Talking Testing Aggression

My immodest wish is to pass on to my readers the same sense of intellectual contradiction and incoherence I feel in myself, the acceptance of which is, it may be, our only real excuse for hope

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To utter a challenge to a group of peers by demanding acceptance in that group, or to challenge a peer to prove that his competence equals yours, to challenge the auhority of a superior, to challenge an inferior’s capacity to accept orders without crumpling under the pressure–all these are to expose oneself to tests; and if one passes the tests one has, one feels, a right to boast.  To be able to accept and carry out endless and arbitrary orders from a hierarchical superior is to be able to say, “I can take it.”  Such an act is as much an exertion of the will as the issuance of the orders.  Success means one has passed a test, and to do that you must have all your wits about you.  It means, therefore, the ability to sustain considerable cognitive tension, watching at every moment for the hole in the armor of the person who has uttered the challenges or whom you are challenging.  Every human, however, has its limits.  Success is to resolve the tension, but such a resolution can only be temporary.  Submission, and admission of failure in challenging or being challenged, means, of course, that the ordinary resources of self-respect and of respect by others are no longer available.  Yet submission has an enormous appeal, a sweet, seductive charm, for it means to let go and to dissolve tensions.  Helpless submission has the appeal of Paradise…


Of recent years there has been a great flap about aggression and much has been written with an air of hurling a tremendous challenge at a widespread belief: the belief is, of course, that the human is naturally a loving creature, and that its natural state is to live in love and peace and good will with its fellow human.  At least, it is a part of the articulate belief system; but obviously it is one of those beliefs that has little effect on people’s behavior, except for the virtues of courtesy and common decency, which we also call insincerity and hypocrisy, the foundations of civilization.  Nietzsche was convinced that these notions about he natural condition of man were the product of the resentment of the poor in spirit agains the rich in spirit; and he coined the term “Will to Power” to show what was manifest in the activities of the rich and what was concealed in the activities of the poor.  Indeed, everything that is currently being said about aggression was said by Nietzsche in the 1880’s…


The human animal has only one task, to adapt itself to its environment, but that is the same thing as saying, given the human’s extraordinary cognitive powers, to adapt the environment to itself.  To manipulate the environment to one’s own advantage is the behavior we are locating when we use the word “will.”  But the human also has the power to manipulate the environment to its own disadvantage, if it is stupid,  and it must necessarily be, since it can perceive the environment only under the pressure of its needs.  To impose one’s needs on some segment of the environment in the form of demands is aggression; submission is to permit some segment of the environment to impose its needs on oneself….To call submission an act of the will is correct, for the segment of the environment one manipulates is one’s own body and one’s own personality for the sake of what one judges to be one’s own advantage.  Actually, then, submission is really aggression, as Nietzsche saw…


In this century philosophy has made it beautifully clear that one of the most common kinds of talk is metatalk, talk about talk, and this is practiced daily, by almost everybody, a good part of the time.


“Truth” is  a word of high status, but it applies only to propositions, not to the world, or to nonverbal human behavior.  It may be useful, at least at times, to seek for the truth within the verbal universe, but outside of it the human wants to produce a result.  Language functions by getting him ready to produce a result.


The above out of Morse Peckham’s Art and Pornography (1969).


Image Credit: Bates Imaging & Computing Center

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1 Comment

  1. Sair September 12, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    The metatalk comment made me laugh. Yes, we like to talk about talking and write about writing. The blogs about making money by blogging always kill me.


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