By Freud’s account, conscious autonomy is a charade. “We are lived,” as he puts it, and yet we don’t see it as such. Indeed, Freud suggests that to be human is to rebel against that vision — the truth. We tend to see ourselves as self-determining, self-conscious agents in all that we decide and do, and we cling to that image. But why? Why do we resist the truth? Why do we wish — strain, strive, against the grain of reality — to be autonomous individuals, and see ourselves as such?There you have it. Per the Professor you really didn't build that yourself. You are, in the words of Richard Dawkins, the product of "knobs and tuning" (inheritance and environment). Going back to the article,
Perhaps Freud is too cynical regarding conscious autonomy, but he is right to question our presumption to it. He is right to suggest that we typically — wrongly — ignore the extent to which we are determined by unknown forces, and overestimate our self-control. The path to happiness for Freud, or some semblance of it in his stormy account of the psyche, involves accepting our basic condition. But why do we presume individual agency in the first place? Why do we insist on it stubbornly, irrationally, often recklessly?
One might say there is something profoundly American in this. It's our fierce individualism shining through. But, the truth is, we can hardly fathom the depth of our dependence on government, and pretend we are bold individualists instead.(Note that this is from the article in the print edition—the link is to the on-line version. Read the whole thing, since fair use doesn't allow me to cover all the argument through quotes.)
At any rate, doesn't this approach sort of make a mockery of the whole election thing?
On the other hand, I believe our delusion of rugged individualism is much preferable to the concept that those who don't go along with the current majority fad are introduced to Madame Guillotine. For one thing, when the power shifts within the controlling elite the appetite of Madame Guillotine changes and a whole new group of people are introduced.
But, before I close this out, one of my sons sent me a Washington Post item where the author said his success was a partnership with the government. The author, Mr James C. Roumell, praises the Government help that allowed him to get educated and to start his own business, and says without it he would not have succeeded.
I get Mr Roumell's point. Almost all of us have benefited from the actions of government at every level, from lead paint abatement to Pell Grants to national defense. The question is, should we emphasize that side of the discussion by denigrating the other side—the contribution of the individual to his or her own success. I say no. But, further, I say we do need a discussion of those Government interventions in terms of their effectiveness. Taking Senator Claiborne Pell, of Rhode Island, as an example, is it correlation or causation that the cost of a college education has skyrocketed since the introduction of Pell Grants? Is it possible that we are no better off now than in 1972 in terms of college financial issues?
Some would cut this discussion off, but it is a discussion worth having. It is a discussion that goes to the heart of our democracy. Not all democracies are the same.
Regards — Cliff