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Stout and individual XXIII

May 3, 2016

Nonetheless, Stout’s point on resistance reaches beyond the problems facing a given cultural or ethnic movement insofar as all set types and roles evince the same movement of externalization in the means of identification. The author elaborates:

Those who play the roles [of jet-setting executive, Bible-thumping evangelical, or member-in-good-standing of the cult of ethnicity] can purchase the requisite uniforms, gear, and preferred sources of infotainment from multinational corporations, which have discovered how to fill their coffers by multiplying and merchandising identities. But be warned; anyone who buys in is agreeing to conform to a type […] The main choice that many young people think they face today is which type in a standard menu of types to conform to […] But none of these options provides a means of escaping an essentially docile role in one of the three main adult constituencies unless the activities and role models they involve happen to awaken a desire for excellence and self-cultivation – for individuality (DT, p. 292).

So long as the person or persons concerned neither dispose of the means of identification nor are free to alter the contents of identification once set, identity, externally conceived, will hold a negative charge in the eyes of the author. For, in letting others set the content of her individuality, the person lets others dictate her range of thought, speech and deed within that society and, thereby, the pressures that she can exert thereon. By extension, those others are thereafter in a position to influence, if not dictate, the means and content of her self-expression in democratic deliberation and, thus, her contributions thereto. In sum, externalization in identification acts to limit the shapes of individuality and institutions within democratic society.

Moreover, this imperative to resist others’ setting the content of one’s individuality concerns the kinds of identity-setting which transpire in the hands of smaller communities just as much as multinational organizations. In that influential members or subgroups can fix the content of a community’s identification by setting the signs, terms, and means, communities can exert the same external influence on individuality as seen above. Therefrom emerges a need to resist absorption into the communal mass as well as the social:

We do have multiple communities in the sense that the points of view many citizens occupy fall into recognizable types […] But the differences that set off one such community from another are not the only differences that make a difference in political debate. There are also differences that set off individuals from the communities in which they were raised or with which at some point they became affiliated. Respect for individuals involves sensitivity to the ways in which they can resist conformity to type (DT, p. 74).

Accordingly, resistance cuts both way for the author: against mass consumer society and the lifestyle options therein; against communities and the kinds of groupthink to which they may lend themselves. It proves essential to recognize the ways in which the person resists communal absorption when she moves between groups, exists between them and otherwise stands in ambiguous relations to them. Wherefore Stout’s resistance to the new traditionalism exemplified by MacIntyre and his talk of strongly integrated communities in which the inferential contents of terms are set in advance. In fact, the author even goes so far as to praise MacIntyre for his own resistance to the types offered in contemporary society.

The story of [MacIntyre’s] reasoned movement betwixt and between the various traditions with which he has affiliated himself is itself strong evidence against a theory according to which rationality can be exercised at its best only within highly coherent and “well-integrated” traditions […] [H]e has performed a valuable service to his culture precisely by being the sort of person his current theory of rationality frowns upon. What kind is that? It is the kind who, from time to time, finds it necessary to abandon a morality so well integrated that it suffocates thought, who has the courage to take a stand for which there is not yet a convenient label or easily defined lineage, and who has the practical wisdom to fashion a critical language for himself out of materials borrowed from many sources. All of this can be done without engagement in the liberal project, aspiring to be a citizen of nowhere, or ceasing to be one of us (DT, p. 138).

The above leaves us in a position better to understand the reasons for which the contents of Stoutian democratic individuality proves difficult to pin down. At best, we might say that it consists in a type which precisely resists type. Merely structural features alone enable us to apprehend the normative significance of such individuality for democratic deliberation and society: resistance and self-cultivation.

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