Monday, September 05, 2011

Moxie girls

Dalrock has a post about a brand of dolls called Moxie girls that are marketed with slogans like these:

Playful, silly, and creative, Lexa thinks life is meant to be fun, which means being yourself no matter what!

Every girl has the strength to do something amazing. Anything is possible as long as you stay true to yourself & never give up on your dreams.

I'm going to read some political philosophy into these affirmations. The assumption behind the slogans is that we each have a true self which is fulfilled through some definite end. We do, it seems, have a telos after all.

I have a theory about this, one which I have to admit is untested and highly speculative. If you go back far enough, to the time of philosophical realism, it was thought that there were essences to forms of life. Each form of life would imperfectly fulfil its given essence. That was its telos - its proper end.

Liberals hate - utterly hate - this kind of philosophical realism. They see it as limiting individual autonomy by defining individuals in terms of the unchosen categories they belong to.

And so liberals want individuals to be self-defined through the choices they make. But there's a major problem. If I can choose to define myself equally in any direction, then what I choose will seem subjective and arbitrary and therefore meaningless. What is the benefit of such free choice, if it makes no difference what I choose? It's all very disenchanting.

How can liberals get around this problem? Well, they can claim that one choice is better than another if it makes us happy. Or if it is in line with our self-interest (which injects a certain rationality into our decisions). Or if it is pleasurable (hedonism). Or if it helps perpetuate our genes (again, this gives the appearance of rationality).

But none of this is all that persuasive. It all seems superficial, particularly compared to the more traditional belief that there is a proper end to our being, a realisation of self that fulfils who we are.

So my theory is this. A certain strand in modern thought contains a hidden, modified form of philosophical realism. Yes, the idea that forms of life have an essence has been rejected. But what remains is the idea that individuals (rather than forms of life) have their own unique essence. Essences have been individualised.

So there does exist an "essential self" for our Moxie girls to be true to - one which brings them to some proper end to their lives: their "dream" which is conceived of as a career achievement in a high status creative field such as being a film director, a fashion designer or a song writer.

One problem with this solution to merely arbitrary and subjective choice is that the annointed end has to be both mundane but not mundane. Your proper end cannot be sorting the mail, it has to be something that is notably self-expressive - it has to be "amazing". But that is unavailable to 99% of people.

If you think that I'm reading too much into some feminist inspired dolls, well - you might be right. But even in serious works of liberal philosophy there is a vague assumption at work that self-directed choice has as its ultimate end the realisation of self in a certain kind of career - such as being a violinist, or an aid doctor in Africa.

Anyway, the philosophical problem remains. You cannot impress upon people that they must be authentically themselves, if at the same time you also hold that the self is something that we define or create by ourselves. How can there be an authentic self, if my self is something that I can define however I want?

14 comments:

  1. And so liberals want individuals to be self-defined through the choices they make. But there's a major problem. If I can choose to define myself equally in any direction, then what I choose will seem subjective and arbitrary and therefore meaningless. What is the benefit of such free choice, if it makes no difference what I choose? It's all very disenchanting.

    Interesting observation.

    How can there be an authentic self, if my self is something that I can define however I want?

    Good point.

    ReplyDelete
  2. As usual, post-modern relativism collapses in on itself because it can't support the weight of its own ideas.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Interesting point that the authentic self is always presumed to be something glamorous, never anything boringly mundane. We're all princesses and princes, and there are no peasants.

    It's all a wishful denial of reality. She's never to know that she isn't as smart, as strong, or as talented as anyone else. Her "true self" can do anything it desires, be anything it wants to be. If there are obstacles standing in the way of her realizing her dreams, these are always something external, always someone else's fault. Therefore we must eliminate the sexism, racism or whatever -ism it is that is holding the poor dear back.

    ReplyDelete
  4. The observation that not everyone can have a career in "international business" (think James Bond + Donald Trump) or "fashion design" is too rarely made by conservatives. Thanks, Mr. Richardson. We all should hammer this point home. These elites mouth these platitudes because they do get to live their career dreams. Most men, let alone women do

    My mother has befriended a cashier at her grocery store, and one day the lady confided how unfulfilling she felt her job was. When she told me the story, I thought how often this woman must have heard that a career is supposed to be exciting and fulfilling and she should love what she does. No wonder the poor lady had so much trouble making sense of her life job.

    Liberals are aware of the problem. A teacher where I work has found a novel way of addressing it. I heard him asking his students what their dream job is and once they had made a list telling them that they could only get that job if they study hard and plan ahead.

    Talk about immanitzing the eschaton! Liberals make an exciting the ultimate purpose of life and the ultimate reward (i.e. Heaven and God's presence) and a boring, mundane job a dreaded punishment for slacking off in your "education" (i.e. Hell). It's a worldview replete with transcendence, sin, reward, and punishment. And the ultimate punishment--a meaningless daily grind--is meted out to the low IQ for the great sin of being...stupid,.I guess.

    It's an evil system that rewards the cognitive elite with meaning and purpose on the backs of the less competent masses. Egalitarian,.indeed. We really ought to call them on this. Reading too much into dolls?.Hardly. This crap is everywhere. Well done, sir.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Bart is right about everything except for "immanentizing the eschaton"

    ReplyDelete
  6. Egalitarian, indeed. We really ought to call them on this.

