The substance of the self (was Re: Shared mentality)

Dace edace at
Sat Apr 1 17:38:59 PST 2000

From: kenneth.mackendrick at

>On Fri, 31 Mar 2000 16:51:21 -0500 Dace <edace at> wrote:
>> Just because we generate different abstractions doesn't mean we're not
>so from a common mental framework.
>Language isn't abstract for the person using it!
Yes, it is. Language is abstract. All words, whether they refer to concrete things or abstractions, are themselves abstract.

>> The reason we have the same bodies is that we share the same
>Ok, what is the shared evolutionary history? And don't say anything about
>genetics, we've known for a long time know that physiological details
>raw genetic makeup (alas, another abstraction).
I've already given you a basic outline of the emergence of foundational human mentality. I've practically written a book on this subject in my various posts on this list. As to genetics, this is peripheral to evolution. What evolves is form, both bodily and mental, rather than matter, whether genotypic or phenotypic.

>> We don't share opinions in common, just the capacity for making them.
>Ummm... no. In psychosis, or in the subjective psychotic attitude, there
is no
>choice, that's precisely the problem. There is a line in 'the book' that
>something like "you'll never be given more than you can chew." I disagree.
>Sometimes circumstances overwhelm us, and we are destroyed, paralyzed,
>incapacitated... In effect, we no longer "play the game" - the game "plays

This happens to everyone. It's called death.

>> Does that mean you don't share a common mental world with yourself from
>to day?
>Good question! In fact, "I" don't. The inverted Cartesian universe reads
>this: "I am not where I think." The subject is not the substance of the
I'm talking about you, not your ego.

>> We all suffer the same.
>No. We suffer, but it isn't the same. Check out Chandra Talpade Mohanty's
>"Under Western Eyes" in the anthology "Third World Women and the Politics
>Feminism." The idea of a "common suffering" is very similiar to what she
>about in regards to victimization and the construction of categories.
If suffering didn't mean essentially the same thing for everyone, there would be no such thing as empathy.

>> You've mentioned this before: "I am not where I think." Could you tell
me a
>> little more about this? How, exactly, does this invert Descartes?
>And I see that I'm starting to sound like a broken record... Descartes' "I
>think therefore I am" had the subject issuing from the cogito - I am / I
>as if being and thinking were identical. Lacan breakes with this tradition
>inverting it. Being eclipses thinking and thinking eclipses being. When
>think, we alienate our being.

You are not sounding like a broken record. This is the first time you've expressed this idea in a way that I could understand. All along I've been struggling to get this. I've read and re-read your passages, not knowing what you were trying to get at. Then, after a single reading of this passage, the idea appeared instantaneously in whole. That's how human communication works. We have a shared mental background, a shared way of thinking about the world. We don't express ideas mechanistically through bits and pieces of information. Rather, the bits and pieces of information serve as pointers to the idea. When the listener has received a sufficient amount of pointers, the idea suddenly appears in its totality in the mind. It's like sneezing. There's a gradual increase in the agitation of sinus cells until-- boom-- it happens all at once. If we were to try to communicate with "aliens" we would have to go about it in a painstaking, mechanical way. We would find out how hard it is to communicate with other "intelligent beings," those with whom we share no common mental background.

So, Descartes' <I produce thought> is inverted into Lacan's <thought produces "I">. Lacan is correct. Our actual existence is eclipsed by an abstraction of our existence which is ground into our perception around the age of 1 and is not subject to dismissal. We can't unthink this thought (nor should we want to-- it's a question of balance). My abstract self is all the things that I identify with rather than the actual ground of my existence, i.e. my "being." The problem is that Lacan appears to define our being in purely material terms. Yet we don't really know what the word "matter" means, so this word is actually a stand-in for something else. "Matter" is a euphemism. What we really mean when we say this word is *the present*. When you say you are material, you are saying that your entire existence is what you are in this particular instant of time. Because whatever matter is, it's the part of us that exists *only* right now.

I am 33 years old. What does this mean? According to the orthodox, Western view-- which you agree with as much as anyone on this list-- the statement is meaningless. I am matter, and matter is always 0 years old, 0 days old, 0 seconds old. Matter is NOW. If all I am is my body, then I am not 33. I am 0, have always been 0, and will always remain 0. Why? Because it's always the present, has always been the present, and always will be the present. For matter, that's all there ever is. Yet I am 33 years of history! The years that have shaped me are just as real as the body typing these words on the screen right now. In other words, I am a mind as well as a body. I am memory as well as moment. Furthermore, my personal memory is grounded in the shared memory of the species to which I belong. Between my personal consciousness and the shared unconscious mind of which I am an expression there is a personal unconscious mind. Together, these three things-- taken as a whole-- are my true self, as opposed to my abstract self, which is produced by thinking and therefore has no self-existence. I am thinker not thought. Real self is not only personal but also collective. Ego, on the other hand, is only me and the other people I personally identify with. Private property follows from the dominance of the ego over the true self.

>The enlightenment, in this sense, is structured
>around a narcissistic paranoia - "If I stop thinking, I shall cease to
>This marks a substantial difference from the postmodern thinkers who do
>with the subject altogether ("the death of the subject").
Capitalist: If I stop accumulating wealth, I shall cease to exist. Intellectual: If I stop manipulating concepts, I shall cease to exist. Athlete: If I stop running around tracks, I shall cease to exist. Housewife: If my hushand leaves me, I shall cease to exist. Actor: If I stop getting cast in TV commercials, I shall cease to exist. Child: If I grow up, I shall cease to exist.

All these are variations of narcissistic paranoia. They stem from too much ego, not enough reflection.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list