Paradox of Power and Weakness

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Unformatted text preview: SUNY series, Altematives in Psychology 1 THE Michael A. Wallach, editor ! P OF POWER AND WEAKNESS Levinas and an Alternative Paradigm for Psychology , .-vfl_._ m... _. e L... - George Kunz 1 #7? _" w‘.~.«_fl__,._=.m_n_rfl_=t «e A. 4 STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS .5... .M4“ CHAPTER TWO An Alternative Paradigm The Philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas THE PSUKHE (BREATH, SPIRIT, SOUL) IS THE-OTHER—IN-ME An extraordinary teacher told me he has for years asked his students to read Graham Greene’s novel, The Power and the Glory. The power of the powerless characters in this book teach directly the most important lesson of his course. The central character is a "bad" priest, an alcoholic and adul- terer. Running from the police, he remembers nostalgically the days when his parishioners doted on him. He admits his self-indulgence, and his cowardice. He suffers the loneliness of hiding and seeks others, yet knows his presence in villages in a Mexican state that oppresses religion puts the peasants in jeopardy. He loves his illegitimate daughter and cannot feel guilty for her existence. Nor can he turn down the request to minister to a murderer, even when he knows it is a trap. He confesses the corruption of his own ego, and gives himself completely to others. Greene did not show the simplicity, humility, and patient compassion of this character in order to exempt the rest of us. Inspired by my teacher’ s assignment, I still reread this book every few years. The fallible but holy provide us a model. Edith Wyschogrod revives for us, in her book Saints and Postmodernism (1990), the value of reading the lives of saints, "those who put themselves totally at the disposal of the Other” (p. xiv), for understanding ethics. "The psyche in the soul is the Other in me, a malady of identity" (Levinas, 1974/1981, p. 69). What an extraordinary definition of the psyche or psukhe: the Other in me! Irrational it may be; but, for Levinas, and for Graham Greene, for innumerable writers of stories about ethical characters, and for the saints who are the models of ethical behavior, this is the essential characteristic of the human: the essence of the self is to seek the good revealed in others, and, in 31 l 32 An Alternative Paradigm this way, the self finds it authenticity working for the sake of others. We could say it either way: the self finds the Other-in—the—self, or, the self finds itself-in- the—Other. Levinas calls this heteronomy. (Although risking the creation of an oxymoronic term, I will use alterocentrism in place of his term heteron- omy, to contrast with the term egocentrism.) To our Western individualistic way of thinking and acting, this het- eronomy or alterocentrism strikes us as too radical, too difficult to swallow. We are too cynical to imagine such an ontologically radical altruism: find- ing oneself in the Other while the Other retains her or his absolute otherness. We tend to find ourselves reducing the Other to something for the self, reduc- ing her or his absolute otherness to fit the self. This reduction of the dis- tinction between the Other and the self is the ultimate reduction of distinctions that defines nihilism. When we find people, that is, when we find ourselves totally at the disposal of the Other, and living this exposure as response to the Other by stripping the self of its egoity, like the saint, our culture tells us to label this behavior pathological, weird, freaky. But hagiology (the study of saints) is not the same as teratology (the study of freaks). Yet we can accept this radical alterocentrism, this paradoxical ontolog- ical relationship between the self and the Other, where the Other is always other, the self is always the same, yet the self finds itself committed to the Other because the Other is in the self. "T he soul is the Other in me" (1974/81, p. 191n3). As we overcome our cultural nihilistic bias of reduc- ing the Other to the same of the egoic self, as we open ourselves to hagiol- ogy, we become nourished by this paradoxical inspiration. Let me quickly try to dissuade readers from the belief that alterocen- trism is a reduction of the self to an object of the Other, a slavery that encourages the Other to abuse the self. That kind of reduction of the self would not be a commitment to the good of the Other. Enabling the Other to violate the rights of the self would be a reduction of the Other to a mon- ster. That would be the same nihilism as the egocentrism of our radical individualism that reduces the Other to an object to fill the needs of the self. (I will more fully try to correct this false understanding of Levinas’s radical altruism later in the Interlude.) Modern psychology as an egology has contributed to nihilistic isola- tion of the self from the Other. We need a psychology that would be more than an egology. We need a psukhology founded on the paradoxical rela- tionship between the self and the separate Other where the self, remaining separate, finds itself in the Other by its commitment to the Other, remain- 'ng separate. An Alternative Paradigm 33 An Other-centered psukhology not only would go against our American cultural individualism, but, although very Jewish, very Platonic and Christian, it would also go against a philosophical tradition since the ancient Greeks, a tradition that has kept the self concentrated in its own center. Other-centeredness obviously goes against logic and rea- son. Especially does this alterocentrism, this radical altruism in contrast to our accustomed egocentrism, go against our natural tendency toward ful- fillment of private wants. We are fearful of paradox: this paradox may call our most precious assumptions into question. Since We know our own needs, we reduce others to that which can fill those needs. However, this radical decentering offers the foundation of a philosophy that makes possible an authentic ethics that does not reduce others. Only this self-for-the—Other makes sense of the experiences of the paradoxes of the weakness of power and the power of weakness. This "malady of identity,” as Levinas calls it, is not only the source of our suf- fering, but also the source of our true identity. Self-for—the-Other redeems suffering. This radical challenge to individualism does not, I must quickly add, support collectivism, as defenders of extreme individualism might fear. he self as the-Other-in-me challenges both the vision of the isolated indi- idual driven by pure self-interest, as well as the notion of the person as a mere piece of a larger social structure, trapped inside determining sys- tems. This ethical philosophy of the-Other-in-me is indeed an individual- ism, but a particular kind of individualism, one that attends not to the privilege of the ego, not to the rights of the ego, but to the particular and personal responsibility of the "I" for the Other. My unique individuality is not based on my particular set of qualities as properties: gender, race, eth- nicity, age, religion, occupation, citizenship, political affiliation, sexual orientation, personality profile, refined skills, beauty, intelligence, hon- ors, birth order, fingerprints, DNA coding, even my developed virtues of service, and so forth. Nor is my individuality based on my individual rights. It is based on my individual responsibility. I am I because I cannot pass off my responsibilities to any other. I cannot turn away. I cannot get outside myself being looked at by the needy Other. I am assigned respon- sibility, independent of my choosing. Let me repeat the Dostoevski quote Levinas uses to express this par- ticular individualism of responsibility and guilt: "We are all guilty of all and for all men before all, and I more than the others" (Levinas, 1982/1985, p. 98). This ethical philosophy challenges the individualism that emphasizes my individual rights over my individual responsibilities. if} M will 34 An Alternative Paradigm To say that the self is the-Other-in-me, or that the center of the self is in the Other is neither to abandon the self as lost in the collective, nor to let it be swallowed up in an exclusive union with a single other person. Neither the self nor the Other have lost their individuality, nor is either isolated from each other. An understanding of the decentered psukhe, the self replaced from the center of the self, requires a more radical revolution than that called for by the astronomer at the dawn of modernity, to replace the earth as the center of the universe. Like Copernicus, who did not offer us simply a humbling theory, Levinas offers a description of ethical reality that is not a prescription to abandon autonomous selfhood, but to describe selfhood based