Wednesday, April 24, 2013

People of the Subordinate Self

You and I, we are the People of the Responsible Self.  We think that we are responsible for who we are, what we do, and what we accomplish in life.

But this kind of human is fairly new on the world stage.  According to chaps like Robert Bellah, the Responsible Self appeared during the Axial Age when the great world religions were founded.  Notoriously, this movement is exemplified by the Hebrew prophets, who told the Jews over and over again that each one of them stood responsible for their lives before God.

I've been having an email conversation over the past week with a person who doesn't believe that.  I've been toying with ways of describing such people, to contrast with the notion of the People of the Responsible Self.  I've tried People of the Victim Self, People of the Marginalized Self.  But I don't really want to make the name for "other" guy into too much of an insult.

So for today, I am coming up with "People of the Subordinate Self."  Such a person does not think of adversity as his own fault, or even his bad luck.  He thinks of it as society's fault.  It's because of exploitation or inequality.  Or robber barons, or Koch Brothers.
Do we as a nation want to take care or our elderly and disadvantaged and sick and poor or start more wars and continue to allow our nation to deteriorate in education, in infrastructure, in healthcare and in income disparity de[c]imating the middle class even more. 
Of course, my correspondent is not proposing that he should do anything about that.  He thinks that the nation should do something about it.  And the main problem is that the rich don't pay enough.
As I see it, America should be having a revolution to equalize the income disparity and the tax code so the top 1% does pay its fair share!  You ask how much is enough and I told you that the Eisenhower tax rate was 91%, and that is about right.
So I think that the right word for my liberal friend is People of the Subordinate Self.  You have seen people like him where you work.  "Why don't 'they' fix the pot holes around here?" Why doesn't management fix things?  Why don't the rich pay their fair share?  Why do they "continue to allow our nation to deteriorate in education, in infrastructure, in healthcare and in income disparity"?

In a parallel world, one Penelope Trunk is pushing the latest idea that you shouldn't go to college.  Here are the bulleted tips:
  1. Skip college
  2. Internships instead of school
  3. Start a company, not a resume
  4. Don't be linear
Most people react with enthusiasm, but some complain that not everyone can be a self-starting entrepreneur.  For, to make her idea work, you have to have a Churchillian obstinacy, and never, never, never, never give up.  Like her.

But that's the difference between the People of the Responsible Self and the People of the Subordinate Self.  It is between people that think that they are responsible for getting on the world, and people that think that the other "they" are responsible.

Mind you, I've always lived curiously in the middle of all this.  I'm not a hard-charging entrepreneur that works, works, works, until something works.  But I've never been someone to sit in a cubicle and whine about the management.  After all, management is human too, and muddling through like me.  

And I've always accepted the basic idea of "employment at will."  Because who would want to work for someone forced to keep you on the payroll by government force.

One thing the People of the Subordinate Self don't seem to get their minds around.  Suppose the political party or the political vision you have adopted fails.  As in: runs out of money for pensions, healthcare, education.  You got a backup plan?

But that is the whole point of the Subordinate Self.  You wait around for the boss to move.  And then you complain when he gets it wrong.

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