Tuesday, April 14, 2020
In the New York Times, Ligaya Mishan on one's own collective.
The primacy of the individual is still resisted by many cultures, particularly in much of Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. For if you enshrine the self above all, there’s the danger of dead-ending in solipsism, disavowing the responsibilities of public life in pursuit of a perfected solitude, as if being in the world and being true to oneself are at odds. The early 20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger thought otherwise: that to be human is to be in the world. We come alive in the presence of others. The self is not a fixed goal but a flux, ever in progress, generated and modified by each encounter, in the space and sometimes the tension between what is expected of us — by family, society, cosmology — and what we might actually want. Even before we thought of ourselves as individuals, we had private desires, arising in response to the dictates of our context; as the American-Canadian historian Natalie Zemon Davis has written of the premodern era, being embedded in a circumscribed social sphere “did not preclude self-discovery, but rather prompted it.”
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