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Maybe the Truth Doesn't Always Set You Free

Are there people you admire but don't like to talk to because you don't like your side of the conversation whenever the two of you get together? I really notice it as a podcaster. There are some interviewees with whom I fall into an easy conversational vibe and the hour flies by. Other conversational partners are like my counterpart in a duel, but the spirit of competition is engaging and enlivening, and, again, the hour flies.

Then there are the difficult people. Some of them are just rude or demanding, and they typically get blacklisted. That rarely happens after just one conversation, but occasionally it does. Sometimes I can tell just from my initial email exchanges with a potential new guest that they're going to rub me the wrong way. In those cases, I just let the email back and forth go cold.

Sometimes the person I'm talking to is very smart, but they need the person they're talking to to be not as smart as they are. They communicate it in their word choice and in the assumptions they make about me, and I typically go along with it and play to their expectations. I figure I don't have to prove anything to my regular listeners, some of whom have listened to my weekly podcasting (and now radio) efforts for a decade. The guest may assume that I'm mostly ignorant on a topic that I've been discussing with various guests on the program for years, but there's no need for me to "stand up for myself" and let them know that I didn't just fall off the turnip truck.

Even in the conversations where I'm playing the naif who needs to be schooled by the master, if the master is dropping good science and I know I'm getting good material for the audience, then I am engaged in the process and the time flies.

When does the time not fly? When a guest doesn't have their thoughts in order and needs me to draw them out and my questions and prompts don't seem to help. That's when the time drags.

I bring this up because I've been more inclined in recent weeks to think that there's more than just poetic language at work when say that I'm a different person in relationship to one person than I am in relationship to someone else. The personality that I think of as mine is not wholly contained within my skin. It seems like it arises out of interactions with other minds. Perhaps the potential to take on a certain personal dynamic is always latent within me, but if I never encounter the person who will awaken my dormant potential, then it's as if that latent persona does not exist.

This has political implications for me as it pushes me further from my libertarian propensities than I have already drifted away from over the last few years. The libertarian ethic stands on individual responsibility and individual autonomy. If the sovereign individual is a fiction, a trick of the light, or merely a rhetorical device, then the rights of individuals could be equally contingent.


I say that these questions about the nature of personality have political implications, but perhaps it's better to say that, while I feel their gravity, the exact implications remain obscure because we might have good utilitarian reasons for maintaining convenient fictions. It might be that the belief that individuals don't exist outside of their social relations reliably leads to oppressive social orders. We might need to maintain the pretense of the individual even if there is no such critter to be found outside of a story book or a court of law.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Cloudwalking Owl
Feb. 23rd, 2017 08:18 pm (UTC)
How very American of you!
You will be assimilated! Resistance is futile! Is it any wonder that the worst enemy in the Star Trek universe were the Borg? Americans are terrified of being dependent on their community. Saying that our very psyche is a result of our interaction with others is probably the most radical thing a person can do.
peristaltor
Feb. 24th, 2017 01:29 am (UTC)
The libertarian ethic stands on individual responsibility and individual autonomy. If the sovereign individual is a fiction, a trick of the light, or merely a rhetorical device, then the rights of individuals could be equally contingent.

Yup. I started to realize how malleable our personalities were when I began my dive into advertising. I really hate ads, for example, not because I merely find them irritating; I find them irritating because many of them work, and work long before I think they've had any effect. Were I some individual in the Randian tradition, I would be able to select and choose my opinions without worry of contamination by outside pressures and competition to my cognition.

When Steve Keen and Yves Smith outlined the rise of neoclassical economics and how it depended upon furthering the myth of Homo economicus, wow! We, according to papers outlining how the theories work, are perfect producers of goods and perfectly-well-informed consumers, and this symmetry of information destroys any advantage one may have over the other.

In fact, the heavy weight Homo economicus carries in neoclassical econ theory makes me more than suspect that the rise in Libertarian philosophy has at its roots paid amplification by the noise machine.

It might be that the belief that individuals don't exist outside of their social relations reliably leads to oppressive social orders.

The flip side might be true, as well. I could regard a social order as oppressive if it refused to consider the plight of a person before a crime was committed, as certain law-and-order types do when they deny that an earlier history of abuse and torture should not be considered in determining guilt or even sentencing.

Ever read any Horatio Alger books? They are the most trotted out for supporting the by-the-bootstraps fellow. I managed to read one, and couldn't help thinking how frickin' impossible it would be to roll out of a heap of alley excelsior cheerful and ready to black the boots of strangers just to get enough coin for breakfast. More bullshit fiction was never written.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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