Ideal I versus Ideal Me

Alfred’s final ponderings before leaving von Hess deal not only with women, but seem to introduce a new moral code, an alternate view on how to bring about equality. On page 107 Alfred states, “Everything that is something must want to be itself before every other form of life. Women are something – female, they must want to be that, they must think it the most superior, the highest possible form of human life.” Here he introduces the concept that has brought their society to ruin. And yet the concept is so illuminating, because it is presented in a way that suggests that the same code is what will ultimately bring about fully realized women instead of “half women” (29).

Alfred continues. “ But of course we must not think it too. Otherwise the crime is committed again, and we shall be a mess. Women must be proud of having daughters, we must be proud of having sons” (29).

So is this concept the disease or the cure? In the same conversation, Alfred explains that the women have submitted to this masculine rule because they have never been given a chance to be themselves. “Women always live according to an imposed pattern, because they are not women at all, and never have been. They are not themselves. Nothing can be, unless it knows it is superior to everything else. No man could believe God was she. No woman could believe God was He. It would be making God inferior” (28).

From this we hear that the sense of self (implied as crucial to actual living) is contingent on the belief that the individual creature is “superior” to all others.

This theory seems to be an interesting take on the sex / gender binaries. Instead of trying to leave the binary of us/them or man/woman, the binary structured here is individual/others. And yet, each binary is individual and unique to the user. . Its uniqueness comes because it establishes the individual as an ideal form of themselves. Consider Lacan’s theory of the “Ideal I” – a theory where we look out at others in the world, people with higher standings than ourselves, and put them in envious relation with ourselves. We see their success, envy it and wish to make that success their own. Indeed, we wish we were this ideal person – this person becomes our “ideal I”. Potentially, Swastika Night’s theory throws out the “ideal I” theory by replacing it with another: individual, entirely self-based acceptance.

And yet, what does a world where everyone finds themselves the most important person in any room look like? Do we become a mass of ego-inflated messes? Do we hear the plight of others, or only the plight of ourselves? As mentioned before, Alfred suggests this theory is a problem when applied to large groups, such as the Germans. And yet, on a personal, individual to individual level, it is presented as the solution.

As was mentioned in class, even when one race/gender/other subdivision of humanity reaches out to another to help, that reaching out is in itself an act that concedes and denotes privilege. How then are we ever to achieve equality thinking everyone is equal? When any act of equaling demonstrates that we are not?Typically we hear that equality is reached by each person thinking they are no more important or special or unique than any other person. How interesting, then, that this book from the 1930s should offer such a different take on human equality.

Perhaps this theory can create an environment where everyone knows and acknowledges how important others are in their own mind. By first validating the self, we are then primed to validate others. As in, 1. I know I love and care about myself as I am created perfectly to execute my life. 2. I know this characteristic is universal, meaning that others think about themselves in the same way. This belief is equally valid as mine. And because of this, 3. I am able to empathize with others, knowing exactly how highly they value themselves and their circumstances.

This might sound trite, but ask yourself: how often do we truly consider one another as complexly as we consider ourselves? How easy is it to throw up our hands when it comes to foreign oil spills or local presidential elections or Black Lives Matter movements? In Swastika Night, Alfred spends several sections of the book being blown away by and later revising his opinions on the fact that women might be more than animals. The reader can scoff at this hyperbole, but the point remains: there are others in the world we conveniently fail to consider. And a theory or worldview as honestly self-centered as Alfred’s might be, incredulously, the best way to acknowledge the complex being and feelings of others.

~Eric

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One thought on “Ideal I versus Ideal Me

  1. I wonder though…

    Equality is something worth striving for, but I don’t know how it can be achieved. At best, I feel like the power can only be wrangled from one group to the other. It isn’t that humans can’t collaborate with people different from themselves, but the problem for me seems to stem from the fact that we tend to expect all people to conform to a moral standard that makes sense to us but makes absolutely no sense to them. Consider the villainous rich white male who is in control, tightly clinging to his control, and fights against the process of leveling the field for women, people from other races, cultures, religions, etc. This man has no doubt validated himself, correct? And I believe he does validate others–except, he only validates others like him. And within this valuation, there is a hierarchy too. This villainous character will likely value his own family, for example, over the lives and fortunes of those who work for him. But this guy is smart too, he knows he needs support, and through a subversive hegemonic method of control, he somehow convinces massive groups of people they are just like him (even if they aren’t), while in fact, this man cares nothing for them. He never went past step 1 of your plan, I think.

    So to equal the playing field, those who are fighting for an equal chance often have a two-fold battle. They must fight against the rich, villainous man, but they’re also fighting those the man has convinced who, by all rights, should be in the ranks of those trying to force change. People get confused, perhaps see their own self-worth differently than how we (let’s say those of us in the humanities) think they should see their self-worth, and they align differently than we would anticipate. This two-fold battle is difficult to win. It often becomes a shouting match. Because morality seems to be on the side of those trying to level the playing field, but that’s the problem with morality–right? It’s all relative depending on where you’re standing. To those standing on the outside of the fight, they may believe those fighting for equality, because they’re fighting SO hard for equality (they have to fight this hard or change doesn’t happen), are fighting to put themselves in a position of power.

    It’s a very complicated issue. It’s the issue of the binary. We want to think there are two groups: the powerful, and the underserved. But the range of groups not accounted for in that argument is staggering. Voices are left out, and hell, this is really long.

    Like

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