Do you remember when I ran my series on “oversocialization?” One of the chief issues with that series was exploring when the socialization process goes awry: when oversocialization emerges:
There are individuals, institutions, and groups that we interface with, and through which we learn the rules of society.
Socialization hands you a packet of ‘Goods’ that the society recognizes and expects you to internalize as your own ‘Goods’. Failure to do so can lead to exclusion, punishment, etc.
…someone becomes socialized when they internalize the goods of society into their moral space. BUT someone becomes OVERsocialized, when they either elevate those internalized goods to a status of “higher Good(s)” or they have no other goods at all.
Second, guilt is not the only emotion that is a clear driver of the ‘oversocialized’ (although by god is it a major one). I discussed earlier that ‘derangement’ is a key element of the ‘oversocialized’:
Oversocialization in this context can best be understood as unthinkingly accepting the framing of an issue by a perceived authority, and using that framing as a good. This can obviously lead to derangement syndromes (see: tv-addicted Boomers on each side - CNN vs FOX - with their own derangements).
My conversations discussed problems with our current dominant agents of socialization, yes, but I took more of a descriptive stance of this process as opposed to a normative one. I wish to explore the other side of this coin, to better understand what makes our modern socialization process so profoundly evil. My thesis is simple:
Our dominant ideology has twisted the journey of human life into an anti-social process that wears down ourselves and those around us. Underneath the veneer of emotionally potent rhetoric, these lies manifest as rot and acid, dissolving away any semblance of meaning as we turn into Last Men and Machine-Men.
These negative transformations have different causes, but each represents an important part of our society’s spiritual decline.
Case in point: “Empowerment.” Empowerment to do…what, exactly? Our society leaves that question open. Any substantive moral question is handwaved away with “do whatever you like so long as you don’t harm anyone/everyone consents.” Ignore for a moment that those concepts fall apart upon being poked a couple times. What this notion of Empowerment as Autonomy does is valorize the individual who has torn himself out of every rich/thick relationship he was embedded in, and demands the World kneel before him.
It is ironic that our main ethical stance, the background ethos of our age, demands that we strip away the very things that make life worth living in order to satisfy an abstract goal of "freedom." We embark on a broad project of instrumentalizing everything around us, including people, in pursuit of autonomy or pleasure and then wonder why we are so unhappy. Is it any surprise that a world of instruments is so cold?
In that vein, Charles Taylor noted an intriguing transformation between the pre-modern and modern eras in the existential crises individuals are faced with. In the pre-modern era, the individual is faced with the terror that she may not measure up to the moral standard. She may not have lived a sufficiently virtuous life. Perhaps she is even going to Hell. But in the modern world, the individual is faced with the terror of not knowing what the standard even is. In the face of this, some proclaim that there is no standard beyond their own subjectivity, which inevitably gets reduced to “thing good when make Grug feel good.”
What we have is a notion of Man as Self-Responsible Entity, capable of separating himself from both his Nature and the Nature around him, and through pure force of Will, reinventing himself. This is the broad project of instrumentalization. And it is this instrumentalization that leads to a world so empty of Spirit.
Of course, the inner impulse or yearn for Spirit seems fairly universal, at least at the level of cultures. Our attempts to make sense of the World always appeal to some alleged topography of Moral Space. Even the most hardcore of naturalists are pushed forward by their own Ethos, principles that they hold to on faith alone (and which seem unlikely to have a material substrate). And so, our society’s demand to ignore Spirit and instead worship at the altar of Autonomous Pleasure has created multiple generations of broken individuals.
Even our coming-of-age ceremonies/rituals have either disappeared or been replaced with piss-poor imitations. Marriage and getting-your-first-job both still exist, but when divorce rates are still so high, fewer and fewer people are even getting married, and most jobs appear meaningless, do these rituals really count? A coming-of-age ceremony is meaningful because the ritual itself, the act that delineates the move from child/adolescent to adult, is meaningful. When the rituals lose meaning, we are left with this: a society of adult children.
Our society has eliminated every single ritual that marked the ascension to adulthood either through ideology (“cagematches and hunting are bad”) or finances (borderline impossible to buy a house and start a family for many 20-somethings). Every single ritual but one: University. But this is barely a positive. The university system has completely lost its way. It is maintained by institutional inertia alone. "What is university for" cannot even be seriously answered. At times it appears merely a bandaid over our subpar K-12 education systems. Of course, it's a bandaid covered in acid.
My point here is simple:
Our society requires a more substantive notion of the Good than Autonomy. Our socialization process must instill the character and habits of this Good rather than the lie of “Empowerment through never thinking of others as anything more than instruments for your desires.” And we must have clear coming-of-age ceremonies to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood.