out the scandals and difficulties of a more serious sort, there is an attitude which involves the sense of superiority and at the same time does not carry with it anything that is vicious. We may be very careful about what we say, but there is still that attitude of the self which is in some sense superior under such conditions; we have not done this particular untoward thing, we have kept out of it.
The sense of superiority is magnified when it belongs to a self that identifies itself with the group. It is aggravated in our patriotism, where we legitimize an assertion of superiority which we would not admit in the situations to which I have been referring. It seems to be perfectly legitimate to assert the superiority of the nation to which one belongs over other nations to brand the conduct of other nationalities in black colors in order that we may bring out values in the conduct of those that make up our own nation. It is just as true in politics and religion in the putting of one sect over against the others. This took the place of the exclusive expressions of nationalism in the early period, the period of religious wars. One belonged to one group that was superior to other groups and could assert himself confidently because he had God on his side. There we find a situation under which it seemed to be perfectly legitimate to assert this sort of superiority which goes with self-consciousness and which in some sense seems to be essential to self-consciousness. It is not, of course, confined to nationalism and patriotism. We all believe that the group we are in is superior to other groups. We can get together with the members in a bit of gossip that with anyone else or any other group would be impossible. Leadership, of course, plays its part, since the enthusiasm for those who have a high standing among us aids in the organization of the group; but on the whole we depend upon
(208) a common recognition that other people are not quite as good as we are.
The feeling of group superiority is generally explained in terms of the organization of the group. Groups have survived in the past in so far as they have organized against a common enemy. They maintain themselves because they have acted as one against the common enemy-such is the explanation, from the standpoint of the survival of the fittest, of the community which is most satisfactorily organized. It certainly is the easiest way of getting together, and it may be that it is an adequate explanation.
If one does have a genuine superiority it is a superiority which rests on the performance of definite functions. One is a good surgeon, a good lawyer, and he can pride himself on his superiority-but it is a superiority which he makes use of. And when he does actually make use of it in the very community to which he belongs it loses that element of egoism which we think of When we think of a person simply pluming himself on his superiority over somebody else. I have been emphasizing the other aspect because we do sometimes cover it up in our own experience. But when the sense of superiority goes over into a functional expression, then it becomes not only entirely legitimate, but it is the way in which the individuals do change the situations in which they live. We change things by the capacities which we have that other people do not have. Such capacity is what makes us effective. The immediate attitude is one which carries with it a sense of superiority, of maintaining one's self. The superiority is not the end in view. It is a means for the preservation of the self. We have to distinguish ourselves from other people and this is accomplished by doing something which other people cannot do, or cannot do as well.
Now, to be able to hold on to ourselves in our peculiarities is something which is lovable. If it is taken simply in the crude fashion of the person who boasts of himself, then a cheap and ugly side of this process is exhibited. But if it is an expression which goes out into the functions which it sustains, then it loses
(209) that character. We assume this will be the ultimate outcome of the expressions of nationalism. Nations ought to be able to express themselves in the functional fashion that the professional man does. There is the beginning of such an organization in the league of Nations. One nation recognizes certain things it has to do as a member of the community of nations. Even the mandate system at least puts a functional aspect on the action of the directing nation and not one which is simply an expression of power.