Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Need for Recognition

With the introduction of modernity, well-understood hierarchies of honor collapsed. Where the pecking order of society had been fixed, with differences properly arranged among the classes and functions of human life, now all were equalized. This was sure to effect the discovery and development of personal identity.

The loss of the honor system made identity a commodity. Personal identity had been fixed by society. "What the person recognized as important was to a great extent determined by his or her place in society and whatever roles or activities attached to this." (47) With the emergence of the changes that have been tracked so far in this book, with the emergence of a new ideal of authenticity, individuals were required to discover their own "original way of being" which "cannot be socially derived but must be inwardly generated." (Herder) One witnesses, therefore, the creation of a new and important human need: recognition.

In the previous chapter, Taylor noted that identity is discovered not in monologue but in dialog. This means that others are not only important, they are necessary! "The development of an ideal of inwardly generated identity gives a new and crucial importance to recognition. My own identity crucially depends on my dialogical relations with others." (emphasis mine) Recognition is brick-and-mortar in the house of self-identity.

Now when the established matrix of recognition, the social order, collapsed, the supply and demand of recognition needed systemic renegotiation. There was no longer any social guarantee of supply. Failure or loss were real possibilities. This effected social life on both a micro- and macro-scale.

Given the importance of dialogical relationships, it is no surprise that "the culture of authenticity" makes love relationships the "key loci of self-discovery and self-confirmation." Love relationships are the "crucibles of inwardly generated identity." There is a cultural emphasis, too, on the importance of ordinary life, "the life of production and the family, of work and love."

The importance of dialogical relationships--and especially the essential nature of recognition--effected the social plane as well. A politics of equal recognition is the order of the day. Indeed, the refusal to provide equal recognition "can inflect damage on those who are denied it," according to a widespread modern view.

The projecting of an inferior or demeaning image on another can equally distort and oppress, to the extent that it is interiorized. Not only contemporary feminism but also race relations and discussions of multiculturalism are undergirded by the premise that denied recognition can be a form of oppression" (49-50).

What matters now is fairness. Equal recognition is a political given, demanding "the equal status of cultures and genders." Everyone should have an equal playing field upon which to develop their identity.

"Everyone should have the right and capacity to be themselves. This is what underlies soft relativism as a moral principle: no one has a right to criticize another's values. This inclines those imbued with this culture toward conceptions of procedural justice: the limit on anyone's self-fulfillment must be the safeguarding of an equal chance at this fulfillment for others" (45).

Here's where the critics come in. They say that the individualism which makes love relationships primary and make equality a political must are no good on either count. Narcissistic individualism, they say, makes love relationships only as good as self-fulfillment requires, tossed aside when they are no longer useful. And, they continue, this soft relativism weakens the fortitude necessary for political action in a democratic state. Soft relativism removes all difference. Everyone is absolutely equal, and so judgments of value are impossible and political debate absurd. So does the ideal of authenticity require this? Taylor says no.

His is a careful argument. On one hand, you have to have equality, but the reality is that a political community is made of men and women from various religions, races, and cultures. The differences have to be acknowledged, while at the same resisting favoritism. Each way of being needs a way of being equally valued. How do we do this?

What is needed is a bridge between equality and difference, some property, common or complementary, which is valued along a larger horizon than simple choice (referring to the argument made in the previous chapter.)

"To come together on a mutual recognition of difference--that is, of the equal value of different identities--requires that we share more than a belief in this principle; we have to share some standard of value on which the identities concerned check out as equal. There must be some substantive agreement on value, or else the formal principle of equality will be empty and a sham. We won't really share an understanding of equality unless we share something more. Recognizing difference, like self-choosing, requires a horizon of significance, in this case a shared one. [Thus] developing and nursing the commonalities of value between us become important, and one of the crucial ways we do this is sharing a participatory political life" (52).

And what about personal relationships? Does a desire for authenticity make our relationships just a means to self-fulfillment? Well, not if identity is properly understood. To develop personal identity is a life-long process, and so the recognizing give-and-take of my dialogical relationships will need to track this process. Identity-forming relationships, by definition, can't be any less tentative than personal identity itself. Indeed, "if my self-exploration takes the form of such serial and in principle temporary relationships, then it is not my identity that I am exploring, but some modality of enjoyment." (53) Instrumental relationships aren't a good support for personal identity. "The notion that one can pursue one's fulfillment in this way seems illusory, in somewhat the same way as the idea that one can choose oneself without recognizing a horizon of significance beyond choice." (Ibid.)

To be honest, I'm not sure I understand exactly where he is going with his arguments about authentic political relationships requiring a larger horizon of value. Taylor calls this a denial of procedural justice and the liberalism of neutrality and an embrace of a politics of identity-recognition. Perhaps when I'm done, this will make more sense.

Previous entries in this series are:
Two together—two apart.


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