    Agreed. If the realisation of our authentic self is completed through a self-expressive career, then how can liberals claim to be promoting an egalitarian philosophy? How can the self of a cashier in a supermarket then be considered equal to the self of a concert pianist.

    That's not such an issue if you're a philosophical realist (or an orthodox Christian). If we share an essential nature as humans or as men and women, then we all, no matter our station in life, can seek to express and fulfil that nature in our relationships with others, in our work and in our inner being.

    ReplyDelete
  7. "Anything is possible as long as you stay true to yourself & never give up on your dreams."

    Of course, the assumption is that your dreams are attainable as an isolated individual. No word on what advice they'd give to someone whose dreams depend on relationships with others or on living in a certain kind of community.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Excellent post Bartholomew,

    My thinking was that the "stay true to yourself" idea involves the essential rejection of external authority over our lives and can be summarized as saying, "You can't tell me what to do", or "You're trying to run my life or tell me what to think". With such attitudes other people will become rejected as sources of legitimate authority in our lives and might also be rejected as guides as well because their motives are likely to be suspected. What we’re left with as a personal sense of authority in our lives is looking into our "inner selves" and using that as our guide and mentor.

    One example of the consequences of this idea can be seen in modern art. Certain artists might throw paint at the canvas, whilst in some emotional or introspective moment, in semi random or unstructured way as an expression or summoning up of their inner or “true selves". This expression would likely deliberately reject artistic technique or visual appeals, because to do so would be to accept these external overlays, as having higher value than your personal self expression.

    This doesn’t just happen in the higher arts you also get it in every American/Australian Idol competition where there’ll be some contestant who can't sing a note but who nevertheless believe they're staying true to their dreams and truly expressing themselves out there.

    The result of this internal focus and rejection of external standards, authorities and guides, is bad art and bad singing. "Good" art requires something that others, not just the self, can enjoy, appreciate or understand. In order to be achieved this requires study, learning, engagement with others, feedback, a sense of history and development in the field, encouragement of your talents from others and not just internal talent (or absence of it) and desires for expression. Training or learning environments are of course communal, at least semi-communal and certainly societal, constructions that aren’t just about the individual and what’s inside them.

    Again to be good at anything in this world you have to take the modern trope of “be true to yourself” in a tongue in cheek manner and follow it very selectively. Which of course is something that many lower class or less educated people don't do and consequently get burned by.

    I would suggest that the promotion of the idea that “all the answers are within you” and that you don’t have to look outside for anything of real substance is totally destructive and poisonous for a successful civilization.

    ReplyDelete
  9. ""How can there be an authentic self, if my self is something that I can define however I want?""

    And that's why I come here.

    You started off with Moxie dolls and ended with something that will keep me thinking all day.

    Keep it up Mark these articles keep getting better.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks Jesse.

    You wrote, and I think it explains a lot, that
    "Good" art requires something that others, not just the self, can enjoy, appreciate or understand."

    Exactly right. Why would anyone want to pay to see, let alone have made, something they don't recognize and can't understand? Yet that never seems to occur to the "artistes". They just keep complaining about a lack of funding for the "arts", ie. their own work.

    And it doesn't occur to them because, like Mr. Richardson and Jesse have said, they aren't interested in getting at the essence, the universally recognizable truth of things. They're interested in themselves, specifically their own expression. And the rest of us aren't. Which is why they're broke and "unappreciated".

    ReplyDelete
  11. I was going to say we always called those the My Little Hooker dolls (from a line on The Simpsons), but actually that was Bratz...

    ReplyDelete
  12. "How can there be an authentic self, if my self is something that I can define however I want?"

    There are infinite authentic selves for each person if all people live in individualized bubbles and cannot compare selves with each other.
    People thinking in this fashion will often say: "Everyone is right in whatever they think." in order to justify their own thought processes. This is why I think this is ultimately self-rationalization and a symptom of narcissistic ideology.

    It also allows those with inferior X to instantaneously elevate themselves by virtue of considering themselves ipso facto equal to those with superior X. Herein IMO lies the appeal of such thinking.

    It is not so much that liberals want to be right but that they in addition require you to believe they are right. To deny them this is to start an ideological fight. To grant them this is to deny the presence of an absolute morality.

    ReplyDelete
  13. How can the self of a cashier in a supermarket then be considered equal to the self of a concert pianist.

    If you look at who liberals actually exalt, it is obvious they don't actually believe their own egalatarian rhetoric.

    This is why I think this is ultimately self-rationalization and a symptom of narcissistic ideology.

    Liberalism has always been a haven for narcissists. For example, if you look at what homosexual rights activists say and do, it is clear that live and let live isn't enough for them. They demand your love and approval as well, and if you don't give it they accuse you of hating homosexuals.

    ReplyDelete
  14. How can there be an authentic self, if my self is something that I can define however I want?

    Variations:

    Make an idol and worship it as your god.

    Define morality (right and wrong), then keep to it.

    That's all I have, I can't stop laughing.

    (To see an example of God mocking Israel for doing this very thing, see Isaiah 44.)

    ReplyDelete

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.