Identity and Relation

Praxis, Bad Faith, Severed Ties, and Possible African Remedies

in Theoria
Author:
Ettienne Smook PhD, University of Fort Hare, South Africa ettiennesmook@gmail.com

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Abstract

Sustained dialogue between people and the authenticity of relationships are dependent on the existence of an epistemic distance between the interlocutors – there needs to be a difference between the patterns of thought salient among the subjects involved. A lack thereof must lead to the collapse of the conditions requisite for continued engagement. This is the case because we can only sustain dialogue based on difference of opinion among agents. In short, similar constitutions of the ego must lead to a breakdown in communication. The consumer industry populates the world with objects of a similar ilk and thereby renders the environment homogeneous. The egos constructed under its rule must thus be similar in nature, hence the claim that dialogue must collapse under its rule. However, should we focus on the sundered duties implied by a community, as we intend to do with this article, we may recover the conditions of epistemic distance and thereby also the conditions of sustained and authentic relationships.

I should like to argue that the advent of the consumer paradigm has led to the loss of authentic being and meaningful relationships. As such, individuals become alienated from one another and meaningful relation/dialogue becomes near impossible. Said dialogue becomes impossible due to the collapse of the epistemic distance that separates individuals from each other. These claims hinge on the idea that a heterogeneous empirical environment will present to individuals a unique set of objects and phenomena to navigate. The identities constructed under heterogeneous empirical conditions will differ markedly. This epistemic distance, in turn, betokens the conditions of sustained dialogue and makes meaningful relationships possible. For in the absence of differing points of view, dialogue must break down. The consumer industry, however, populates the empirical environment with a fixed set of objects, each with fixed meanings. Under its governance, ‘tis likely that individuals will avail themselves of similar objects. Such an impoverished empirical world must in turn lead to the cultivation of similar personalities/characteristics, the result of which is said collapse of the epistemic distance required for meaningful relationships.

So why would individuals, then, in the first place, avail themselves of these similar sets of objects in their pursuit of identity formation? The answer is to be found in the idea that individuals wish to differentiate themselves from others, and that they do so by gathering around them constellations of objects. Moreover, there is a salient trend among people, in line with consumerist thinking, to wish their constructed identities to be more estimable than the other's. As such, then, they buy into the consumer paradigm's smorgasbord of objects – all indexed, hierarchically, to prestige. Thus, even though object x and object y come from the same camp and, in fact, represent the very same thing, individuals pursue the more prestigious of the two – for in ownership thereof, they may consider themselves the richer for it.

However, even though objects may seem to differ, most of the consumer products available to us require for their operation a similar mechanics. In other words, regardless of whether you own a forty-three or sixty-five-inch flatscreen television, their operational interfaces are very much alike. Individuals, then, adopt similar modes of activity when navigating the empirical world. These activities, in turn, determine how our identities are formed.

On the other hand, we may argue that a community driven by sundry roles and functions, would require of each individual a different mode of activity, which, when internalised, must result in a different epistemic framework or identity being cultivated within each individual. Since such individuals think and act differently, there exists between them an epistemic distance capable of maintaining true dialogue and authentic relation. It bears mentioning here that the focus of the community previously outlined is not that of individuation, but rather the management and sustainment of the community as such. Within such a community, different roles are to be fulfilled by different individuals, in turn leading to the cultivation of bespoke persona. Within an African communitarian context, the focus is on the wellbeing of the community, which requires a spectrum of variegated roles and functions to be performed. Within a Western, consumerist context, however, the focus is on the atomistic character development of the individual.

Let us adopt in agreement with Aristotle the assumption that all human endeavours are in some way directed at the achievement of happiness. Nothing is sought for its own sake but pursued rather for its being indexed to happiness. Happiness, on the other hand, has been equated to the absence of pain and/or the presence of pleasure by philosophers for aeons now. Extrapolating, we may say that we seek out such phenomena/objects and relationships as would increase our experience of pleasure and, on the other hand, attempt to avoid such phenomena/objects and relationships as would diminish our happiness. It is easy to identify objects/phenomena and relationships conducive to happiness; determining which experiences to avoid in order to mitigate the chances of suffering or pain, however, is a beast of a different kind altogether. In order to understand what is to be pursued and what to be avoided, it behoves us to consider pleasure and pain as the dichotomous outcomes of a constructive dilemma. It may be formulated thusly:

  1. 1Either existence is devoid of inherent meaning, and thus chaotic, or existence is orderly.
  2. 2If it be the case that there is no inherent meaning, then surely humans must be confused and therefore unhappy.
  3. 3If it be the case that existence is orderly, humans are afforded a degree of security and, therefore, may plan and anticipate outcomes and be happy in the realisation that causation allows them access to determinable goals and consequences.
  4. 4Thus, either humans are confused by chaos and therefore unhappy, or they feel secure in a stable empirical world and are therefore happy.

Happiness, then, transpires as the result of avoiding chaos and malleability. Now, then, we may call upon Zygmunt Bauman's distinction between freedom and security to elucidate the matter further. In The Individualized Society, Bauman (2001: 41) quotes Freud as stating that man has come to exchange a portion of his possibilities of happiness for a portion of security. Why would humankind enter into such a transaction when it so flagrantly undermines the true conditions of happiness? Well, as pointed out by the constructive dilemma, happiness is indexed to freedom and the latter, in turn, is contingent upon the inchoate nature of empirical existence. It would seem that the very conditions of happiness – freedom in a world devoid of inherent meaning – are also the conditions of chaos, the volatility of which renders us confused and unhappy. We would, therefore, forego certain freedoms in exchange for an imposed structure that lends to life a calculous capable of bringing about a certain kind of intelligible, habitable metaphysical equilibrium.

Of order, Bauman (2001: 31) has the following to say: “Things are orderly if they behave as you've expected them to; that is, if you may safely leave them out of account when planning your actions. This is the main attraction of order: security which comes from the ability to predict, with little or no error, what the results of your actions will be.”

Unhappiness, then, is directly indexed to the degree in which empirical existence's structure departs from an orderly arrangement. It should be clear, then, that people would accept the shackles that bind them sturdily to the deck of a ship caught in stormy, changing seas. For in planting one's feet steadily upon a solid surface, one may be comforted by readily available meanings and, simultaneously, be spared the taxing tedium of deciphering an amorphous world. As such, human beings are liable to accept even an imposed/limiting system, assuming the imposition is accompanied by an increase of order. Historically, this kind of order was imposed by the state. The rise of modernity, however, has seen this role of the state usurped by a far more insidious and prescriptive system – the consumer paradigm.

In The Conquest of Happiness (2010: 4), Bertrand Russel speaks of unhappiness and explains that ‘[t]he causes of these various kinds of unhappiness lie partly in the social system, partly in individual psychology – which, of course, is itself to a considerable extent a product of the social system’. Implied by the preceding paragraph is the notion that the empirical world is, but for the intervention of human beings and their implementation of some kind of socio-political system, without inherent meaning. Russel's former quotation underscores the ideas that the systematisation of the empirical world is necessary were humans to function, that said systems may also be the wellspring of unhappiness, and lastly, that a causal link exists between the ontic and the epistemic.1

Russel (2010: 5) continues: ‘this unhappiness to be very largely due to mistaken views of the world, mistaken ethics, mistaken habits of life, leading to destruction of that natural zest and appetite for possible things upon which all happiness, whether of men or animals, ultimately depends.’ These ‘mistaken’ habits, views and ethics are mistaken precisely due to the absence of a universal set of objective standards. Fixing upon any particular interpretation of the empirical world, then, closes off the possibility of alternative interpretations and exempts us from the responsibility to account for the consequences of the meanings we have attributed to the empirical world. But as we shall see in due course, Sartrean Nausea is enough to coerce individuals into submission and the acceptance of a crystalised fate, all so as to escape the freedom that haunts us and disabuses us of the chance to be stable/happy. For order relieves us of the duty to create meaning by furnishing us with ready-made pockets of meaning. As such, the nausea attendant to a malleable empirical existence is quelled, direction is imposed upon us, and structure seeps into our confused lives to create a more rigid template of the world. In short, then, it is from transcendence that we wish to escape, for in its indeterminacy, it renders the world in terms mutually unintelligible. In fact, it is the responsibility to accept the consequences of a sequence of events we had willed which we seek to circumvent; for within the existentialist tradition, we are responsible for the consequences of the meanings we create. Such a burden proves daunting, resulting in individuals’ adoption of a system that, by virtue of prescribing certain meanings, ostensibly carries said burden on our behalf. The foregoing may be formulated as a constructive dilemma:

  1. 1.Either the world has a priori meaning or it does not.
  2. 2.If the world has a priori meaning, certain things are predetermined for which I cannot be held accountable.
  3. 3.If there be no inherent meaning, then nothing is predetermined, meaning that I am responsible for the consequences of the meanings I attribute to things.
  4. 4.So, either things are predetermined and I am exempt from accountability or things have the meaning I give them and thus the consequences are mine to claim as well.

People, then, shy away from transcendence and opt for a life of bondage within a system that creates order and, on our behalf, bears the brunt of the consequences arisen from our actions. We thus have recourse to the excuse that the system itself is deterministic and that we cannot be blamed for outcomes arisen within it.

Russel argues the following:

Many a distinctive mark of contemporary living contributes to an overwhelming feeling of uncertainty: to a view of the future of the “world as such”, and the future of the private world, the “world within reach”, as essentially undecidable, uncontrollable and hence frightening; and to a suspicion that the present, already familiar frames of action will not remain constant long enough to allow a correct calculation of the effects of one's actions. (Russel 2010: 83)

Consider Russel's (2010: 6) further suggestion that self-absorption is at the core of unhappiness. It is the fixation upon self-differentiation that renders us amenable to the adoption of an oppressive system; for within an oppressive system, by default, identity exists as an amalgam of procured objects and determined phenomena. The latter represents an eschewed version of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. According to said hierarchy, certain basic needs are to be fulfilled before one can progress from one level of the hierarchy to the next. Enter the consumer paradigm with its ready-made archetypes of being. It manages to index happiness not to true self-actualisation, but, rather, indexes happiness to some of the lower levels within Maslow's hierarchy. For instance, once food and water, shelter and belonging have been addressed, we may then inch upward towards self-actualisation. Within the consumer paradigm, however, self-actualisation is indexed to the acquisition of objects, capable only of marginally differentiating us from others. Nonetheless, albeit superficial, this marginal differentiation, due to individuals’ obsession with the self, expresses an ostensible authenticity and individuation of the self, which can, in fact, only be reached through an ascension through the ranks of the hierarchy, not stopping at the third or fourth level where objects and material means play their part. The appropriation of said objects comes as the result of people's resentment towards ‘being rubricized, which can be seen by them as a denial of their individuality (self identity)’ (Maslow, 2011: 123). Ironically then, the consumer industry comes to represent the very vehicle whereby we are transported from the nauseating reality of a world as yet unshaped to a state of structured misery.

The Social Logic of Consumption: Baudrillard and Arendt

Referring to the mechanisation of what had been manual labour in erstwhile ages, Marcuse, in his book One-Dimensional Man, draws a parallel between individual labour and identity, further implying that the mechanisation of acts of labour homogenises, to a certain degree, human activity by stripping it of its idiosyncratic nature and replacing it with a repetitive sequence of acts: ‘A comfortable, smooth, reasonable, democratic unfreedom prevails in advanced industrial civilization, a token of technical progress. Indeed, what could be more rational than the suppression of individuality in the mechanization of socially necessary but painful performances; the concentration of individual enterprises in more effective, more productive corporations’ (Marcuse 1991: 1).

For now, however, suffice to say that the homogenisation of human activity as a result of the mechanisation of the labour-realm must also impede the development of individuals’ faculty for innovative thought – the key to authenticity. Next, let us look at Jean Baudrillard's and Hannah Arendt's conceptions of consumption.

