Friday, May 25, 2012

Care, Identity and (mis)Recogition 4

7.  The Darkness at the Heart of Humanity – Modern Malaises

One could argue that the present world economic crisis is the direct result of the pull to selfishness within both individuals and nations.  While individualism is “the jewel in the crown” of the achievements of modern civilisation, it is also in another sense its “feet of clay,” to mix metaphors rather crudely.   A virtual tsunami of greed and selfishness has swept over the modern world, leaving most of us in a state of dependence on richer, more powerful and even sinister forces.  In a sense, we have reaped the whirlwind of our greed both as individuals and nations.  We are finding out to our cost that our political and social structures are intrinsically flawed and unjust and that our economic structures, with all their linked technologies, are rooted in domination, patriarchy, capitalism and racism. This is a hard lesson to learn, and it was one predicted by many feminists, ecologists and more liberal scientists like Capra just cited above.

          Taylor (1991) rightly scorns this dark side of modernity – its greed and selfishness and its blindness to the wisdom of the past.  Modernity has brought with it, as well asthe malaise of individualism  which we have just described, what he terms two other malaises, those of “instrumental reasoning” and “soft despotism.”  Our much maligned modern economists and other state functionaries, who delight in heartless accounting and the balancing of books, are the “instrumental reasoners.” They seek the most economic means to a given end and are quite thoughtless of and insensitive to the suffering of the poor and vulnerable in budgets enacted to please the paymasters of the IMF and the ECB.  They know the price of everything and the value of nothing as Oscar Wilde once put it. Their catch cry is “maximum efficiency” or “maximum output.”

          It is interesting to note, is it not, that most economists and most politicians are men and that some few women who do make it in politics have in Jungian terms an overly masculine or macho, even alpha-male animus?  A second point worth noting is that the demands of economic growth are often inimical to ecology and insensitive to the environment.  Our instrumental reasoners are more prone also to talk about “medical problems” or “bed blockers” rather than talk about real people who are suffering.  Statistics are their weapons and they use them liberally.

The final malaise that Taylor notes is what he terms “soft despotism,” after Alexis de Tocqueville, by which he means the “atomism of self-absorbed individuals;” a sort of indifference to everything that goes on about us; a phenomenon that renders us into a “stay at home” people who could not be bothered going out to protest for any cause; a sort of happy-with-my-lot syndrome with a “don’t rock the boat” mentality.

In all of this, there has been nothing short of a loss of soul and a deadening of the senses.  The modern world is one which hypnotises us into an unknowing stupor, and in so doing it can never be the “vale of soul-making” alluded to by John Keats.[1]

8.  Who are the Carers?: A Sociological Framework

Self with Kelvin McMahon and his mother at Kelvin's garduation, May 23, 2012
We would all like to assume that the answer to this question is every human being worth his/her salt, but even a cursory glance at history and recent solid research soon disabuses our mind of such a simplistic assumption. Lynch, K., Baker, J., and Lyons, M. (2009) speak of love as action rather than solely emotion and argue that caring is essentially love labour. Caring is essentially about the work we do for our survival and for our individual, familial and communitarian human development. The authors cut to the chase immediately with their assessment that “[c]aring is low status work generally undertaken by low status people...” (p. 36)

Who are these low status people?  The answer is all too clear – mostly women - and the number of migratory workers in their ranks is considerable.  Low status work also attracts modest to low remuneration.  Kittay (1999) talks about “love’s labour” and argues cogently about its being assigned by gender and uses a useful description of there being a “gender asymmetry” in this most necessary and essential aspect of human work.

Lynch et al (2009) offer an interesting framework by which we can analyse the essential nature of care and by so doing avoid poor decisions in our social, economical and political policies when dealing with the subject.  They offer a diagram with three concentric circles where Primary Care is the central core, Secondary Care the middle circle and Tertiary Care the outer ring.  Now the movement is essentially from the centre outwards.  In other words, the nature of care springs from the well of Primary Care (say mother caring for her children or for a sick parent – real love labour) and radiates out to Secondary Care (say nurse or special needs teacher or SNA caring for a SEN pupil) and thence to Tertiary (say a volunteer with the Simon Community doing the soup run).  Indeed, it would be hard to engage in the outer two circles without having been nourished at the central core.[2]

The same authors go on to underline the fact that care has essentially four interlocking elements: (i) cognitive work, (ii) emotional engagement, (iii) commitment and responsibility and (iv) a moral imperative.  Obviously these four interlocking qualities result in sheer physical work, too.  Cognitively, we have to plan what we want to do with the cared-for person as well as knowing how to use our own caring skills.  Emotional engagement lessens as we go from inner to outer circles, but for the mature and enlightened carer s/he can bring much empathy learned at life’s core, i.e., in the inner circle out into those outer realms of care.  However, it is to the fourth of the above interlocking elements, viz., the moral imperative of care that I wish to turn my attention now as it interlinks nicely with the philosophy of care espoused by Charles Taylor.

