Thursday, January 05, 2006

Disparticipation

Once a community exists in a truthful state, that is to say, once democracy is "generated" and community interaction is actually "active," and there thus remains no need for individual space or protections because there is no state that is merely procedural or structural to keep individuals apart, the problem of community is as follows:

How can one leave the community?

This is a severe problem for communitarian theorists for, if we are to truly believe in the community as the foremost association, as more important than individual rights, that through the communal legislation of all (in giving themselves through individual action towards the community) each individual gives him or herself entirely to the community, then each associate, each legislator, each actor, becomes an indivisible part of the whole.

That is not to say that each person is forced to participate in the community, because force is reinforced by physicality, not morality, and moral action on the part of associates in community ceases to be moral if it is reinforced by the threat of violence, rather than active interaction by associates (or, "generation"). So, essentially, associates that participate in the community are there because they wish to be, because they give themselves entirely to the community, in interaction with each and every associate, in truthful equality.

But, this does not mean that each associate of the community is like an atom; while each member of the community can physically sustain life outside of the community, if any individual leaves the community, the community ceases to be "that-particular-community" because each associate has given him or herself to the whole, and once that associate, that legislator, leaves the community, the community necessarily ceases to be the same.

This is an important part of communitarian theory: for, it demonstrates that communities are not merely idealistic entities; persons are not merely held together by one single ideal, or a set of similar, consenual ideals. Granted, such ideals might actually exist; but, this community is comprised by actual legislation, by actual participation, and by actual alienation of individuals to the whole.

Thus, an important contrast to the totalitarian state can be drawn here (this is important because the fear about the totalitarian state remains prevalent in our society, and impedes any possible truthful community on the part of individuals): a totalitarian state can exist if an individual leaves, because the state is held together by an ideal, as well as physical force and all sorts of violence (thus, the totalitarian state is not a community). This is why totalitarian states can eliminate enemies and defectors so easily; each individual does not necessarily give onself to the whole in equal, actual participation. Unfortunately for twenty-first century politicians, the same exact criticism can be placed against liberalism! (And, there is myriad historical testimony to the reality that liberal states have eliminated fringe groups at a rate that might not be as great as totalitarian states, but nevertheless remains as severe).

When an individual wishes to leave a community, it is a sad occurence. it does not necessarily mean that that community has failed; but, it means that this particular community is gone with the individual. Fortunately, a new community can be formed by the remaining members, but that community will not be the same as the community before that one single person left the community, even if some of the same ideals underlying the community remain unchanged!

There is a problem that remains, that is on the level of how one might leave the community: persons can be born into communities that they disagree with; persons can become active in communities in which the underlying ideals are in disagreement with that person's actual disposition towards the community. In this problem, a plausible solution might actually be available for the person that wishes to leave the community.

Disparticipation.

It is possible for a person to remain active in a community, while disagreeing with the primary ideological function of the community; the community can remain totally equal, even with this disagreement. Any liberal concerns for human respect need not be offered, for an answer to this dilemma exists through "disparticipation." The idea of disparticipation is simple: through actual interaction with the community, the individual remains silent regarding the actual idealistic foundations of the community. Thus, community action among all associates remains in tact, and all persons give themselves fully, in activity and interaction, to the community. But, it is possible for persons to remain silent; this silence is a powerful silence.

Take, for instance, the idea of a Catholic community that includes a person that disagrees with the idealistic foundations of Catholicism, but nevertheless is in a position in which he or she is interacting in a Catholic community. The interaction amongst persons can remain strong, but the associate that disagrees with idealistic Catholicism can remain silent on that point: this silence is, for instance, a silence from prayer; a silence from the liturgy of the word; and a silence from the liturgy of the eucharist. In this final act, the associate can give the strongest meaning to disparticipation: disparticipation, in this example, is going towards the priest that is offering communion, in line with the others, looking the Crucifix of Jesus Christ in the eye, and respectfully, in complete silence, refraining from taking the Eucharist.

The power of disparticipation rests in the reality that the community actually still exists. I can give myself to a community, fully, that I am to interact with, without agreeing to the idealistic foundations. It becomes clear, here, the dynamic realities that communities can be: even with idealistic disagreement, voiced through a strong, empowering silence, associates can indeed alienate themselves to the whole, and in this sense can exist in truthful equality with one another, without the harm of cocercion, and any forceful violence.

6 Comments:

Blogger baelmon said...

