Being one’s organism, one’s experience

Therapy seems to mean a getting back to basic sensory and visceral experience. Prior to therapy the person is prone to ask himself, often unwittingly, “What do others think I should do in this situation?” “What would my parents or my culture want me to do?” “What do I think ought to be done?” He is thus continually acting in terms of the form which should be imposed upon his behaviour. This does not necessarily mean that he always acts in accord with the opinions of others. He may indeed endeavor to act so as to contradict the expectations of others. He is nevertheless acting in terms of the expectations (often introjected expectations) of others. During the process of therapy the individual comes to ask himself, in regard to ever-widening areas of his life-space, “How do I experience this?” “What does it mean to me?” “If I behave in a certain way how do I symbolize the meaning which it will have for me?” He comes to act on a basis of what may be termed realism – a realistic balancing of the satisfactions and dissatisfactions which any action will bring to himself.

Carl Rogers, On Becoming A Person, Pg 103-104

I’m playing with the idea that this can be interpreted as tendencies towards communicative reflexivity (relying on real or imagined interlocutors to complete and confirm our internal conversations) acting as a contraint on realistic appraisal of our objective circumstances and subjective concerns. If we see the end of reflexivity as being to determine courses of action which, given the situation we objectively confront and what we subjectively care about, lead us towards a satisfying and sustainable modus vivendi then this conversational reliance on interlocutors will inhibit an individual’s capacity for human flourishing. My first thought upon playing this line of argument out in my mind was that it’s profoundly, indeed unpleasantly, individualistic but this isn’t necessarily the case. While communicative reflexivity, particularly given the fact that interlocutors will tend to be similarly disposed, is generative of relational goods (primarily solidaristic ones) it also constrains the capacity of an individual to embrace those goods as a considered project, rather than as a characteristic of a situation within which one finds oneself dialogically enmeshed. In some cases, such as those considered by Rogers, albeit obviously not in these terms, this can be intensely pathological. The moral value of this thick sociality is diminished for the fact that it has not been freely embraced. The movement away from communicative and towards autonomous & meta-reflexivity (which are both tendentially generative of a range of  relational problems) but it’s a precondition for the emergence of a thick sociality which is built and sustained by freely choosing individuals. Or to put it more figuratively: individualism is a phase we have to go through to become properly social.

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