What We Bring

Feb 3, 2012 by

“What we learn from experience depends on what kind of philosophy we bring to experience.”

-C. S. Lewis

It seems necessary to me to talk a bit about choice.  It seems as though there are people out there who actually see peer-pressure as something that needs to be discarded.  Also, there are people who are advocating that we do not actually choose anything, but are merely the products of our environment.  To me, this seems absolutely absurd.

Now, let us start with the claim that we are products of our environment.  This claim seems to have the same source as many of the Epistemic Skeptical claims that we know nothing.  The basic claim here is that all our actions can be explained from our experiences leaving an affect on us.  There is an equation, tied closely to Hume, that goes:  “Thesis + Antithesis = Synthesis.”  Thesis is the base, the Antithesis is the affecting factor, and Synthesis is the outcome of the Thesis interacting with the Antithesis.  People who believe we are a product of our own environment believe that we, the Thesis, experience things in life, Antithesis, and that changes us into who we become, the Synthesis.

Now, this seems true.  You experience something, you learn from it, you are changed.  However, do we know that this is the case  in the sense that there is no free will, no personal choice, involved with this.  These people would say that if you change who you are, it is because your environment led you to that change, not that you made a choice in the sense that you are independent of your environment.  Now, I cannot claim this theory to be wrong, but I can claim them to have as much proof as I.  For, their proof is based on the fact that change occurs.  Literally, our disagreement is whether or not you choose what you take out of experience.  I believe that you have personal attributes unique to you, certain tendencies you have that are because you choose them, not because the situation leads you to it.  The opposition believes that since birth, life has impressed upon you certain desires, tendencies, and the like, that you lead a certain life and react to events in a certain way, and have no control, in the sense that any choice you make is because your environment led you to make that choice.  My quarrel is not to say that they are necessarily  wrong.  I do not believe we are able to know who is right.  However, that is my point, that we cannot know.

Now, as for those against peer-pressure.  These people see society as a herd influence.  That Society is a bad thing.  The herd’s goal is to bring you in and control you.  In some sense this is true.  The herd is out to control you.  However, to state that this is always a bad thing is a gross misunderstanding of Society.  Look at John Stuart Mill, a fierce advocate of Liberty.  “The actions of an individual may be hurtful to others or wanting in due consideration for their (society’s) welfare, without going to the length of violating any of their constituted rights. The offender may then be justly punished by opinion, though not by law.”  Society has its use.  There should be two layers of people, the herd and ‘geniuses’.  The herd are the people who don’t reason, either through choice or ignorance.  These people are influenced by society in a certain way.  To say that we should not influence these people towards the greater good seems counter productive.  For, what is occurring is not a regulation of all actions, but a pressure to act a certain way so as to not harm others in some way, to act according to what would be reasonable.  If one is in the class of geniuses, people who go above the herd and act according to reason, they have little resistance, since the pressure has less of an influence.  You let the society pressure people without forcing them.  If people want to be unreasonable and stupid, they still can.  If people want to make-shift bungee jump off the Empire State Building, they can, but have to be aware that society will see them as idiots.

It seems to me that you cannot know that we are mere products of our environment.  The evidence is not there one way or the other.  And, as far as the negative affects of peer-pressure are concerned, if we mold society to reflect reason, and keep it from being controlling and merely persuasive, then I see no harm in it.  It is then something which is a benefit to society and the individual, seeing as how a raging mob of unreasonable people is not exactly that great for the individual, just as a controlling dictatorship isn’t.  So keeping Society in that balance seems, to me at least, to not be that bad of a thing.

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  1. Gerber

    Based on this article, Foucault, to me, sounds like the child who sees shadows. Occasionally, he stumbles upon a point, but only makes obvious his child-like ignorance by not recognitions its context, implications, or limitations. This “power struggle” that he sees is a mere shadow. Foucault is scared of people exercising power, but is seeing more to it than there is. He claims society is trying to mold us to be more like it. The simple answer to this is YES! I grant him that truth. However, Foucault turns something natural into something sinister. Here is a basic understanding of influences: Animate or Inanimate, people are influenced by outside forces if they choose to be. It is called experience. Do people try to change our opinions to reflect their own? Yes! But, if this is wrong, why would you be trying to change mine? This is a mere over-emphasizing the power of “peer-pressure.” He states power is exercised over the free to limit their actions. Thus, when you come to a fork in the road, and one road looks unkept due to an earthquake, the earth has exercised its power over you. This is bogus. Power is the limiting of actions through force, not suggestion. You can still take the unkept road, it just doesn’t look as appealing. It is only when the individual allows society’s influence to become the decision maker that this resembles anything like power. And, even then, that is the Individual’s fault, not society’s.
    Now, about his claims on language. Does Language support the system? YES! But, language is a construct reflective of common use. How do you propose something sinister about it reflecting us? It must support the system since the system is what is common. It molds to our needs, not to what Foucault or the individual wants it to be. Language is not a single-player game, you need others and a COMMON understanding for it to work. Thus, to end the so-called ‘power-structure,’ would require an end to all language and communication.
    But, seeing how this is silly, I fail to see Foucault’s overall goal. His problem seems to lie in an inability to accept that a society necessitates influences. These influences are not wrong, it is only wrong for the people in the society to not be aware and well reasoned. This is not a failing of society, but a failing of the Individual. Society is not the enemy. Rather than focusing on these shadows, he would be better spent focusing on why Individuals, one average, seem to form, by nature, desires to be part of a herd and turn just societies into their guiding forces. For, I do not see it as coming from society, but the individual in the end. He has offered no real proof of anything other than what I have stated here, so far as I can see.

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