Mastering The Art of Individuality.

“Don’t follow the crowd – Let the crowd follow you (or not)”

We can never progress towards our individual potential unless we are both passionate and free. In actual fact we can never be classed as individuals unless we are free. However, we may not be as free as we believe ourselves to be. We may be labelling away much of our freedom and turning ourselves into objects the same as other objects.

Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard argues that passion is not outside of us, it centres on a kind of focus and intensity, a type of deliberateness about how we go about things. He calls it inwardness. Passionate people are inward because they strive to exist as individual subjects and not as labelled objects. The flexarian stance here would be that passion can be exhibited inwardly or outwardly and there is a sweet spot for passion in the moment.

A labelled object has no choice about how to exist, it does what the world dictates and expects it to do, it conforms. Stereotyping attempts, with much success, to turn a subject into an object, into a thing. Subjects decide for themselves how to be in the world. We seem happy to adopt all kinds of labels. Flexarians do their best to avoid labels and stereotyping as they lead to damaging assumptions and limiting behaviours that will never enhance humanity. Simply put, we need to get better and this is one area we can improve with ease.

A life full of passion is full of engagement and a life of engaged passion emphasises how you go about living and not what you end up doing. In order to be free and passionate about life we need to be “true to ourselves”. Living passionately involves being free subjects as opposed to captive objects. I will discuss freedom and subjectivity now, plucked from my university dissertation briefly covering the subjects.

Passionate potential can only be achieved by free subjects.

Freedom – Sartre claims our immersion in physical, historical and social structures does not undermine our freedom. We inherit these structures and the way they act on us is out of our control. They can be seen as a limiting situation but it is in these situations that we are motivated to act. These structures cannot by themselves deprive us of our freedom. Sartre refers to everything you can’t control as your facticity, your native nationality, whether you were born rich or poor, the political circumstances you live in – these factors are all out of your immediate control. Furthermore, Sartre argues that freedom is essentially connected to negativity. Any action is on principle intentional and done so with purpose. The first negative is rejecting what is the current state of affairs. The second negative is the aim to bring about a state of affairs that is currently not. This is common to all genuine actions. You are free when you have a choice. You choose how to interpret your situation. You choose how to react to your situation and finally you choose whether to remain in your situation. Sartre stresses what he calls being-for others. This is when you are reduced to an object in the world of others. In order to regain freedom one must reject the current state of affairs and create a state of affairs that has yet to exist.

Michelle Foucault’s theory on freedom is not being in answer to the question, “Are we free?” but instead in answer to the question, “How are we historically restrained and what can we do about it?”

These constraints do not operate by stopping people from doing what they want. Instead they create people to be and behave in certain kinds of ways, thus making them into docile bodies. Furthermore, theory states that power according to Foucault makes us certain types of people. It trains our bodies to behave in certain ways and it makes us think of ourselves in certain ways. This constraint works to limit individual options, it creates a conformity and minimises the possibilities of resistance or experimentation with other forms of living.

By the same token if we understand our historical legacy and the power and forces at work there is no reason we cannot change it. That is freedom. If we understand our situation, then we have a chance at changing it. Foucault describes how alternative ways of living are constrained by who we are made to be and how we think of ourselves.

Capturing the idea that freedom is not simply a matter of being left to ourselves but also a matter of reinventing ourselves into what we would like to be. What’s more for Foucault freedom is a matter of experimentation, to try out different possible transformations to see where they may lead.

“We are, then, neither helpless in the face of what moulds us nor certain of what we can do about it. We are somewhere in-between. That is where our freedom lies, and indeed that is what our freedom is………… Freedom is not the same as liberation. Whether our freedom is liberating or not is something that is not guaranteed to us” – Foucault.

To experiment with alternate ways of living and finding freedom, passion would be an essential ingredient to success.

Subjectivity – Foucault’s theory and practice of subjectivity argues that with all the pressures and impulses to conform, we mask and deny ourselves, one’s true or most authentic self is often lost (lost soul) in the process of being for others and conforming to accepted norms. We say what others want us to say and act the way we are expected by others to act and in the process we lie to ourselves, betray ourselves, forget ourselves, let ourselves down and neglect ourselves. And yet amongst all of these obstacles we still seek out the true authentic self and life. Facing the task of being ourselves is what Foucault calls the care for the self. He defines our subjectivity as what we make ourselves when we devote ourselves to taking care of ourselves. Adding that we find ourselves constantly seeking the approval of others for a value and recognition that becomes very important to us. The need for real self-examination becomes less intense with the realisation that life, as it turns out, has been laid out before us. Daily nudging, encouraged, instructed and firmly pushing in the proper direction. It is easy enough to absorb much of what it needs to be known to survive in the world, to follow the path robot-like.

