Shared Subjectivity, and The Good King
Sunday, February 9, 2020
3:35 a.m. Took yesterday off, not that I did anything productive with the time, and I realize I am not holding your argument in mind. I glanced back at printed transcripts from only a few days ago and realized that I had forgotten. But if I can’t, being in the middle of it, how can I expect anybody else do to so?
Theoretically you could find a symbol for each day’s conversation, and string them in a series, but that’s only in theory.
Nothing to be done?
Remember, it isn’t about remembering (memorizing, in effect); it is about being changed, absorbing it, seeing differently.
I suppose that’s our only hope. Very well, more on Lincoln’s personification of mythic elements? But – remind us first of why we’re doing this.
You mean, jumpstart your memory so that you can recall the course of the argument.
I do. I ought to be able to get that from you, without my having to go back and look it up.
Why? That is, why should you be able to?
Isn’t it in your mind?
We are looking at human life from three viewpoints, only we can’t do it except sequentially. Lincoln as example (because well known) will show the human life as it interacts with other human lives and with “the times” it lives in.
That is, the shared subjectivity that we take to be objective.
Well – various levels, here.
- Interaction with one’s own nature.
- Interaction with other humans individually even if more than one at a time.
- Interaction with “the times” – that is, with the conditions of life as one lives it. And this third aspect may bear some examination, perhaps.
In Lincoln’s time, railroads, telegraph, for example, unlike Washington’s time in which they had not yet been invented, or Franklin Roosevelt’s time (about the same distance in time from him as Washington) in which telegraph had been superseded by telephone and radio, and trains by autos and airplanes. You see? Merely the physical infrastructure was part of the defining of the times.
Or, take social issues and the political and economic issues that underlay them. In Washington’s time, in Lincoln’s or Roosevelt’s, the issues were unrecognizably different, because the conditions were different. No need to go into them, though they could inform your history if you ever write it. The point should be clear. People are not the same physically, socially, psychologically, emotionally from one age to another. Anyone who has been consciously observing life for 50 years or so can see how one age passes into another, some ways smoothly some ways abruptly. And anyone reading novels written 100 years earlier, or even 75, easily sees the difference.
To be sure. Read Dorothy Sayers, Josephine Tey, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and the world they portray as background to their story is unrecognizably different in its assumptions, its conventions, its habits, its shibboleths. Go back only to John D. MacDonald, or Rex Stout, same thing. (Though Stout resists apparent change within Nero Wolfe’s world, the exterior world reflects the year he wrote the story.) For a lesson in inflation, one need only compare the prices of things to see that units of currency did not hold their values, or anything like it.
Very well; good illustration of our point: The society you find around you as you are born changes as you live. Whatever it is, at whatever stage you live in, it is the expression the shared subjectivity takes. Your own nature may not change (although, it may, and maybe vastly more than you realize); the nature of your fellow 3D-travelers may not change, subject to the same caveat. “Human nature does not change.” But the circumstances in which it functions do change, and the result is the same as if human nature did change.
That doesn’t sound just right.
No. Let’s put it this way, a little more carefully. Human nature doesn’t change, but its expression changes because (or as) its environment changes. You would not react to the same bit of news in the way your father would have, or your grandfather. Because human nature had changed in two generations? No. Because the surrounding culture, and your own filters and assumptions, had changed. So you speak of a Victorian mindset; it refers to human nature expressing in a context of a definite social filter. But the underlying nature is the same.
However, you don’t mean humans don’t change individually and collectively.
Well – we don’t and we do. Don’t, in that of course anyone can see that a human in 2020 is a very different expression from one in 1920, let alone 1020. Do, in that humans as expressions in 3D of the vastly larger non-3D being, contain worlds, contain multitudes, as Walt Whitman said.
So to return to the point: Lincoln’s life will allow us to see human life as it was experienced in one time, one place, by others, including the descendants of that generation. This as opposed to Lincoln as projection of his non-3D larger being, and as opposed to his own experience of his own life.
All right, thanks, that reorients me. And you can do it again tomorrow.
Hopefully not. Some effort at assimilation is required here.
So if Lincoln came to exemplify the self-made man, he also came to exemplify other archetypal images.
It is in the tradition of “I cannot tell a lie,” you know.
Which was a story made up by Parson Weems.
Yes, but it was a story that took. Washington may not have said it, but people believed that he had said it, and that had consequences. So they believed that Lincoln could not have made bargains with evil, not so much out of a need to believe in Lincoln as of a need to believe in an unblemished President of the United States.
I get it. Washington and Lincoln were fuel for the creation of the larger-than-life presidency.
Your president, as symbol of state, is in effect emotionally your king. As head of government, he is in effect the head only of a faction. It is an inherent contradiction, leading to adoration and hatred, to adulation and to a seething sense of betrayal. This is true regardless whether the president is Hoover or Nixon or McKinley, let alone the men whose charisma raised them to greater heights (and corresponding heights of detraction from the followers of their opponents).
So Lincoln, the self-made man and lawyer and life-long politician, became Honest Abe, the symbol of the country and of the Union and ultimately of emancipation. This process of becoming took place not only around him but within him. Lincoln in 1865 was not the same man as Lincoln in 1860. Lincoln in 1870, had he lived, would not have reverted to the man he had been 10 years earlier. The man and the role merged, you might say, somewhat in the way you might say your own identity becomes entangled with the work you do, the people you associate with.
This phenomenon is not confined to the presidency of the United Sates, of course, but even within that line, you can see that after Washington, even popular presidents like Jefferson and Monroe did not approach the heights of adulation he had attained until first Jackson then Lincoln. Then another long trough until Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson, then Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, and we’ll stop there. This doesn’t mean those nine men would have agreed with one another, or even understood one another: There is the factor of “the times” to consider, after all. But it means they all shared in one archetypal image: The Good King. Only, being America, you do not allow yourselves to think in terms of kings; therefore the strain continues outside of consciousness, where, by definition, it is outside of the possibility of conscious constraint.
You see, the archetype wasn’t really Honest Abe, it was The Good King. And now perhaps you know something you didn’t know beforehand.
That happens occasionally, I notice.
Call this Shared Subjectivity, and the Good King.
Okay. And next time?
We shall see what we shall see, as you know by now! But we’ll think to start with Lincoln’s effect on his fellows. That is to say, on one man’s life as it affects the shared subjectivity.
Our thanks as always.