9.  The Moral Imperative

Taylor’s (1989) basic argument is that the concept of the self, in other word’s our very identity, is linked to morality.  Now, this moral sense which we acquire as we grow as human beings means not simply a set of claims about what we ought to do or not to do to be moral.  Rather, it means what we ought to be or not to be.  In other words, I believe that Taylor is arguing that morality is essentially concerned with the self or related to our being.  Again it is more ontologically than cognitively or epistemologically rooted. He also argues that morality is related to the self by what he calls a framework. How we think about the self depends (1) on what we consider to be the Good and (2) how we relate to that Good.  In short, if you wish, I can only think of my self as I think of that same self in relation to what is most important for me in life, that is, in relation to what “makes me tick,” or “what keeps me going” or what “draws me on in life” to use colloquial but real phrases.

Taylor’s philosophy of identity or of self is far-ranging and erudite, and it covers virtually the whole sweep of Western philosophy from Plato to Augustine, from Descartes to Locke and onwards through history from the Protestant Reformers to the great philosophers of the Enlightenment and Counter Enlightenment periods.  He ends, needless to say, with more modern voices.  However, fortunately for the present writer, I do not have to delay by looking at any of these scholars in depth – an impossible task – as such is beyond the scope and purview of this essay.  

The bulk of the book, then, is spent on a sweeping exposition of the changes in the self over the course of the history of Western philosophy.  In sum, I believe that the transition that Taylor outlines over the course of that history right up into modern times is one best described by a trajectory (uneven though it be) from an external sense of the self  to an interior sense of the self. It is also a transition from finding meaning in extraordinary deeds to one that finds meaning in everyday actions.[3]  Taylor, then, provides a fairly compelling narrative of the differences in the self over time.  Now, this turn inwards (or sense of interiority), then, serves as a starting point for a renewed understanding of modernity. Taylor argues that modern subjectivity has its roots in ideas of human good, and is in fact the result of our long efforts to define and attain that good over the course of human history and, I believe, over the course of our own individual little lives. This modern turn inwards is far from being a disastrous rejection of rationality, as many of its critics would contend, and it has at its heart what Taylor calls the affirmation of ordinary life.

Again we may argue on the positive side that Taylor’s stress on the link between our ethical evaluation of a situation and our essential human identity allows us to understand the connection between who we are and our real core values.  In other words, having an identity at all involves following a course of values in the world, and, vice versa, committing ourselves to a set of values also entails our adoption of a particular identity.  As someone once remarked to this writer as regards strongly held personal values and concerns: “If you have nothing to stand for, you will fall for anything.”

[1] In the era of Freud, sex was the great repression, but with Yalom and others, I believe that death and suffering are the modern repressions.  Modern society wishes to cover these sufferings up, ignore them, and deny them to its cost, indeed.  For John Keats, suffering was to be experienced. with all the good things in life “on our very pulses,” and thereby they worked to make this oftentimes sad world into “a vale of soul-making.” ( See Gittings, 1987, 93)
[2]  Indeed any good theory of human development from which any enlightened theory of care must spring must be cognisant of the work of the great psychologist Abraham Maslow, especially his "hierarchy of needs" theory that is a staple of Psychology 101 courses worldwide and which he famously articulated in 1954. It breaks down the path to happiness in an easy-to-digest list: Earthly needs, such as food and safety, are considered essential, since they act as the groundwork that makes it possible to pursue loftier desires, such as love, respect, and self-actualization (the realization of one's full potential).  My argument here is that, like Maslow’s pyramid, the outer two rings stand on the solidity of the central core circle with respect to the nature of care.

[3] This, of course, is not to say that that trajectory has been continuous or even, insofar as St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest philosophers of early Christian times was well aware of what he termed interiority, that God (or meaning, in more modern terms) could be encountered deep within the human heart or soul. In The Confessions, 10.27 we read “I have learnt to love You late, beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love You Late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for You outside myself...” and so on.  For St Augustine it was clear that not everyone was yet aware of the fact that every human being is capable of God (Capax Dei) and thus can reach God (or meaning). In order to overcome this unawareness,  Augustine proposed the way of interiority, that is the turning away from the physical to the spiritual world, from the outer world to the inner self (Confessions 10,6).

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