“This ready-made character of life comes from interacting with experts and authorities who are there to help me become a well-adjusted, happy, healthy productive member of society……central to this is the way it focuses attention on me, you and everyone else as an object of both control and knowledge…not governed in a way that represses or oppresses but in a way that feels best for me” – Foucault.

It is to be understood here that conformism as a bad thing and non-conformism as a fine rebellious stance is way off. The flexarian attitude sees them as one and the same as with most opposites. One is not possible without the other and finding the sweet spot for playing the game of life depends on each of us finding somewhere in between that allows for optimum freedom whilst at the same time being an asset to our communities and governments. This may mean at times going against the norms in order to promote new thinking and behaviours but that is how society moves forward. Often the mavericks amongst society are the ones that lead the way.

Furthermore’ it is in this disciplinary context that we often decide to look for a true self that rebels against the moulding and discipline of governmentality and escape from the disciplined self. Moreover, becoming oneself is a strenuous action. Foucault looks at this and makes much of it being a work of art, a creation of self, and an exercise by which the true self establishes a relationship of distance from the disciplined self. When we become fixed our actions become meaningless, no matter what we do, we are still the fixed person we have conceived for ourselves. The true self is never fixed, and is a continuous becoming, an art of no longer being what I was and experimenting towards unknown futures.

It can be thought that subjectivity is a state that we occupy. For Foucault subjectivity is an activity we perform which always takes place in a field of constraint, he calls these activities practices of the self and they may include writing, diet and exercise. Note that the practises are all areas that we would hope to progress in.

The constraint comes from the more general prevailing norms and values of the society of which we are a part.

Progress can only be achieved by first being aware and then mastering the art of individuality.

Mastering The Art of Individuality.

I repeat – Sartre refers to everything you can’t control as your facticity, your native nationality, whether you were born rich or poor, the political circumstances you live in – these factors are all out of your immediate control. Furthermore’ Sartre claims our immersion in physical, historical and social structures does not undermine our freedom. Now this discussion will look at what action an individual can take to determine themselves and also how a coherent sense of self can be reclaimed and developed through awareness of being objectified and labelled.

Should you uncritically accept certain ways of seeing things you are engaging with the world in ways created by others? Are you willing to call this perspective an expression of what you are as a unique individual? The first point would be that you would have to be interested in attributing meaning to your life otherwise you would be quite happy accepting the meaning given to your life by others. This acceptance of yourself as an object created by others is what existentialists would term an inauthentic way to live and rejection of your freedom to choose your life’s meaning.

Similarly, Foucault’s theory and practice of subjectivity argues that with all the pressures and impulses to conform, to mask and deny ourselves, one’s true self is often lost. We say what others want us to say and act the way we are expected by others to act and in the process we lie to ourselves, betray ourselves, forget ourselves, let ourselves down and neglect ourselves.

Having become interested in a search for meaning in your life, you can then turn to appreciating that living as an individual requires that you engage with the world in a way that expresses your uniqueness. Living self critically to control elements of your life that aren’t reflective of you and being honest about the self at all times to avoid self-deceptions.

Are there any practical tools that can be considered?

Foucault’s concept of critique suggests some positive steps that an individual may take towards retaining individuality.

Foucault’s notion of critique which emerges from and is linked to governmentality techniques. Foucault conceptualises critique as the art of not being governed quite so much and the art of navigating power relations. Critique retains a critically self-reflexive character and therefore possesses the potential to emancipate the agent from being determined by the relations of power. Leaving the capacity to take up norms differently or not at all solely to the individual. Foucault does supply tools to facilitate insubordinate constitution of ourselves. The values he thought a critical attitude can be cultivated with if chosen and practised are as follows:

  1. Refusal – refusing to accept as self-evident the things that are proposed to us.
  2. Curiosity – the need to analyse and to know since we can accomplish nothing without reflection and knowledge.
  3. Innovation – to seek out in our reflection those things that have never been thought or imagined.

I would add to these –

  1. The development of character strengths and awareness of character weaknesses.
  2. The importance of recognising Egoic Mind in ourselves and others.
  3. Awareness that apparent reality is totally from individual perspective and we are somehow creating the reality that we experience. Varied reading and neuro-science will help with this difficult philosophy. Without our minds (brain) there is nothing out there. I know tough to swallow – Give it time and study it.

Furthermore, Foucault stated that he engaged in and endeavoured to promote these first three values in his philosophical work. As can be appreciated this process requires constant action and will not just happen.

It can be seen here that although one may be to some degree determined by facticity – physical, historical and social structures that this in no way undermines your freedom to create and interpret your unique sense of self and give meaning to who you are.

Adam Senex x – PLEASE CHECK OUT MY BOOKS