I agree with Richard Rorty in his book, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity that “Self-Creation” and “Human Solidarity” are different enterprises and that some theoretical thinkers have concentrated exclusively on one but not the other. Rorty is not saying that they are mutually exclusive but only “incommensurable” in the sense that they have nothing to do with each other. I’m not convinced that this is entirely true. I view Self-Creation and Human Solidarity focusing on the life of the individual and the life of the community. They appear as microcosm is related to macrocosm. It is only our society’s “specialization syndrome” that has divided the primary concerns of life in this matter.
What interests me is the question, “Who are the enemies of Self-Creation and Human Solidarity.” Let’s begin with definitions:
Self-Creation designates the capacity to develop one’s creative human potential, to exercise a degree of freedom and autonomy in creating one’s life rather than living in unconscious conformity to the dictates of the collective mass-consumer culture.
Human Solidarity designates the courage to speak out and act courageously on behalf of the “inalienable human rights” of others, especially the most vulnerable and least fortunate, against domination, oppression, cruelty and exploitation of those in power.
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a dystopia that champions the importance of “Self-Creation” rather than becoming the willing slave of empty pleasure and escapist addictions.
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is also a dystopia that explores some similar themes. Self-Creation involves turning off the wall-to-wall TV with its shallow sit-coms and game-shows, and finding others who have chosen to cultivate their minds through critical thinking and the reading of the great books.
Today we are all too familiar with both kinds of oppression and exploitation. Militant oligarchies and dictatorships like Syria simply crush and destroy their own people, keeping them subjected by ruthless military strikes on cities that indiscriminately torture and murder men, women and children. It is a reign of terror.
Some democratic societies (guess which ones) have been seduced into becoming crony capitalistic plutocracies that keep up the appearance of human solidarity while perpetuating a widening gap between the rich (who get richer) and the poor (who get poorer.) As the shrinking educated middle-class declines in influence and it is neutralized by becoming narrow technological specialists, the super-rich power-elites can have their way with a populace that has become more discount consumers than informed citizens. Reforms come, but it is often one step forward and two steps backwards.
One of the best ways to subject the populace of a “liberal democracy” to the authority of concentrated corporate, economic, military and political power is to medicate, distract, entertain and amuse them to death through”bread and circuses,” spectacles and games. In such a society the populace know more about the latest gossip surrounding their favorite celebrities than they know about what is going on that matters in their society and world.
Those who are committed to Self-Creation rather than passive consumerism may or may not make the connection with the need for Human Solidarity, but one hopes that they would. In the best scenario the cultivation of the whole person and the cause of progressive democracy would find each other to be kindred spirits. One cannot help but admire such remarkable journalists as Bill Moyers who has been a champion of both Self-Creation and Human Solidarity for many years, combining a love of poetic sensibility and a passion for social justice. May his tribe increase!