Interesting post, Nick. Does disparticipation consist primarily in keeping one's doubts about the underlying ideals of the community to oneself? If I understood you, disparticipation is valuable because it allows one to remain part of the community without his being forced (through coercion, e.g. violence) to adhere to all the community's values and beliefs. Is this correct? What precise role does silence play? Are you suggesting that the individual ought to remain silent about his doubts, and that the community has the right to demand this silence (which would seem to be a form of coercion)? Or are you simply saying that the individual who openly doubts the underlying values and beliefs of the community necessarily excludes himself from the community, regardless of how the community reacts to him (I suspect this option is your position)? If the latter, then the individual who silently doubts some of the community's values may continue to function in that community thanks to his respectful silence. This is an interesting move on your part. I wonder if disparticipation is valuable. Is communal life worth the suppression of one's beliefs? I think the answer to this question is one of temperament--I am inclined to respond negatively. I am suspicious of philosophical talk about community, because it often grants special consideration to some imagined "whole" that exists over and above the individuals constituting the community. It seems to me that community is valuable only in concrete terms, i.e. when it consists of individual persons cooperating with one another. When the well-being of such individuals is subordinated to the well-being of some metaphysical "whole," it seems that well-meaning people are more easily persuaded to do horrendous things. I think of Heidegger's recotral address, in which he encouraged students to pursue the greatness of the cause. If that is too controversial, take the Crusades. People who believe that earthly life is not worth much, who are made to find their good in some heaven, are less likely to be outraged by the moral atrocities committed in the name of religion. People who are not obsessed with great causes, heavenly beyonds, or super-individual wholes and instead focus on real, concretely suffering individuals are less likely to be insensitive to the real problems of our world. So I remain worried by your talk about the communal "whole," and I fear that disparticipation may often be a form of tolerating false idols that ultimately deprive attention from those persons who need it most. But perhaps you can convince me of the opposite. Thanks for the post, I think this can be a great discussion.

11:09 PM  
Blogger Nick Z. said...

Hey Toby, thanks for the comment!

The silence, I believe, that I speak of is an empowering silence. It is not the silence of an oppression. The idea is simple to grasp, but difficult to execute: the challenge of dis-participatory silence is to challenge the notion that a community IS constituted by the overreaching idea of the whole that is above the individual, or beneath which the individuals participate in.

Rather, this challenge is the challenge of actual, material communities: that persons actually give themselves to others, to the entirity of the community, and thus their interaction is strong, and the community cannot persist without each person. The challenge is as follows: a person does not need to believe in the dominant ideas of the community that might exist, because the community is not constituted by such ideas, but rather by actual interaction.

Thus, a truthful community could never have a minority, and could never oppress persons, precisely because such interaction is against the interaction of community, by which persons give themselves, through action, to others.

The key passage about silence and disparticipation, I think, is the final paragraph:

"The power of disparticipation rests in the reality that the community actually still exists. I can give myself to a community, fully, that I am to interact with, without agreeing to the idealistic foundations. It becomes clear, here, the dynamic realities that communities can be: even with idealistic disagreement, voiced through a strong, empowering silence, associates can indeed alienate themselves to the whole, and in this sense can exist in truthful equality with one another, without the harm of cocercion, and any forceful violence."

Community can exist even when there are idealistic differences, because the challenge of community is as follows: the persons are actually giving themselves to one another, actively legislating with one another, actually participating in truthful equality. That equality does in fact constitute a "whole," but it is not an idealistic "whole" which is more important than or larger than the associates of the community...

10:40 AM  
Blogger baelmon said...

Thanks for the reply, Nick. So the community is not constituted by agreement concerning ideals or over-arching values, but consists in each giving herself to all and enjoying a legislative equality with each other person? Do I understand you better now? By being respectfully silent, the individual who disagrees with the values of others stresses the importance of communal interaction and thereby ensures the continuation of the community? But it still seems that the ideals and values in question are not completely incidental to the community. The Catholic community would not be itself if it were not animated by certain doctrines and customs, correct? But the individual who finds some of these archaic can remain in that community by keeping silent (of his own choice) about his doubts? If I have understood you, this is an interesting move. Do you think there is a place for dissent within communities? Can individuals disagree strongly and openly and yet remain connected through a communal bond? Are there certain issues on which disagreement necessitates a severance of the community? In the Hegel seminar, we discussed how Hegel was trying to envision a state/community (at least in the Phenomenology) that could handle radical disagreement--the Athens that can accomodate Socrates. It seems obvious to us that Socrates was Athens' best educator and servant, despite his conflicting with some of the city's customs and values. It seems to me that an Athens that can internalize the critique of a Socrates and thereby improve itself is a desirable type of community. But this necessarily involves dissent, debate--the opposite of silence. What do you think?

