The assertion of the ‘I’ over the ‘we’

September 07, 2015

The ‘I’ is capitalised whereas the ‘we’ is lowercase; always.

Assertion of the ‘I’ can take a form of imposing simple oppressive domination; the leader or the boss lording it over subordinates. It might be expressed in emergencies when the ethic suddenly transforms into ‘every one for themselves’. It might be backed by a thoroughly thought through ideology, or else supported by a regime like those military hierarchies and their ethics encourage; or it might be just sheer brute force without either thought-content or institutionalised habits to bolster it.

Even the organised churches in my experience have had in their makeup an element of ‘herding the flock’ so as to minimise ‘prodigals’ going ‘every one to his own way’.

Organisation, institutionalisation, and hierarchy are unable to function without a degree of standardised ‘shepherding’ of their subordinate parts. In this case the ‘I’ is the institution, or hierarchy etc looked at from the point of view of the guys at the top; those being the persons who most identify themselves and their place with the need for an execution of leadership and discipline within their organisational entity. The ‘we’ then are the persons organised and regimented.

In and by individual persons the ‘I’ is often felt to be inviolable, and so it trumps every time the ‘we’. This is the party line (ironic?) of consumerism and of liberal democracy. The ‘we’ is used only by wheedling politicians to address their citizens and by organisations in their advertising presenting themselves as being ‘one big happy family’.

And a sense of ourselves as being the ‘I’ is articulated by almost every sales pitch of any kind we might encounter: that kind of cupboard-love flattery which aims to make you believe you’re special and have been singled-out for particular attention. This is the sales talk of the sales representative, and the offers of individual discounts, neat favours, and accommodations are just part of the patter. Everyone they approach gets the same come-on. This is one of the holes in the ethical bucket for the ways we operate in our business organisational set-up; ‘set-up’ being a most apposite way to describe it.

The appeal to the ‘I’ in us is generally via our vanity, or our ambition, or our avarice and so on; all the weak points of ordinary me and you are points of entry for the wedges of sales talk. In his or her unofficial self at home on the sofa lounging over a bourbon or a shiraz, the sales person is unlikely to reminisce fondly over your meeting with them earlier that week; and consider how delightful you were and how memorable your conversation and your person. In a conversation with his spouse the sales guy when off-duty will be likely to lump into one cartload the varied clientele he met this past month, calling them collectively ‘punters’ or ‘leads’ or ‘clients’.

The ‘I’ for this kind of guy is circumscribed by his own selfhood, much like us all, and it is a reasonable defence for us and for him to plead that we are not emotionally or psychologically equipped to become bosom buddies or to segregate out individually every person as special whom we chanced to meet and cursorily perform a service for. The workmen at a timber yard I worked in had a word for the persons they found tiresomely sociable and gushing – they were called ‘everybody’s friend’ and by implication – no-one’s. No-one is able to spread themselves this thinly and survive the social fallout.

This psychological predicate, that we are only able to support say a couple of hundred at most good acquaintances and far fewer close friends, is not a barrier to a person attempting to be human to people whom he meets casually here and there in daily life. There is not a sudden absolute cut-off point being that place where we have had a bellyful of close acquaintance and desire very much some impersonality and so acknowledge a want in us to look at others as a collective and madding crowd of ‘we’.

Most people are pretty fickle and take comfort when and where they sense they need it; thus they are an ‘I’ to one person one day and might just as easily see the same comforter as part of a larger ‘we’ on the following day.

Asking only workman's wages I come looking for a job, But I get no offers, Just a come-on from the whores On Seventh Avenue I do declare, There were times when I was so lonesome I took some comfort there,

But this fickleness can work backwards, and a person is able to be slighted, treated as a nondescript part of the greater ‘we’ by a person who wanted to be seen as a special acquaintance, an ‘I’, by the person only yesterday.

It is when fickleness like this becomes acute and chronic in a person, in a society, when it points the way towards social breakdown. When an exigent usage of people willy-nilly arbitrarily and ad hoc becomes the accepted norm, by a person, by the group, the greater ‘we’; turning on and off personal engagement and a removed distance as it pleases and suits them; it is then that confusions about identities and standings and statuses and friendships and trust, and belief and commitment and engagement and even self-assurance begin to proliferate, and social relations generally deteriorate.

Does it look to you like the forces at work and allowed free rein and given every encouragement in societies like ours being based on consumerism, advertising, commercial trading, so-called ‘networking’, and on general utilitarian quests for wealth and position, tend too often to reflect this free-abandon of showing friendship one minute, and discarding one the next? We are human and we do make allegiances and friendships; that is our nature, and this nature rebels against this making of fair-weather friendships and offerings of cupboard loves; many of us wanting something more stable and permanent.

Thus this sickness of the soul might be seen as being a strong example that Marx might have seen arising out of one of the ‘contradictions of capitalism’. Whatever you make of it there is no doubt that its presence in daily life in our ambits everywhere is pernicious and destructive to us and to our collective peace. A logical extension to its psychology is the phone call which explains how your computer is infected and how the caller can help you – by siphoning every last cent out of your bank accounts! Or there is the email which invites you to send money to an address and so receive access to $millions by so doing. These scams are the logical extensions of our settled acceptance of our normative modes of doing business.

The halfway house between these scams and the better side of the law is perhaps the compensation claims call or the overtures of the timeshare dealers. There is no black and white, no clear lawful and unlawful, but a spectrum of dubiousness in a world where the commercial ‘I’ by which we are wooed so as to feel ourselves to be valued, is endlessly attempted to be traded-upon, and then sold on to others to be traded-upon, and so violated and duped and misused, so many times daily in everyday life in these days, as we come face to face with faces that are not as the unsuspecting eye perceives them to be.