When we make a choice, who is making the choice?  We have already seen that there are lots of things relevant to—and helping to cause—the choice, things that we are unaware of, both inside us and outside us and in the interactions between the two.

But there is still another issue here.  Years ago, I was not an academic, then I became one and, after years of training and work, became a professor.  People become different things throughout their lives.  Two related things I became were an academic and a professor.  When I started my journey as an academic, I knew little about how to behave and feel as an academic.  I could not even pronounce academic words that I had seen in print, but never heard before in talk correctly.

Eventually, I learned academic—and, later, professorial—ways of being, knowing, behaving, and feeling.  So, when I make choices when I am being an academic and professor (and, of course, I am not always so), those choices are constrained by the “social nature” of being an academic and professor.  I have to choose within the choices available in the sense that I should not make (too often) choices so far outside of the set that they would end my identity or career as an academic or professor.

The choices available to me were created socially by groups of people through history, not by me.  When I make “acceptable” choices I can “riff” on them—engage in my own style (to an extent)—and, in that sense, potentially modify the available choices (or the styles by which they are carried out) if enough people “imitate” me.  When I am acting, valuing, and thinking as a professor, it is not “Jim” per se that is choosing.  It is some curious blend of Jim (whoever or whatever that is) and the (social and historical) identity/Discourse of being an academic and a professor.  At various times and places, I inhabit this identity/Discourse and at such times and places that identity/Discourse speaks and acts through me (uses me as a puppet, but one that has a bit of a mind of its  own) to survive in history.  “We” are “in it” together.

Now there can be several—even many—identities/Discourses that a person, at different times and places (and sometimes at the same times and places), can inhabit.  For example, I learned to be a male of a certain sort.  This was not straightforward for me.  I was raised a devote Catholic.  In elementary school we were separated from the girls.  After elementary school I spent five years in a seminary and simply never dealt with women (we had a little book called The Young Seminarian that warned us to avoid women and told us they all had “lust in their heart”).  Eventually, I left the seminary and went to college in Santa Barbara (a beach town) in the 1960s when college girls wore bikinis the size of napkins and nothing at all at “Nude-Ins” on the beach against the Viet Nam War.  For the first time, I met non-Catholics and socially and racially diverse people.

In this brand-new context, I had to learn how to be a certain sort of heterosexual young male and it took a good deal of time and effort—and many failures, some of them quite funny now, but painful at the time.  In a different setting, I would have learned other ways to be and do as a male (of a certain sort).  So, even being a “male” is an identity/Discourse (indeed, many different ones).

But who (or what), stripped of all such identities/Discourses, is a person?  Who is “Jim”—the underlying thing in the mix of different identities/Discourses? We could say that “Jim” is the person that was socialized into a certain type of family and social group as a child, but such families and social groups are themselves identities/Discourses.  I sit writing this in a coffee shop in a rural “white” town (in reality, of course, there are many brown people—mostly Mexican-American people—here too).  After a lifetime in academics and interacting mostly with middle and upper-middle-class, cosmopolitan, “liberal” people, I sit among people who are none of that.  I do not feel uncomfortable, because I was born into the same class of people as those around me now.  Had I not been, I would look askance at them and them at me (and, yes, at certain times, my other identities/Discourses kick in and I do, they do, and we do look askance at each other).  The “original” socialized Jim was socialized into a “vernacular” (“everyday”) identity/Discourse (one of many) early in life (so were you) and learned other ones later (and you probably did as well).

So, who the hell is Jim?  We really don’t know, yet we think it is this Jim character that is making free choices for the consequences of which he could go to Heaven or Hell (or whatever you think the rewards and penalties for being responsible for your free choices are).  Now, I am not saying Jim is a fiction or does not “really” exist.  There is something “Jimish” melded with all my enactments of identities/Discourses.  Jim exists all right, but we don’t know what Jim like things (like you and me) really are, though lots of new science bears on the matter.


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March 29th, 2018

The Interpreter System (7)

Let’s return to our diagram of a human being (or, “an enviro-human system”).  I want now to look just at […]

March 27th, 2018

Joint Actor Systems (6)

The diagram I used in the last post is misleading in that it makes things look more contained and bounded […]

March 26th, 2018

A Human Being (5)

Last time, we raised the question: “What is ‘Jim”?” (substitute your own name for “Jim” here).  We think of ourselves […]

March 25th, 2018

Jim and Identities/Discourses (4)

When we make a choice, who is making the choice?  We have already seen that there are lots of things […]

March 10th, 2018

Alternates (3)

When we make a choice about ourselves often that choice is vastly undetermined by the information we have available.  Say […]

March 7th, 2018

Flourishing (2)

It makes little sense to see a human being (or any other animal) as an individual making free choices.  In […]

February 25th, 2018

Free Will (1)

Note that the question of free will simply does not arise for animals.  We think that, even for intelligent species, […]

October 29th, 2017

The Principle of Charity

October 8th, 2017

Character Education

Recently, the College of Education at Arizona State University—where I work— received funding from the Kern Family Foundation to make […]

June 15th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 6 (The End)

What killed people’s sense of mattering was the growth of very high levels of inequality.  What caused such high levels […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 5

Many of us tend to think of history as a march forward and upward. So, we tend to interpret the […]

June 14th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 4

The Catholic Church declined in three stages. The same was true for many other institutions.  “The Sixties” (roughly from 1963 […]

June 12th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 3

Today, we have among the highest levels of inequality we have ever had.  Drug addiction, environmental degradation, flows of climate […]

June 11th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 2

The British economist John Maynard Keynes and “Keynesian Economics” were foundational to the Bretton Woods Agreement and to the world […]

June 10th, 2017

Neoliberalism Part 1

Though neo-liberalism is the “usual suspect” for the miseries of our institutions and society, it is not nearly as relevant […]

May 30th, 2017

Main Points from My New Book

Teaching, Learning, Literary in our High-Risk, High-Tech World: A Framework for Becoming Human (Teachers College Press, 2017). Ignorance We humans […]

April 17th, 2017

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 10 The End

Neither love nor liking is necessary for the sorts of critical discussions among different frameworks that might lead to shared […]

April 15th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 9 Interpretation

Goodwill.  What could possibly encourage people in a fractured and inequitable world to have goodwill?  I, for one, do not […]

April 14th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 8 An Example

I want now to give an example of two different frameworks that certainly appear incommensurable.  My purpose here is make […]

April 12th, 2016

The Importance of Discourse Analysis:
Step 7 Discussion

We are at a critical juncture now in our attempt to understand why frameworks can cause us humans such grief.  […]