10:36 PM  
Blogger Nick Z. said...

By being respectfully silent, the individual who disagrees with the values of others stresses the importance of communal interaction and thereby ensures the continuation of the community?

***

You got it, Toby.

***

I think you raise a very difficult question regarding the ideals of community: you're right, it is not always the case that such ideals (e.g., Transubstatiation for a Catholic) are incidental to the community.

What I am attempting to do is to downplay the importance of ideals in founding a community, and rather placing the emphasis on personal interaction, and actual, concrete legislation on the part of all individuals, a legislation that affirms community, and in turn generates democracy.

The reason I wish to explore this move is to answer the challenge that many offer to communitarian thought, namely that after the twentieth century, communitarian thought is necessarily viewed as oppressive and totalitarian. I suspect that if we get away from the idea of community as overreaching ideals, we get away from the threat of totalitarianism (for, it is of no question that the terrible regimes of the twentieth century did not care about actual dynamic interaction amongst all persons equally, and the same can be said of many purportedly liberal contemporary regimes).

I think your challenge is valid. Perhaps I was not clear enough; the silence is not a silence of one's doubts, but rather a silence that is enacted during a particular gathering or situation that is governed by ideals as much as interaction (e.g., Catholic Mass). By remaining silent, a person is not silencing their doubts, but rather, acting upon his or her doubts, just as the parishioners or practitioners are affirming their beliefs.

in this self-chosen manner, the idea of silence is empowering because it keeps the person within the grasps of community interaction, and allows the disbeliever the opportunity to remain equal with the believers, rather than leave the community.

This is a conclusion that I find interesting for two reasons:

(1) It keeps pressure on potentially dominant idealistic groups to keep equality amongst associates of community as the most important and vital aspect of community.

(2) Perhaps I am suggesting something that I do not yet know how to deal with: the idea that a non-believer has an equal place as a believer reveals a lot about where I place "belief" in general in the spectrum of community: perhaps it is not our own personal beliefs that we should hold dear in politics and communal interaction, but rather, we should hold dear our actual participation with others, and our efforts to interact in a manner that ensures truthfully (or, perhaps, honestly) equal legislation between all associates, which will help us answer the challenge to actually give ourselves to the community...

As always, thanks for your questions, Toby. I hope you are finding this discussion as helpful and revealing as I am...

7:09 AM  
Blogger baelmon said...

I think your goal of envisioning a non-oppressive community is desirable. On the one hand, we don't want over-arching values and belief-systems (what Lyotard critiques as master narratives in service to the philosophies of totality) to highjack the common-sense morality of regular persons and cause them to acquiesce in horrible conduct (working for some "greater cause," e.g. the final solution). On the other hand, we don't want to decry all forms of community, introducing a sort of social atomism that keeps persons apart (thereby destroying popular organizations like unions that might offer some resistance to a minority of elites seeking to take control of the separated populace). Perhaps the solution is free-association, which I think you may be advocating. If there is to be democracy, there must be community, but such as is not for the sake of some higher cause or idea--it must be about the concrete problems, needs, and desires of real people acting in concert for the betterment of all.

10:15 PM  
Blogger Nick Z. said...

If there is to be democracy, there must be community, but such as is not for the sake of some higher cause or idea--it must be about the concrete problems, needs, and desires of real people acting in concert for the betterment of all.

***

Absolutely. Your post hits it on the head, about the two extremes.

Ironically, even the notion of the concrete needs of persons, acting in concert, has to actually remain concrete and actual; for, I can imagine that for some even those statements can become overreaching ideas.

Participation is the key word, and a key challenge that neither liberalism nor totalitarianism (two sides of the same coin) can answer: why shouldn't each person act as legislator, participating with all other associates, creating an active, affirmative community that *actually* exists?

In my opinion, there is nothing more insulting to persons than the idea of a representative government, which only allows persons to project themselves into the idea of another person as a representative (the legislator), who unfortunately fails to actually represent the people...government by projection is a very dangerous entity.

6:18 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home