Analysing consumerism, Baudrillard argues that consumerism is premised upon the assumption that consumption offers personal happiness and secures any individual a degree of self-expression. ‘Modernity’, Baudrillard contends, ‘also involves the transference of everything which had to do with the imagination, dreams, the ideal and utopia into a technical, operational reality: the materialization of all desires, the realization of all possibilities. . . . The individual at last becomes identical with himself’ (2011: 69). As such, it is an ethos of personalisation and espouses the importance of self-differentiation. In the consumer culture, prevalence is given to the individuation of the person, often at the expense of the group to which he or she belongs. Little stock is placed in the integration of the individual within the group and great stock is placed in personal wellbeing. This article compares two possible responses to consumerism – Sartre's notion of authenticity and Gyekye's view of African communalism – and argues that the latter is the more promising candidate. First, we shall consider the social logic of consumption, according to Baudrillard and Arendt, so as to create a context for the following consideration of Sartre's notions of bad faith/freedom. It will be argued that freedom fails to extricate the individual from the homogenising grip of the consumer paradigm and that, rather, an African communitarian approach is best suited to the resurrection of authentic relationships.

Personal needs come first. ‘The whole of the discourse on needs is based on a naïve anthropology: that of the natural propensity to happiness’ (Baudrillard, 1998: 49). This suggests that at the core of this natural propensity to happiness the individual is placed first. His/her needs are considered primary to the achievement of happiness and individuated fixity. This happiness is to be sought by each individual in pursuit of what Baudrillard terms a demonstrable brand of happiness. Baudrillard continues: ‘Happiness has to be measurable. It has to be a well-being measurable in terms of objects and signs; it has to be “comfort”, as Tocqueville put it, already noting this trend of democratic societies towards ever more well-being as a reduction of the impact of social misfortune and an equalisation of all destinies’ (1998: 49). If the happiness in question cannot be shown through the personalisation of the immediate surroundings of the individual through the appropriation of various objects, then this happiness is not to be considered true happiness in service of what Baudrillard calls the egalitarian myth. ‘In this sense, Happiness is even further removed from any collective “feast” or exaltation since, fuelled by an egalitarian exigency, it is based on individualistic principles, fortified by the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen which explicitly recognize the right to happiness of everyone (of each individual)’ (Baudrillard, ibid.).

The egalitarian myth: each individual is to be considered equal before the object. As such, each individual ought to have equal access to the objects that pervade the consumer society. This aim is achieved by increasing the proliferation of objects available to the consumer, allowing each individual equal access to the brand of happiness alluded to earlier.

This proliferation of objects stands in stark contrast to what Marcuse claims to be a diversified, heterogenous life world that belongs to a bygone era wherein alternatives and diversities were gathered under the single auspice of life. Of this phenomenon, Marcuse (1991: 59) claims the following: ‘With its code of forms and manners, with the style and vocabulary of its literature and philosophy, this past culture expressed the rhythm and content of a universe in which valleys and forests, villages and inns, nobles and villains, salons and courts were a part of the experienced reality.’ Thusly, the newly homogenised life world has become bereft of such experiences as would set individuals apart. Instead, there now arises a system of objects, where each object refers to the other insofar as codifying the pursuit of happiness as indexed to the acquisition of signifiers of demonstrable happiness. According to Baudrillard (2006: 152), ‘personalization . . . is actually a basic ideological concept of a society which personalizes objects and beliefs solely in order to integrate persons more effectively’. As these objects are alike insofar as signifying a single goal, those who handle them are also bound collectively to a single goal – the goal of achieving equal status before the object and expressing the self as unique. Lamentably, then, the appropriation of such similar objects, people become entangled in similar webs of interest. Moreover, sharing on such a grand scale their innermost desires leads to the homogenisation also of thought. As such, an epistemic homogeneity arises, wherein each individual comes to think in a manner similar to that of the other. In Baudrillard's view, the result of this is the collapse of the epistemic distance between people required for sustained debate. In being so alienated from themselves, people must also fail to relate to others, meaning that they are equally alienated from others. Following this, authentic relationships are foregone.

This collapse hails from the individualistic desire to be differentiated from others. Through a process of marginal differentiation, Baudrillard argues, people are inspired to buy into that particular brand of happiness that is not only demonstrable but also serves to set apart individuals from one another. At bottom, then, we have the desire for a fixed, lasting differentiation of ourselves from others. We yearn to be lifted from the collective pool of existence and be seen as unique individuals. This, however, is only possible if we could attain a degree of fixity2: we need to be crystalised as unique individuals and not be malleable in nature. For such malleability would mean that we are amorphous, indistinguishable from others. To be different is to be fixedly so – the desire to be a thing apart from other things. To summarise, then, we have at the origin of the consumer bent the ontological tendency towards objectification.