on its responsibility to others. Although Other-centered ethics has a deep historical vein in our religious and philosophical tradition, to our modern eyes and ears, this description of the relationship between the self and the Other seems initially too extreme, too extravagant. Yet it tends to evoke in us a sense of relief, a confidence in an ethical philosophy that speaks to our experience. De-centering is at the basis of the most fundamental paradox of the human: The self finds its meaning, not centered in itself as an ego establishing its individual freedom and power, but as a self facing the other person who calls the self out of its center to be ethically responsible. The freedom and power of the self is invested in the self by and for the needs of the Other. The identity of the self lies in listening to the call of others, in being touched by their absolute dignity and their vulnerability, and in using its invested freedom to respond responsibly to those others. We shall see that this fundamental enigma of the self-from-and-for—the—Other is at the heart of the paradox of the weakness of power and the power of weakness. In this chapter, I focus on a few philosophical concepts of Emmanuel Levinas that provide the foundation for the contrast between egocentrism and radical altruism, what he calls heteronomy, between an egology and a psukhology. His philosophical works are difficult to read, yet they also evoke simple concepts. He is simultaneously complex and yet redundant when unpacking these few simple ideas. He is in dialogue with and builds upon so many philosophers that preceded him, and yet challenges nearly all of them. He clearly uses the methodology of the phenomenologists, and yet attends to the human Other that cannot be understood as a phe- nomenon, as Husserl uses the term. The Other escapes the understanding of the psyche. I will try to be faithful to Levinas’s insights about the mystery and ubiquity of the human Other to the self, and yet try to make these insights clearly understood. Because his revolutionary vision challenges the main tenets of our cultural and philosophical tradition of individualism, I pre- An Alternative Paradigm 35 sent his approach in sets of distinctions, not as contradictions, but cer- tainly as oppositions. The first side of each distinction is not criticized as wrong, only as insufficiently half the story. The second side calls the first side into question, enriches the first side by calling it into question and thus into its authentic freedom. The second side, ontologically weaker than the first, claims an ethical priority over the first. SIX FUNDAMENTAL DISTINCTIONS Let me first name the distinctions, and then describe Levinas’s explanations.‘ 1. The experience of totality and the experience of infinity 2. Need and desire 3. Willful activity and radical passivity 4. Freedom as self-generated and self-directed and freedom as responsibility invested in the self by and for the other 5. Social equality and ethical inequality 6. The said and saying Totality and Infinity After the first day of volunteering at a clay shelter for homeless, jobless, often crazy street people, a student wrote in her journal: When I walked in, I was hit with a bad odor. I looked around and everyone seemed the same. They were shabby and mostly alone. Many were asleep hunched over on chairs or curled up on pads on the floor. At first, they were all the same: they were poor; they were simply poor. . . . After a while I got to talking to a man near the coffee counter. He told me about his tough luck as a family man. . . . Another man joined us and told me he hadn’t seen his daughter in twelve years. . . . After a while, they weren’t all the same. I went in there expecting and seeing stereotypes. I met guys who blew my stereotypes apart. Each one had a story that was both like and not like everyone else’s. Each one had more to his life than being unlucky and therefore poor. Inspired to observe experiences by way of a phenomenology articu- lated by Levinas, I discover in reflection two radically different concepts: 1. Since I am not a Levinas scholar, but a psychologist reading his work for years and wanting to make his philosophy accessible to other psychologists and lay readers, I may fall short of the standards expected of philosophical scholarship. 36 An Alternative Paradigm totality and infinity. The concept of totality comes from the experience that "something" is nothing-more—than whatever my categories make of it. For example, this keyboard is nothing-more-than my tool; my bus driver is nothing-more-than part of the equipment that gets me to my destination. I find others describing the same thing: the men at the shelter were, for my student, nothing-more-than-poor. The “something” perceived is just an example of a stereotype convenient for the perceiver to make sense of his or her world. The concept of infinity, on the other hand, comes from the experience that someone is always-more—than what I know, what I judge, what I use and enjoy, for example, always-more-than equipment, always-more- than-poor. Other persons facing me are infinitely more than a member of my convenient categories. In my ordinary activity, getting my work done and satisfying my needs, I tend to totalize that which is needed. To organize my life, I try to comprehend my situation with my understanding, stay in control of my action, and consume for the enjoyment of my feelings. In my natural attitude2 I am the center of my world and everything else spreads out from there. The bread I eat, the roof I seek for shelter, the tool I use, the events in my plans, these are reduced to things of my useful activity. They are for me, at this time and in this situation, absorbed in the totality I produce. They are nothing-more—than what I need. In my mundane and pragmatic life, I set aside the identity of things in themselves, and assign them identi- ties to satisfy my needs. I make them fit universal concepts for me and ignore their particularity. It’s my world; I’m in charge; I’m the center; and I’m responsible only to and for myself. There is nothing unnatural about this life of totalizing; it’s the natural life of an organism. Levinas says that the ego feeds off and enjoys the world. And this feeding produces in the conscious and reflective organism the idea of totality. But then my beloved wife enters on the stage of my life, or one of my children, or a student, or a stranger, or even an enemy. Although, for the sake of convenience in my hurry I tend to reduce each to a usefulness for me, they resist my tendency with their inherent autonomy and call me to attend to them as independent of my use. My totalizing attitude gets tilted, disturbed, even shocked. These people, in their particularity, get in my face and disrupt my world. They are not objects able to be totalized for my needs. When I totalize, I do not actually reduce them; I only succeed in 2. The natural attitude is the term the phenomenologists use to describe the condition of being pressed into nature, without reflection, without any distance from what I am doing. An Alternative Paradigm 37 reducing my own understanding of them. I don’t distort them; I distort m self. I den m sel Other. ' oreover, by the presence of other persons, those things I have been feeding on, the bread I eat, the roof that shelters, the tool I use, are no longer nothing-more—than objects to fill the lacks in my organism and ego. They should be called gifts I have received from the sacrifices of others, and gifts I am charged to hand over to others who have needs and rights more deserving than mine. The needs of other people command me to share these objects as gifts. I can refuse that command, of course, and find ways to justify my refusals. But I know in'conscience that others’ needs command me just the same. I may not know the depth of the others’ needs; I may not fully know why they command me; I may not know how I could possibly fill their needs. They are always—more-than what I can know. Their needs are always-more-than what I could ever find out. But others’ needs command me, haunt me, even obsess me. I sometimes think that if it were not for my skill of self-distraction and reduction of the wor- thiness of others, I could not fill any of my own needs. But surely I do. So, on the one hand, the things and people of the world of my sepa- rate self are totalizable, reducible to stereotypes. On the other hand, the other person overflows my experience of her or him, and produces in me the awareness of another that is not able to be reduced to a stereotype, to a general concept. Levinas calls this awareness of always-more-than the "idea of infinity.” He calls the effort to fit something into my stereotype, the awareness of nothing-more-than, the "idea of totality.” On the one