A strong platform of humans rights creates an interesting conundrum: It assigns an arbitrary, idealized definition of self to all individuals that has no bearing on nor interaction with their role in society. This self is not a concrete social standing, but an abstract ideal. Such abstract ideals were formerly reserved for nobility and the clergy, the members of which represented the highest abstract notions of nobility and divinity.
What happens when people lose strong, clearly defined identities to abstract and arbitrary ones?
What happens is an excess of discourse about the loss of self.
But interestingly, though some nobility and clergy have historically lost their selves, aka, gone insane in dramatic ways, this can mostly be explained by huge amounts of inbreeding and the fact that power attracts the eccentrics. So, if the nobility and clergy of days gone by could keep their sense of self when functioning as metonym for very demanding social abstractions, why can’t everyone else?
The simplest reason is that being a member of an exclusive club ensures that the number of people arguing about what it means to be a member of said exclusive club remains comparatively small, at least internally. And there is a strong impetus for conformity so that you don’t get kicked out of that exclusive club.
In other words, there is a social support network, either positive or negative in its agency, that assists in creating a strong sense of self for nobility and clergy.
However, when the idealized self is abstracted out to all people, and not just the privileged, the support network does not scale with it. We can’t all get together at the same party and discuss our problems over dinner.
This scaling is where the problem arises, and where much of the discourse about the current loss of self comes from. It is not the self that is lacking, but the social support network that is now faced with many contradictory messages and we can’t get together as a group to hash out the details. Moreover, a social support network is supposed to promote and maintain one’s role in society, while one’s role in a free society is by definition mutable and fluid,. One has the right to change their station in life. This mutability is in direct conflict with older social networks which attempt to define one’s role in older more static social models. Thus we have conflicting social messages that are not necessarily commensurable.
The question then is not how to instill a strong sense of self in people, which tends to involve rather draconian solutions of a structurally imposed illusion of self, but rather how to create social networks that can support and promote a sense of self within the context of a deep self that is, in the end, and unrealizable ideal. Certainly the unrealizable ideal is not the issue. Pure nobility and pure divinity are also both unrealizable ideals, and yet there were social support networks to keep them in place.
If self of freedom and equality is an abstracted self, and in that sense a fictional, contrived, or constructed self, that is often at odds with the socially perceived and socially defined self, the functional role and the ideal role no longer corresponding to each other. The support network falls apart from internal contradictions.
This is not a simple issue of conformity to networks of social hierarchy. It is the issue of abstracted ideals traditionally being the demense of the elite. Being elite, the elite were provided with a support structure that promoted this abstracted ideal self. Today, when everyone has an abstracted ideal self in a model of equality and freedom, the social support networks don’t function, since they are still largely focused on one’s role in society rather than the ideals they profess to support. It is not that the model is wrong, it is just that it has no support structure to bolster it, so it comes off feeling like nothing more than an empty promise to too many. Given our current sociopolitical systems, the only way to preserve equality is through hierarchy. If something requires that it be its own noncommensurable antithesis in order to function, what does that say about it?
It should be noted that some people are perfectly successful in the new social model, so it is not something inherent in human nature. These successful people come in two categories: those who cling successfully to the old models of social station, and those who have found away to define themselves comfortably as mutable and have found a sense of self external to social station.
So, if the latter is preferable, what is it about these people that allows them to comfortably define themselves as mutable? How broadly can such a definition of self be spread to others?
Perhaps then the first step in the idea of constructed selves that is in line with modern attitudes toward self, is to become a fiction.