LOOKING GLASS SELF
by James Strauss
We see ourselves as other people see us. We judge ourselves based upon how we value the judgments of others. This is not something human beings elect to do. It is something that is an integral part of genetic conditioning. By using this ‘looking glass self’ approach to being a part of the social fabric of a cultural/tribal condition, humans ensure that casting out or down will not occur, and therefore their survival will be allowed and supported. For many millions of years, during the early development of mankind, banishment from the tribal unit was the only punishment meted out for breaking certain hard-bitten rules of the social order.
From first burrowing in the muck below the forest, then swinging from branches above it, and finally walking and running upright out on the plains and savannahs, mankind’s survival depended upon group inclusion. Too slow, too small and too weak to compete with the planet’s major predators, the human species fought back with a near insectile response. Overcoming its shortcomings with numbers became absolutely necessary, but as opposed to insects who have a seemingly unlimited birth capability, a qualitative response was created using the refined and highly developed human brain. Sticking together, and using intelligent cooperation could and did handily overcome all predation through the years. It succeeded so well that planet earth remains one hundred percent controlled by the human species. Even geology, weather and astrophysics are currently falling more and more under human control.
Banishment remains the primary tool of punishment and control in the human condition throughout all human cultures present on the earth In modern times banishment goes by different names, and is much more flexibly used than earlier. In earlier times banishment from the tribe usually resulted in a fairly quick and yet painful death. Today, banishment is only terminal in rare circumstances where it is called the death penalty. Prison is the modern word for banishment. Whereas there was once only permanent banishment, now there are all kinds of temporary banishments. Some of them don’t even involve prison. Some of them are social stains that act like the ‘banished’ person is not banished at all because that person remains present in the social order. However, the permanent status of that person requires that he or she be imprisoned socially with an electronically visible stain that assures lack of any full acceptance or participation. That form of banishment is called a felony record. Anyone in a tribe that has a been found guilty of a felony cannot have full stature in almost any part of the tribe for life. The tribe also requires that a person branded with a felony be blamed for this outcome, for not having any stature.
Joseph Campbell coined the word bliss to define a state of happiness without using the word happy, because the root of “happiness” is happenstance. In other words, Campbell wanted to describe an internal psychological condition of strong positive feelings of high self-worth without those feelings being necessarily dependent upon what circumstances existed about and around the person. Without saying it, Campbell was heading toward conceiving the discipline of ethnology (cultural anthropology), that it was time for humans to stop measuring self-worth and internal bliss on what others were projecting upon them. The looking glass self, according to Campbell, had reached the end of its useful life.
The looking glass self is not dead, however. If anything, it is a more powerful force than ever before because of the invention of mass media in the areas of television and the Internet. The ‘others’ in the definition of looking glass self are no longer simply the humans that individuals associate with in person. Now, the opinions being transmitted back to us when we absorb outside information about ourselves can be generated by anonymous background figures behind the ‘stories’ fulminating out of those media outlets. This does not effect all of humanity yet, but more and more media, and the Internet in particular, is being filled with so much data (much of it untrue) that it is only a matter of time before every human on earth will have records reported about any manner of facts or fictions about him or her.
If Joe Campbell’s intent is not understood and followed, with respect to his beliefs about bliss and its place inside the human mind and soul, then only depression will eventually reign. Competition for survival among humans has not lessoned over time, although it continues to be denied at the same rate it has always been, yet deceptive competition could destroy everything. During mankind’s development the crushing burden of daily survival took almost every bit of man’s time and energy simply to go on from one day or night into another. That’s no longer the case. This article is being written in a coffee shop filled with other humans, almost all of whom are doing nothing to ensure or enhance their survival. They don’t have to, they have time. They have comfort. And they have the great risk and danger of having comfortable time. They have time to feel bad about themselves to the point where the quest and pursuit of survival no longer drives them. Without bliss, and the drive to create a life filled with bliss, there is only depression and the lessening of the human will to go on.
To reject the genetically inherent looking glass self social requirement for survival requires that humans access their neo cortex, and override this natural tendency to accept the judgment of others when it comes to their worth. And that requires a rigid discipline be brought to bear on a daily, hourly and sometimes second by second basis. The cultural medium of today, driven by electronics, is hugely powerful in human physiology and human psychology. When receiving a traffic ticket, it is important to think of the process and result with bliss. You are a wonderfully good human being if you want to be. And you can radiate that both within and without. From the center of a prison yard, you can generate this bliss and make it a part of your internal honor. From the most awful battlefield, the middle of an acrid divorce or the loss of a spouse or child you can generate and find your bliss.
You are meant to be here, and you are meant to enjoy the journey. You are important to your tribe; the species; and the planet itself, regardless of how the tribe, the species or the planet may be positioned or seem to feel about you right now. You don’t have to wear a smile on the outside, but you do have to have one inside at all times. If you don’t or can’t develop internal bliss, then you need to make some changes in your life or simply give in to the competition and shorten your own survival.
An option, yes, but a tragic one.
It’s your choice.
~ James Strauss