hand, the idea 0 totality is produced in the experience of objects needed, grasped, passed around from hand to hand, named in language, compre- hended, controlled, and consumed. On the other hand, the idea of infinity is produced in the experience of the other person as essentially uncompre— hendable, uncontrollable, and unconsumable. The other person exceeds my grasp, cannot be reduced, cannot be totalized by a concept or label or any effort by me to use her or him. I too often try to reduce others, and I have a kind of operational success in this reduction. But I fail not because of my lack of skill or effort, but because of the Other’ s inherent resistance to be totalized. ' H ’ The concept of totality is convenient; it serves me well in my natural and socially evolved drive for self-preservation. The concept of totality creates the possibility of all science and technology, philosophy and psy- chology, economics of self-interest, partisan politics, wars, compromised peace, and events of power against weakness. The concept of totality cre- ates the possibility for all abstract theory, empirical observation, labor, manufacturing, possession of objects, commercial exchange, enjoyment of goods, sharing them, bickering over them, hoarding them, destroying 38 An Alternative Paradigm them, and killing others for them. The concept of totality provides the arena for the social intercourse of daily life, especially when paradoxes turn into conflict. It seems I live my ordinary life within the realm of totality. But I am called by infinity, the infinite worthiness and neediness of'others,,to be ethically responsible while I fulfill my own needs—no, even before I fill my own needs! Although the infinity of others calls me to respond to their needs (and, certainly, everyone is needy, from the poorest to the richest), the concept of infinity is the separation of the self from the Other. The infinity of the Other puts that person beyond my grasp. The Other is truly other, and I am I (what Levinas calls the same). The experience of the Other as radically other, irreduciny other, is the recognition of her or his inherent dignity, the intrinsic worth of the Other, not derived from my needs or from my evaluation and judgment of the Other’ s qualities. The self does not decide and assign the otherness of the Other, nor does it bestow dig- nity on the Other by measuring her or him against some quality wished for by the self. The experience of the Other’ 3 infinity protects the Other from my need to reduce her or him. The Other is irreducible. The Other, as other, commands dignity. The Other’s worthiness is not the result of my astute judgment. The Other’s worthiness is absolute: ab—solved (washed from, cleansed of) my ego-centered judgments. The Other reveals her or his dignity to my immediate psychological experience. The concept of infinity is not my idea; it is a gift to me from the always-more-than of the Other. The self, wrapped in its ego, without doubt, often misses this revela- tion. But this epiphany (an understanding shown to me and not produced by me) of the Other as an independent dignity is revealed to the immedi- ate perception by the self. There is no need to argue the Other's worth by a logic founded on a premise of some ontology of Being, or some theology of creatureliness, and certainly not some economics of comparative productivity. The face of the Other, the very presence before my tendency to totalize, is the origin of the experience of infinity. The origin and compelling man- date of the experience of infinity does not come from my rational intellect. This concept of infinity is a pre-rational and generous gift. Infinity is revealed to be a transcendental condition for rationali . One critic of Levmas, Iacques lirrida, argues that this claim that the Other shows herself as having infinite worth is an “empiricism” (Derrida, 1964). The philosophy of empiricism is defined as an approach that points out the presence of things without giving the necessary and sufficient rea- sons for their presence. Rationalist critics of empiricism say it is an intel- An Alternative Paradigm 39 lectual scandal not to rationally prove the existence of something.3 That neither Levinas nor anyone else has philosophically proven that our neighbor is infinitely worthy is not an intellectual scandal. The scandal is that daily we see, hear, or read about people violating the inherent dignity of others. We do not first need the rational arguments of human worth before we are shocked by events showing homo homini lupus, “man is a wolf to man.” The demand for a philosophical proof that others have inherent dignity and that we are responsible for them is a rationalism that has brutalized millions of people. The relationship between myself and the Other is infinitely beyond my comprehension, control, and consumption. Evegy relationship is, as Levinas saysI a rglan'gnsm'p like no other relationship. Others are infi- nitely far away from me: their otherness is absolutely other; and yet others are infinitely nearby: their neediness commands my individual responsi- bility without my being able ethically to escape. We are commanded, "let the Other be," and simultaneously, "serve the Other.” The face of the Other, without needing to speak, says "Do not do violence to me!” and, also, "Provide for my needs!” This experience of the infinite worthiness of the Other, and of her or his commanding needs, is at the heart of a funda- mental psychological paradox: the Other is always beyond me, andfiiJ always calling me. Furthermore, the Other’ s call is addressed to an infinite responsibil- ity: the more I provide, the more I am called. Levinas says, "the better I accomplish my duty, the fewer rights I have; the more I am just, the more guilty I am" (1961 / 1969, p. 244). At the heart of this psukhological experi- ence lies not only the recognition of paradox, but also the suffering of paradox. The Other-in-me is my malady of identity. Suffering is at the heart of the paradox of the power of weakness. But this relationship of an infi- nite responsibility that is always-more-than what I can ever accomplish is a sublime suffering; it is love. Kierkegaard described the angst of human existence as the tenuous- ness of Being itself. Nonbeing, death will find and surprise each of us. Levinas points out another threat to absolute contentment: the death of others, my complicity, my inability to save them or to even keep them from dying alone, my inability to know if my understanding of others and my generous efforts do anything more than make me feel good about those efforts. The angst of human existence rests in a kind of deep-seated 3. I am not defending classical empiricism, the claim that reason can be reduced to data. Maurice Merleau-I’onty’s astute criticism of both empiricism and rationalism in his Phenomenology of Perception, 1962, is the argument I follow. 40 An Alternative Paradigm skepticism: I never know the value of my behavior for others. This consti- tutes my existential anxiety: I know I am responsible, and yet I am uncer- tain of my responses. I know I am called to generous service. This call pulls me both to the sublimity and to the suffering of resmnsibility. Just as the satisfied person is not one w 0 has no n s, ut rat er one who has fulfilled needs, yet only temporarily fulfilled; so the happy person is not one who is not called or hears no call, but the one who responds as well as possible, yet suffers the insomnia of "never enough.” As Kierkegaard uses the word "angst" to define human existence, so Levinas uses the word "insomnia" to define the uncertainty of completion of responsibility. I can never rest assured. Let me reintroduce my concern about our science of psychology. Psychology seems to focus on the ego fulfilling its needs. From this per— spective, everything else can be described as potentially either fulfilling those needs or making those needs stronger. Modern psychology tends to be reductionistic. It reduces the self to a complex of hungers or drives. Psychology reduces the experience of others to an event of the ego know- ing or feeling about others as objects that can or cannot fulfill the needs of the ego. Psychology thus reduces the primary experience of the absolute infinity of the Other to a totalizable event of nature. It is too often an objec- tivistically inspired science of generalizations, a set of labels placed on processes and states, on properties of human behavior. To the extent that psychology fails to remain faithful to the experience of the distinction between totality and infinity, then it remains an egology, the study of an isolated ego totalizing everything other than itself, confined within the contentment of its own making, and thereby condemned to self-sabotage. The distinction of