In the past, had we thought about it at all, we may have considered ourselves to be originals—our own person. If focused, we thought, we could get ahead of the rails we ride, listen up, approach new ideas without preconceptions, narcissistic emotionality or false posits.
Years later, knowing more about biology, history and language, our conceit may have caught up with us. Yet change was difficult. For example, we had looked to the Scoreboard—the “outer” prevailing conceptual reality—for what constitutes (the appearance of) originality and, not unpredictably, settled for its image. Substance was missing. In other words, that Scoreboard willfully ignored the fact that the substantive dimension of life—the character on which independence, morality and entrepreneurship is built—requires discipline and acting in good faith.
Furthermore, nothing on the Scoreboard urges us to author control of our rivalrous instincts for status and social identity; of our overwhelming immediacy (e.g., inhibition, intimidation, runaway fears and desires); and of our high-maintenance and counter-productive emotional dependencies. As a result, we were in the world unprepared to meet a number of demands made of the autonomous subject, e.g., that we practice good sense and personal responsibility in the light of a larger purpose.
Happily, the paradigm shifting philosophy of life we study has opened for us the opportunity to originate a new window on the world. At our new window, we’re still here, participants in an experiment of individuation subordinate to and an embodiment of America’s autonomous subject. Indeed, we are subjected to animating this generalized autonomy. What we are is a form of subjection and when we take the measure of our actions against the background of experimental expectations, we discover our humanity, who we are.
In short, here, where questions of identity, unity and selfhood are the purview of philosophy, we find the ground on which to stand the authorship of our lives. We are also beneficiaries of a striking and profound change in our way of being and direction—in how we go about being human. By securing our life in the principled originality of its authorship, we create an authority or voice “internal” to the autonomous subject.
But how many of us realized that the underpinnings of the authorship we desire requires creative control of our verbal practices? How many of us realized that this kind of creative control is dependent on how we think, listen, speak, act and feel, and how we read and write day in and day out.
We must become who we are through the gravitas with which we engage these opportunities for originality. Needless to say, though, our originality is subject to many variables, e.g., the nature we were given, the nurturing we received, our experience, our education and the stability, opportunity and mobility we find in our circumstances. Further, our originality is a variable of our self-knowledge.
As we gain creative control of our verbal practices, we come to understand that our living system engenders our autonomy, the whole of it, form and content. It engenders its content, the deliberations we process, the judgments we exercise, the words we speak. And it instantiates its form, the assertive selfhood of an autonomous subject—the self-conscious processing of an author in principled possession of its life. It is when we responsibly engage autonomy’s principled mechanism that we travel the authentic pathway to the processing of our originality, to creating our window on the world and to authoring a life of our own design.
Still, of course, even with this wholistic understanding, we face unique obstacles all day long. Whether they be pandemics, wildfires, political upheavals or the ins and outs of relationships and the workplace—all encounters that do not resonate immediately with our comfort zone are challenging—the tension is present. Yet, as I said, we don’t necessarily see these moments as an opportunity for authorship. But in each case, we are “asked” to rise to the occasion, to originate a response, to contribute, to come up with something more than “easy” day-to-day banter, etc.
It’s challenging, isn’t it, to speak in a meaningful and heartful way, to express sympathy to a grief-stricken friend or compassion to a heart-broken child, to create hope in a discouraged peer or sick parent, to bolster the spirits of a neighbor disheartened by bad news? It’s challenging, isn’t it, to be with others who have a wealth of knowledge about art, literature, film or music and to come up with interesting, relevant, rational dialogue if we are accustomed to speaking platitudes?
In the absence of the assertive voice of the author we may be tempted to dodge these awkward encounters. But let’s face it, negotiating reality successfully includes negotiating with others. How do we acquiesce to them or say “no.” How do we defeat them graciously or lose to them while being a good sport about it? How do we apologize to them, or put up with them patiently? What if we are embarrassed by them, or ashamed to be with them? What if we hate their morals and know they hate ours? What if we say too much? Or too little?
Our self-individuating voice is not a thing lying deep inside awaiting wakening. Our own voice is something we create and speak. We do this by honorably creating authority. When we understand, when we connect, when our window on the world is larger, the resultant feelings are enormously pleasant, private, special. Our consciousness yields an experience, a feeling that we belong to something awesome, majestic, and noble.