The substance of the self (was Outlawing Fascistic Racist Speech)

Dace edace at
Fri Mar 24 10:58:51 PST 2000

From: Charles Brown
>Do you think there is some essential individual that is you that has
actually controlled the development of your thinking and personality ?

We have no reason to disbelieve our immediate perception that the individual mind plays a role in determining self-development. However, it's true that there's no essence to individuality. There's no core of "selfness." Ultimately, we are individuations of a collective, unconscious mind. This is a fact of evolution. All the animals of a given species display the same way of thinking and feeling and behaving. They individuate only to the extent that they each develop personal memory over time. Humans take individuation a step further. Because we each have the capacity to perceive ourselves as minds as well as bodies, we can direct our thinking. We don't have to follow habitual patterns of thought. This development had two effects. First, we could pursue thought which has no direct bearing on our outer existence. This gave us abstraction and complex language. Secondly, we could think for ourselves, as individuals. It's not simply a matter of being shaped by internal and external forces. We develop a degree of autonomy within our self-aware minds.

The problem is that we have no way of discussing this in a scientific manner. We're stuck with words like "self" and "thought" and "will." Science has given us nothing to improve our understanding of this. It has also given us no reason whatsoever to doubt our immediate sense of self-existence and self-determination. Though we now know that our individual minds are built atop a shared mind, this does not mean that individuality is reducible to collectivity. That applies only to animals, not to us. This is why we are different from animals. This is why we have rights as individuals, and animals have rights only as species.

While it's true that there's no substance to the self, this also applies to matter. When we look into the core of matter, we do not find "thingness." What we find is undefinability. The essence of matter is what we ordinarily associate with imagination, where everything is "up in the air," forever undetermined. But this doesn't mean that matter, on the gross scale, is an illusion. Something real is there, even if it's not exactly what we think it is. The same goes for the individual self. It's not the abolute we perceive it to be, but it's not just a hallucination either. Regarding both matter and mind, there is no absolute substance or determination. This is *good* news. It means that freedom is a fundamental property of nature.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list