Levinas between totality and infinity provides the foundation for a nonegological psukhology, where the psukhe, breath, soul of life, is inspired by the dignity and needs of others into the paradox- ical self: ins ired but unsure of itself. This psukhology could study the styles of the individual assignments and responses, the styles of listening to the call and res nsibl res onding, as well as the styles 0 rmng away from” and abusin the call of the Other. PsycholdiFn to Emg a moral science and practice. ' Need and Desire In one of those encounter groups where I found myself during the early seventies, a wife finally shouted back to her wimpy husband, Whenever you insist that you need me, I feel like one of your nec- essary tools or toys, like your car, or your golf clubs, or that damn overstuffed chair you’ve claimed. You make me feel like you do not want me because of me, but you need me for you. An Alternative Paradigm 41 Her complaint is not uncommon. When we say we need our loved ones, we think we are expressing as strongly as possible how much we love them. But the more emphasis we put on our expression of need—the longer the list of indispensable qualities and behavior of the beloved—the more the Other feels used, the greater the burden the Other feels. Certainly we have needs that the partner helps fill. But the beloved is loved, desired for her own sake, not just as a provider for the ego’s needs. The distinction between need and desire, articulated by Levinas (1961/ 1969), helps us understand this paradox of power and weakness. Egological psychology, having missed the distinction between totality and infinity, reducing the Other person to the totalizing category of an object of need, cannot distinguish between need and desire. A need is directed toward things. What is needed is what is lacking. The needed object is totalized to that thing which can fill the lack. Needs urge me to make what is not me into me. To fill a need, at the cognitive level I understand (sometimes misunderstand) a thing to fit my need; at the behavioral level, I take it and move (sometimes fumble) it to fill my need; at the affective level, I receive from the thing the satisfaction (some- times dissatisfaction) I needed. Even with other persons my needs urge me to comprehend (reduce others to my cognitive grasp of things), control (make others fit my particular behavioral project), and consume (find in others a goodness, not for their sake, but for what I can sustain myself and affectiver enjoy). Desire is different from need. Desire is directed to the good of other persons. Desire is love.‘ The desired does not fill a need, but rather deep- ens desire. Desire for the Other, the independent other, cannot be satis- fied; desire enriches me in its unquenchable concerns and caresses. Desire does not wish to comprehend, control, and consume, to take the Other into the self, but to be with the Other as the Other exists as an wholly sep- arate person. Desire does not wish to make the Other fit the needs of the self, but reaches out to the Other to provide for the Other’ s needs as those needs are expressed to the self. When I find myself using the Other, stereotyping her or him, manip- ulating her or him, expecting too much of her or him, and sometimes get- ting satiated and bored with her or him, I must admit I have turned my relationship of desire into an ego-centered need. My needs want the Other 4. For now, we can use the word love as an equivalent of desire. However, Levinas made a distinction between desire and love. Love seeks the relationship with the beloved excluding others so the Other can attend to the self. Desire, on the other hand, does not exclude other Others. They are implied in the desire for the Other. Desire seeks the good of the Other without any interest in fulfilling some need of the self by the desired one, and therefore seeks the good for all others. 42 An Alternative Paradigm I to be my thing-like image, rather than as the absolutely Other who she or he is. Descriptions of personal altruistic experiences so frequently contain statements like, "I feel I got more out of helping others than what I could give to them." This is a legitimate admission, but it does not make altruis- tic experiences reducible to occasions of need-fulfillment. To claim that the altruistic event of serving only fulfills ego-needs reduces our most sublimely experienced motive: desire. We can distinguish between need . and desire by recognizing that the origin of desire arises from the inde- pendent goodness of the desired, while the origin of need grows out of the lack of some good within the self. It is precisely because the origin of desire comes from the Other that we experience its sublimity over the ful- fillment of needs, whose origins come from the self. The desire for the Other calls us to transcend our own needs, to go beyond our organismic and egological self. We often use these terms (need and desire) the other way around: we say we need other people; and we desire things. This may be a semantic problem: we often use the word desire to mean either a very strong need or a sexual drive. More likely, this reversal of meanings shows that none of our desires are pure. Even when we most righteously try to respect the dignity of the Other, we mix in a bit of totalizing to fill a selfish need. We still have needs and we lapse into using the other person as a needed object, not respecting them as worthy and independent of our needs. Or we might argue that reversing the terms demonstrates a social pathology. In our affluent culture of "cancerous individualism,” described so well by Bellah and his colleagues (Habits of the Heart, 1986), we are taught, on the one hand, to reduce other people to objects needed: we act as if we could consume them. We are taught by our culture, on the other hand, to desire material things: we become pathologically driven to things. We insatiably consume and idolatrously honor possessions. When the human sciences theoretically reduce the experience of desire to the notion of need, as does much of psychology, sociology, eco- nomics, and political science (everything is explainable by them in terms of self-interest), they do so by a nihilistic reduction of the distinction between totality and infinity. These sciences must recognize that needs seek objects able to be totalized in a definition of utility that reduces them to what fills a lack. Distinct from need, desire seeks that which is always infinitely beyond us, absolutely non-totalizable. While need unites things with the ego, desire discovers the other person infinitely far away and paradoxically infinitely close to the self, closer to the self than the self. An Alternative Paradigm 43 Willful Activity and Radical Passivity Accuse someone of being passive and you will likely get hit with an highly active response. The very word passive has come to describe an indignity, insulting to people in our self-empowered, aggressive society. The adjec- tive active, on the other hand, is flattering. Active is a power word. It sells. It is used in advertising as much as "new and improved.” Passive is weak, denied, disgusting to active people. A friend once told me how much he hates the word passive and any word associated with it. He even bristles at road signs that say, YIELD. In this cultural condition we must examine the paradoxical notion of passivity. Levinas describes our reception of the command of the Other to be 6esponsible as "a passivity—but it is a passivity beneath all passivity” (1969, p. 101). This command, passively experienced by me, not chosen by me, makes my authentic activity a radical Essivity, and my passivity an activity: I am called without choice (passive) to serve (active) the needs of the other. When I turn away (active) from the Other, I retreat into self- obsession, self-compulsion, self-indulgence (passive). This third distinction of Levinas disturbs the egology of traditional philosophy and psychology, as well as our popular culture of individual competition. To be more philosophically specific, Levinas distinguishes intentionality of consciousness (activity) from the nonintentionality of affectiv- ity:5 enjoyment, suffering, and the for—the—other of conscience (passivity). The father of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, described the human as "consciousness constituting its world.” He used the term “intentionality” to indicate how human consciousness actively intends out toward the world and makes the things in the world meaningful for con- sciousness. The metaphor of the flashlight has been helpful to clarify the intentionality of consciousness. When I direct the light beam on the bike in my dark basement, I do not make it pop into existence. The bike was there in the dark before the flashlight and I came down the stair. We, the bicycle and l with flashlight, only disclose the bike already there. Intentionality, like the light beam, is the way consciousness (that which knows) discloses the objects of consciousness (that which is known). Consciousness as inten- ‘ tional is a form of the voluntary: it is a chosen activity of the ego. The phe- nomenologists challenge the exaggerated egoism and activity claimed by 5. See Andrew Tallon’s "Nonintentional Affectivity, Affective Intention- ality, and the Ethical in Levinas’s Philosophy,” in Ethics as First Philosophy: The Significance of Emmanuel Levinas for Philosophy, Literature, and Religion (1995, pp. 107—21). . ( 44 An Alternative Paradigm philosophical Idealism. Idealism is that school of philosophy that reduces the objects of knowing to nothing more than the pure product of the con- sciousness of the ego. For the Idealists, the flashlight beam (consciousness) would make the bicycle come into existence. The phenomenology of Husserl, on the other hand, describes knowing as "co-constitution” between the World of things and consciousness. The thing and I cooperate in forming the meaning I have of the thing. Levinas thinks the description of consciousness offered by Husserl puts too much emphasis on the activity of the consciousness of the ego, particularly in knowing the Other. He thinks Husserl is too influenced by the Western tradition of egology, too influenced by Idealism. Levinas would generally agree with Husserl’s phenomenological description of human knowing. He philosophically disagrees with Husserl’s and with other phenomenologists’ implication that intentional (active) conscious- . ness is the only relationship the self has with that which is other than the self, especially other humans. Phenomenologists do not recognize a nonin- ' .tentional (radically passive) relationship with other persons.“ Conscience, the call to seek good and avoid evil, is, for the phenome- nologists, a kind of active intentional consciousness of the ego. Having my ethical obligation disclosed by me is a form of my active knowing, rather than a form of my being passively commanded by the Other, as it is for Levinas. For Husserl, I disclose my duty to myself. I decide my obliga- tions. For Levinas, my duty is revealed to me. If I hold the notion that my obligation to feed my children was arrived at solely by my generous will, insisting it was not an obligation passively assigned me by their hunger, Levinas would consider me arrogantly self-deceived. Yet our individual- ism wants to insist on an ideological conviction that we are the origin of our assignments. For Levinas, conscience is much more passive than ethicists describe. This passivity of conscience is not like Freud’s superego in which the forming of conscience is the automatic interiorization or introjection of the parents’ and culture’s values, demands, and prohibitions. Levinas’s notion of the passivity of conscience is founded on the experience that the face of the Other calls my egoism into question. The Other challenges my effort to comprehend (stereotype her), my effort to control (use her for my plans), and my effort to consume (enjoy her as a thing). The Other tells me, simply by her presence, that these are violations of her radical Otherness, of her infinite dignity, of her worthiness independent of my judgments and decisions. The source of the challenge to my tendency toward vio- 6. I think Merleau-Ponty was on the way to the notion of passivity, but he died before he could describe it as Levinas does. An Alternative Paradigm 45 lence is not my "intentional constituting consciousness,” my mental activ- ity, deciding to question my own tendencies. I cannot police myself. The source of my conscience is the Other’ s goodness challenging me as usurp- ing her rights by misunderstanding her, by using her, and by enjoying goods that she needs more than I. I do not construct my conscience. I do not do it; it happens to me! I do not so much actively form my conscience on my own, as it is passively formed. My conscience is passively formed by the independent goodness of the Other instructing me about her good- ness, and commanding me to be responsible. I do not choose my funda- mental responsibility. It is assigned to me simply by being a neighbor to my neighbor, by being a being that is vulnerable to being called, by being human. Of course, with my free will, I may choose to accept or not accept the individual responsibility assigned to me, or rather choose to accept my responsibility by not being generous. I know I have the freedom, the pos- sibility, the license to choose to accept or not. I have past experiences in my life in which I have chosen to act irresponsibly by forgetting, turning away, neglecting, even abusing others. I also have experiences in which I acted responsibly by remembering, turning toward, serving, and even sacrificing myself for the Other. My response is not determined like a force in nature. I am cammanded to be responsible precisely because I am (not caused to be responsible. My conscience is neither the superego deposited in me by parents and causing me to do certain actions, nor the noble psychological structure of good intentions on which I'too often falsely pride myself. Conscience is initially passively received. The psyche is still the psyche, the free agent, but this freedom is commanded indepen- dent of its self-initiated and self-directed freedom. It is commanded by the Other. The psyche in the soul is the Other in me. Levinas indicates that the origin of nonintentional conscience can be traced to the experience of a nonintentional affectivity of sensible enjoy- ment. Enjoyment should not be considered a kind of active intentional consciousness. Enjoyment is certainly passive, for instance, when I eat ice cream, I don’t decide to enjoy it. I enjoy it as a gift. Enjoyment is unex- pected and undeserved, certainly not constituted by an ego. The actual enjoyment of anything pleasing is always better, or worse, than the antici- pation, the expectation in the consciousness of the ego. As the menu can- not be equivalent to the meal, so the memory of the past enjoyment cannot be equivalent to the enjoyment in the act of eating. The actual enjoyment always surprises, always overflows my constituted knowledge, my image \of its possible enjoyment. Even when I don’t enjoy what I anticipated I would enjoy, this surprise is an overflowing, a passive reception. l 46 An Alternative Paradigm Enjoyment overflows the ego, graces our eating, our looking, hearing, all our affectivity. Furthermore, enjoyment is undeserved. It is not a payment for my good work. I may deserve payment or favor for work under some eco- nomic or social agreement, but the enjoyment of the reward is an indepen- dent gift. It is gratuitous. I am passive to enjoyment. Thank God! This may be difficult for us to accept in this age of our obsession with the idea of "deservedness." But we sabotage enjoyment by claiming it is deserved. Enjoying the pure gift of the good, surprising and unmerited, makes up the joy of life. However, the very possibility of passive enjoyment points to the human vulnerability of being denied satisfaction: suffering. Suffering is certainly passive. It is gratuitous. Suffering is unexpected and unde- served, certainly not chosen by my intentional consciousness. We are vul- nerable, exposed to otherness, otherness that can hurt as well as give enjoyment. When we suffer for nothing, we recognize that the passivity of the sensible cannot be turned into activity. Finally, this very enjoyment and suffering, this passive exposedness to the Other, is the basis of our conscience. Although enjoyment allows for the ego to be complacent in itself, to be exempt from interpersonal ten- sions, to experience the privateness of the ego, at least for a while, the experiences of enjoyment and suffering provide the conditions for the self- for-the-Other. Conscience, the calling to responsibility for the needs of the Other, is founded on sensibilig, not on some rational category of consti- tuting consciousness. In empathy, I do not go through some syllogistic reasoning such as: When I need things, I suffer. Since he is just like me, another me, he needs things. Since he is just like me, another me, he must be suffering. I should share my things. The immediacy and passivity of the sensible is the immediacy and passiv- - ity of enjoyment and suffering, and is the immediacy and passivity of feel- ing the suffering of the Other, and the desire to give. While the Other is not another me, the Other is proximate to me, closer to me than I am to me; the Other is in me. The Other’ 3 proximity (the Other in the self) calls me to empathy, calls me to give of my material self. Giving "is not a gift of the heart (reason), but of the bread from one’s mouth” (Levinas, 1981, p. 74). The origin of moral conscience is in the passivity of sensibility, as Levinas would have it, rather than in the activity of reason, as Kant would have it. To help us understand this description, let me turn to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s description of perception or sensibility (1964, pp. An Alternative Paradigm 47 96-155). He shows how the happiness or sadness or anger of the other person is perceived or sensed, rather than reasoned about. When I see the turned-up corners of her mouth and her widened eyes, I know that she is happy. How do I know she is experiencing happiness? My ego tells me to use the following sequences of reason: When my mouth corners turn up and my eyes widen, I am happy- I can solve the equation: Since she is another me, my bodily appearance is to my experience of happiness, as her bodily appearance is to her experience. Therefore, when I see her body appear like this, I reason that she is experiencing happiness just like me. This seems reasonable. But Merleau-Ponty points out two flaws in this reasoning (1964, pp. 113—120). It is both (a) contrary to experience, and (b) self-contradictory. (a) I do not experience going through this first syllogistic premise: my body is to my experience as her body is to her experience; and follow the second premise: I can compare my body with her body; and then con- clude: therefore when I see her look like me, then I reason that she experi- ences as I do. Psychologists, defending their egology, would say that, although we do not clearly experience this process of reason because we do it too quickly, and on the unconscious level, our psyche does this rea- soning. But their reasoning is still unfounded on experience. I do not have an image of what I look like when I smile from happiness to compare to my perception of the Other's smile, to reason that she is happy. Frankly I do not know what I look like when I am happy. Even when I try to mimic in the mirror, it is a fake smile. I am unaware of the appearance of my smiling face. Although I feel my face move when I smile, this feeling of muscles and skin cannot be used as the equivalent of the appearance of the smile of the other. I see her happiness expressed in her smile. I do not see skin shape by muscle movement. Her smile is her happiness. The old body-mind split of the egological rationalists is not experienced in my life with my neighbor. (b) The line of reasoning from self-experience to Other-experience is also contradictory. I have to know the Other’ 5 appearance of happiness in order to match it with my experience of my own happiness. I have to use as my first premise (my perception of her happiness) what I am trying to conclude (her happiness). Not fair logic! I do not see signs of happiness and conclude they are signs of happiness. I see meanings expressed by oth- ers, in this example, her happiness. This is the insight given us by the phe- nomenologists: Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, and others: perception grasps 48 An Alternative Paradigm meanings. Perception is not the tool of reason. Psychology’s prejudice toward reducing perception to an act of “quick, unconscious, and previ- ously learned reason” is the product of an egology. Reason is the dominat- ing tool of the ego. But perception is the way we, who are vulnerable, passively receive the meanings of the world. We do not want to admit that we are passive. We want active control, especially rationally active con- trol. So under the influence of an egological prejudice, we describe per- ception as a poor descendant of reason. Recovering an understanding of the primacy of perception (using the great insights of Husserl, Merleau- Ponty, and others), the primacy of sensibility would be an essential pro- ject of psukhology. A developmental psychology founded on an egology would say that as an adult I have learned from past experiences the signs of others’ hap- piness. But if I cannot appeal to my own appearance in present time; even less can I appeal to past experiences of reading happinesson the face of previous others. I would have to push these experiences back to even prior experiences, finally to my infancy, when I recognized the happiness of my mother. This is where Merleau-Ponty offers us very helpful insights. Certainly the infant who smiles back at its mother’ s smile does not go through the syllogism: "My bodily appearance is to my experience of happiness, as mother’ s bodily appearance is to mother’ s experience of happiness. Therefore, when I see mom's body appear like this, show these signs, I reason that she is happy." The infant does not reason like this. All perception, for the infant and the adult is of meaning, not signs pointing to * meaning constructed by reason out of the blocks of percepts. We perceive the happiness, sadness, anger, and so forth of others. We often make mistakes, but these mistakes only show that these emotional meanings are perceived rather than reasoned. Likewise, I perceive through sensibility the suffering of the Other, and perceive that suffering as a call to me to be responsible. The reasoning of Kant, “This person before me is a human; humans should not be used as means, but only as ends in themselves; therefore I should not use this person, but should treat her or him as having dignity of her or his own accord,” is self-contra- dictory. How do I know that this object before me is a person? Not because he has a similar appearance to the me whom I primarily know to be a person. Maybe he is a manikin with an appearance of a person but not a person. Rather I know him as a person because I perceive his worthiness independent of my judgments of him. I see, hear, even touch, smell, and taste him enjoying life, being angry, sad, or frustrated, being a free, inde- pendent existence filled with his own life. I do not,_with my reason, judge him to be a free and happy or sad person; I perceive him this way. Merleau-Ponty’s description of the primacy of perception over reason An Alternative Paradigm 49 powerfully elucidates Levinas’s description of the primacy of passive per- ception over active reason in understanding the dignity and call of the Other. Levinas offers extraordinary descriptions of enjoyment. His philoso- phy of responsibility, even sacrifice for others, cannot be called an asceti- cism. As I immediately experience the good of enjoyment, without a detour through my rationalizing consciousness, I similarly experience the accusation by the Other’s needs against my egocentrism, and my respon- sibility to give her the bread from my mouth. The ethical call is therefore not from a rational conclusion, a Kantian categorical imperative. Ethics originates in nonintentional sensibility: my enjoyment, her need, her non- intentional accusation and inspiration to me, my hearing her call, all are passively given before my reason must figure out how to respond. This passivity of affectivity is not the equivalent of mechanical pas- sivity, where an effect is the passive result of the cause. Affective passivity is more passive than mechanical passivity because it is the passivity of meaning. I receive a meaning, a nonintentional, gratuitous meaning that delights me or pains me. I receive the call to responsibility from and for} the Other. This radical passivity to the radical otherness of the Other is the ori— gin of my conscience. Emphasis on the passivity of conscience over the activity of con— sciousness and conscience, and the emphasis of enjoyment/ suffering of the psyche over the power/ weakness of the ego is important in defining a psukhology that is not a narrow egology. To supremely recognize our vulnerability to the Other person would help us to understand not only the suffering we inflict on each other, but also the gifts we give each other. We need a psukhology of gratitude, the study of the soul experiencing the Other breathed into the self. We need a psukhology of our radical social connectedness and identity, to balance our understanding of our isolated identity, a psukhology of commitment to balance our individualism, a psukhology of responsibility to balance our competitiveness. Self-Initiated Freedom and Invested Freedom Personal freedom has been placed at the top of the hierarchy of values in most theoretical systems that explain the psychological, sociological, eco- nomic, and political life of humans, certainly Western humans. These hierarchies map the energy of the life of the self separated from others. Enjoying pleasure in the midst of its acquired goods, the self is at home with itself honoring its personal freedom. The life of the separated indi-, vidual is found in enjoyment of goods. Needs are not a burden to the self. Fulfilled needs are the enjoyment of life. No doubt about it, because of our 50 An Alternative Paradigm needs, we find ourselves dependent upon material things. But it is a happy dependence. I’m pleased that my digestive system transforms into nutrients and wastes the contents of my recent meal. I love the taste of gro- ceries. To continually consume needed things brings happiness; happi- ness supports our freedom. But the bliss of feeding off the world is not the end. First of all, the bliss is ephemeral, short-lived and often traitorous, as when my diet is bad. Secondly, the self privately filling its needs and enjoying life recog- ‘ _nizes that other people provide this life of enjoyment. The self is not self- sufficient, not that separated from others. The world of material things needed and enjoyed by the self are gifts from others given to the self and often sacrificed out of those others’ own needs and desire. Not only are goods given as gifts, not only are talents and opportunities given as gifts, but, most important, others give me my very own freedom to be used responsibly to serve others. Freedom in the form of open possibilities, usable goods, developed talents, even desires, are invested in me by oth- ers. Additionally, the investment of freedom in me by others obliges me to use this freedom to serve them in their need. Responsibility, the duty to give of my understanding, my effort, and even the bread from my mouth is the fundamental call to authenticity. Let me anticipate objections to this radical notion of invested freedom from the ethical philosophy of Levinas. Let me say what this paradigm shift frgm an egology to a radical alterology, this revolutionary turn from an ego-centered psychology to an Other-centered psukhology is not. (I will later discuss the limits to altruism more fully in the Interlude.) First, a shift from an egology to the study of an Other-centered self is not a moral command coming from me, or from Levinas, or from some church, governing body, or familial, tribal, or other social institution. The philosophy of Levinas is not a heteronomy where I am the slave to tyran- nical masters. It is not a moral system he has devised. Rather it is a description of human existence. It is a phenomenology that describes what we all see and expect others to see, and that causes us to worry about those who say they don’t see. What we see is undeniable responsibility, not to the power of a social institution, but to the neediness of the face of the Other. The claim of Levinas‘that ethics takes priority over an ego- centered ontology is not a moralistic prescriptionI it is a description. Or better, it is a prescription, ut a prescription revealed by the face of needy others facing me, articulated in our description of our desire for the infi- nite goodness of others. Levinas offers not some popular brand of theo- centrism handed down from a religious hierarchy, or a presumptuous moral majority. Rather he describes an anthropocentrism. Not an egocen- tric anthropocentrism; but an altero-centric anthropo-centrism. His An Alternative Paradigm 51 anthropocentrism is re-ligious in that notion of re-binding to an Absolute Other by way of rebinding to others. God is found in our committed ser- vice to others, not through a vertical and insulated conduit stretching up to a distant Transcendence. Second, this call for a shift from an egoism to an alterocentric ethics is not a call to an asceticism that accuses us of sin in fulfilling our needs, and demands pain to make up in reparation for past or future evil pleasure. Recognizing the priority of the desire for the Other over my need for things does not make needs the root of evil. The self finds happiness fill- ing its needs—and then finds itself called out of its enjoyment by the needs of the Other. This desire for the Other arises not from a self pulling itself out of the midst of its enjoyable needs, to an ascetic self in the midst of its ascetic needs. Desire for the Other wants the good for the sake of the Other. Third, this desire for the goodness of the Other is not a self-righteous altruism. Altruism too often bespeaks the beliefs and practices of do- gooders who decide what the good for others ought to be, and intrude on those others to bring this good to them. Because self-righteous, pushy do- gooders have so tainted the essentially good word altruism, we often avoid that word, losing its proper use: a habitual style of disinterested generosity. Two comments about altruism. First, the do-gooder is often fulfilling his own needs. He is going out to the other person for the sake of his own ego, rather than to the neediness and worthiness of the Other. This do- gooder uses the other person’s neediness, consumes the other person’s neediness, fulfills the needs of his self with the neediness of the Other. The Other-centered altruist is interested in the good of the Other for the sake of the Other, not for himself. Secondly, ego—centered altruistic persons believe themselves to have within themselves the power to fulfill the needs of the Other. This implies that they know just what the Other’ 5 needs are, that they comprehend the Other, are able to place the Other’s needs into a neat and previously known category. But the Other-centered altruist knows the Other is beyond his knowing. When we allow the Other to reveal who she is, we experience her as always-more-than what the self can know. We desire the Other, we are called out of ourselves to serve the needs of the Other, but we never know whether we have adequately served or could ever adequately serve her needs. Deep within our relationship to the Other lie a self-skepticism. We never totally know! The Other’ 3 needs and plea- sures and requests for service are always beyond our totalizing compre— hension. The paradoxical proximity and distance of the Other catches us in a conflict and humbles us. .6? 21‘s 52 An Alternative Paradigm Finally, this giving priority to the Other over the egocentric self does not mean allowing ourselves to be abused by the Other. We do not serve the Other by supporting their tendency toward abusiveness. To be ethi- cally responsible is not, in today’s language, to be codependently support- ‘ing the Other’s self- and Other-destructive habits. Giving priority to others is not permitting them to abuse me or others, not my child, wife, 'Stranger, even my enemy. On the contrary, disallowing another’s abusive behavior serves not only the possible victims, but also the potential abuser.7 - Where Levinas articulates the philosophical vision of the Other cen- tered in the self, he claims to find the most humane aspect of the life of the human. He, and other religious geniuses, wise women and men, secular and religious saints, inspire us to listen to the call to ethical responsibility spoken to us by the neediness and worthiness of others. They call us to our incamational authenticity. Responsibility is in our nature, hidden at times by our false obsessions with power. Robert Bellah and associates found in their research, described in Habits of the Heart (1985), a second language of altruism crowded out by our first language of individualism. Their subtitle, Individualism and Commitment in Americal Life, points to their discovery that American individua'IiSmcan potentially eat us up from the inside, like immature, rapidly growing cancerous cells. On the other hand, they often found that’A'merican individualism has another side to it. We do commit ourselves to others. We are a society of joiners, of volunteers, of charitable givers, devoted to families, neighbors, churches, clubs. Tremendous generosity lies in the human heart, an openness to extraordinary sacrifice for the well-being of others, an ethical center in the lives of nearly all of us. Psychology, wandering away from the original meaning of the psukhe in psukhology, has defaulted into an egology. Psychology needs to scratch beneath the surface of its self-need-centered theories to find the desire within all of us to serve the needs of others. Psychologists, trying to be objective scientists, have been telling themselves over and over that they must be a-valuative. They have complied so much with the dictate of science to be morally neutral that they have been reluctant to recognize the psychological experiences of the human psyche called to responsibil- ity. Psychologists have too forcefully told themselves that descriptions of responsibility should be left to the philosopher, the theologian, and the saints, while they stay clear of any descriptions of ethical experience, 7. In the Interlude I will discuss the limitations placed on the self in its efforts to be ethical in the social situations where other Others are involved. An Alternative Paradigm 53 which, they warn, would inevitably turn into moralism and would taint the science. Without moralizing, the phenomenological descriptions of Levinas tell us we have not only permission, but an obligation, according to our fundamental ethical nature, to describe moral experiences. Saints, the countless generous people we find working away to serve the needs of others without moralizing, inspire us to ethical responsibility. Social Equality and Ethical Inequality A basic and prized value of our modern democratic and individualistic society is equality. Within this culture, I cannot place myself above any other, and no one can place herself above me. Yet we all have a more pri- mary experience, a humble honesty not to place oneself and the Other on an equal plane. The difference of the Other—not that difference defined by gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion—but that difference as individu- ally and infinitely Other, is absolute. We are infinitely unequal. The Other is always infinitely more than "just am“ Certainly, the Other cannot place herself above me by claims of talent or birthright or any other quality. Still, I must place her above me by the claim on my ethical responsibility. To claim I cannot recognize the rights of the Other over me, is to be ego-centered. In full and honest humility, the Other comes first. Levinas points out the immediate experience, "what I permit myself to demand of myself is not comparable with what I have the right to demand of the Other” (1969, p. 53). While the Other should not abuse me, this claim is not because I have rights over or equal to the other. I cannot reduce the Other to my level. Others present themselves as always more than I can know, especially more than what I know by my limited understanding of my own limited self. I have political equality with others, founded on a constitution and laws, but I do not have ethical equal— ity, founded on the experience of rights and responsibilities in the face-to- face meeting. "Others come before me.” We’ve heard this statement from saints and other ethical geniuses. It is a hard saying. But it is a truth that Levinas describes. It is not a truth I can insist others follow. The “Others come before me” is a truth for the me. The Said and Saying This fundamental inequality is expressed by Levinas when he distin- guishes between what he calls the said, and what he calls saying. The said is the language of equality, our talk within a system of words representing concepts to which we have become accustomed in society. In much of my l 54 An Alternative Paradigm ordinary talk, I repeat those ideas that I have heard and read. The said is used to put myself forth out of my conatus essendi, my "will to be.” When I speak the language of the said, I am using the commonly understood notions of an individual establishing an identity in a society of others establishing their identity. The structures of institutional society are founded on the network of the language of the said. It is the language of the established, and I use it to establish my place among the established. I speak of my accomplishments, my ambitions, my judgments of others, my values. I assume my listener shares these notions of how individuals establish identities. These are from the language of power in a system that is founded on an equality of opportunity. Saying, on the other hand, is a more original communication than the said; we might even say it is pre—original. Saying is my expression inspired by the proximity (always commanding presence) and distance (always beyond my comprehension, control, and consuming) of the Other. Saying does not originally come from me as a freely initiated activity. It comes from me as a prevoluntary response to the Other’ 5 calling me to responsi- bility. I cannot first say what my responsibility is. My responsibility is commanded of me before I establish my social territory, including what I think are my regions of responsibility. Saying is my expression communi- cated to the Other’ 5 questioning my statements of the said, my excuses jus- tified by an ideology that claims I am equal to the Other. ' I am called to say. But my saying is my response simply by being pre- sent to the Other. I am not present the way a stick or stone is there. I am a human who is there, present to the Other, the one whose psukhe has been breathed into me by others for the sake of others. My thereness is not reducible to the being there concerned with itself, as Heidegger says in Being and Time. My thereness is the being there answerable to the Other. The neediness of the Other cannot turn to the stick or stone and expect respon- sibility. The neediness of the Other can turn to me and expect me to help, without having to ask whether I am more than a stick. The expression of the Other is the humanness of the Other calling me to say back to the Other "Here I am,” before I calculate and claim my equal rights, even before I can form the words with my mouth "Here I am.” I hear the Other reveal- ing to me, "Here I am, worthy of dignity independent of your judgments of equality.” The mouth of the Other and my ears need not be involved. The presence of the Other is the original saying. When the other confronts me, faces me with neediness, challenges my claim to my rights over my responsibilities, reveals to me an obliga- tion that is older than any promise or denial I made in earlier statements, when the face of the Other faces me, then I recognize that my saying "Here I am” is more original than any other originality I can speak. Saying is not An Alternative Paradigm 55 rooted in ordinary time. It is saying not in the present as a remembrance of the past, nor is it an anticipation of the future. The revelation to me of the neediness of the Other is always immediate, and therefore timeless, always concrete, and therefore never deniable. It is more undeniable than the impediment that blocks my way. My saying "Here I am” is the expression to the Other that I have undeniably witnessed their presence before me. I cannot shirk the responsibility of the claim of the Other on me. I am more passive to the revelation of the Other than any passivity of receiving a blow on my head, or a subpoena from court. This revelation is not directed to me as a general member of a species, tribe, family, or citizen obligated by law in a system of equal members. It is not directed to me as one who has the ability and time from an occupational role to provide ser- viceable action. This revelation is addressed to me as the individual who is assigned fundamental responsibility prior to any claim to be capable and moral. It is assigned because I am the one there. My thereness is estab- lished by the face of the Other facing me, appealing to my responsibility. My identity, when the Other appeals to my responsibility, is the-one—called- to—be-responsible. I cannot turn away from the Other. I am there. This means I cannot turn away from myself as the one called. Levinas says I am trapped in my skin, too tight for comfort. The sensibility of my skin, my eyes, ears, nose, tongue cannot help but receive the revelation of the Other’ 5 calling me to be responsible. Regardless of what I decide to do, I am there and I must respond, "Here I am.” The first expression to me is the Other’ 5 presence and neediness before any talking. Levinas says that the face is the first word. The face of the Other says without opening its mouth, "Do not do violence to me. Serve my needs." My saying "Here I am” is the second word. I need not open my mouth. My presence says "Here I am. I have heard and have been touched by you.” I may choose to responsibly respond, to be gener- ous, or to be mean and nasty. But I cannot choose the occurrence of the original word of the Other, "Here I am, be responsible.” Nor can I choose the occurrence of my saying "Here I am, I have heard your call.” I can and often do respond with my said. For example, I make multiple rationaliza- tions for not acting responsibly. I claim the other is undeserving. I bow out due to prior obligations. I demand my own equality and insist the other serve my neediness. The said speaks the language of equality, of my rights and chosen responsibilities. Saying speaks the language of inequality, of my responsibilities to the Other coming before my rights. This distinction between the said and saying is especially important for therapists. My friend and longtime colleague here at Seattle Univer- sity, Steen Halling, wrote over twenty years ago in an extraordinary and ...
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This note was uploaded on 03/06/2012 for the course SOC 311 taught by Professor Knapp,s during the Winter '08 term at BYU.

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Paradox of Power and Weakness - SUNY series, Altematives in...

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