Arendt, in turn, also subtly implies that an overemphasis of the epistemic domain belabours human existence. Dermot Moran (2000: 308) cites Arendt as arguing that the ‘[h]uman condition questions the major Western tradition . . . which sees humans coming to the full realisation of their potential in the theoretical life’. He continues (ibid.), ‘[f]or Arendt this emphasis on the theoretical is a betrayal of the practical’. Moreover, Arendt ‘is deeply critical of consumer society and the manner in which human life is distorted by [its] world-alienating effect’ (Moran, 2000: 308). Said alienation, Arendt reasons, follows in the wake of the mass proliferation of scientific thought and its attendant objects, which in turn leads to the loss of the empirical world. This is the necessary upshot of a world bedazzled and reduced to mathematical principles and phenomena. Within the context of consumption, this may be read as indicating not so much the reduction of the world to a specific idiom, but rather the reduction of the empirical world to a limited set of principles and phenomena. The consumer paradigm achieves just this: it reduces the world to a homogeneous empirical state such, impoverishing individual epistemic vistas. Thusly, the reduction of the empirical world to a domain of pure consumption must reduce the epistemic domain to a simple maze navigable through use of but a limited set of activities.

Arendt gives an account of the world based upon the delineation of three key functions of human existence: work, labour and action. Labour, she argues (Moran 2000: 310), is humankind's most basic way of relating to the world, representing the manner in which we cyclically engage in activities such that their execution begets us the resources requisite to survival. So construed, then, the products begotten through ‘labour’ are consumed and has no permanence. ‘Work’, Arendt argues (Moran 2000: 311), ‘reflects the unnaturalness of human existence’ and seeks to produce objects of quasi-permanence. These objects have at their core sign-value rather than use value. It is this sign-value, indexed to prestige, that humans consume in the hopes of allaying the nauseating malleability of the actual empirical environment: ‘[o]bjects of work stand over and against humans, thus contributing to what Arendt calls the “durability”’ (Moran 2000: 311). This durability allows humans the means to objectify themselves and others, thusly escaping the clutches of nausea and ostensibly inching closer to happiness and the shaking off of the shackles that bind us to the incalculable number of alternatives. Through the crystallisation of the empirical world, then, we reduce the environment to a smorgasbord of objects/phenomena representative of what we already believe and hope to be elements identifiable with human existence. In short, then, work serves to undermine the malleability of true empirical existence and affords us the means of finally identifying with limited states of factual existence, thereby keeping at arm's length the looming despair of being confronted with an entirely malleable world and an almost endless and nauseating range of possible transcendences. Work, Arendt contends (Moran 2000: 311), is responsible for the creation of such consumer goods and their attending phenomena.

Arendt then proceeds to explain the function of praxis – the highest sphere of human engagement. According to Moran's (2000: 312) reading of Arendt, ‘[i]t is only in the life of action, as opposed to the life of abstract thought, that humans become fully authentic’. But in a world so drastically impoverished by the consumer paradigm, it stands to reason that the actions required to navigate said world must similarly become impoverished – for the maze is but a simple one presenting us with limited obstacles and phenomena. Moreover, for Arendt, the public space, wherein actions are undertaken, is the only one where arete is possible. Given the latter, the contraction of the empirical environment diminishes the range of actions/thoughts required for the navigation of the empirical context. How can excellence be possible, especially authentic actions and meaningful dialogue, where the world has become a collection of nigh indistinguishable objects/phenomena? What, if anything, would human beings discuss under such limiting conditions, and how, then, can they foster authentic relationships?

Perhaps most significant to the argument above is Arendt's (2018: 126) claim that ‘we have almost succeeded in levelling all human activities to the common denominator of securing the necessities of life and providing for their abundance’. Imbedded within the latter claim is the suggestion that an abundance of consumer goods may be indexed to happiness. It is this very abundance of consumer goods that transforms the empirical, malleable world into a fixed and orderly environment, thusly mitigating the nausea attendant to a world which is essentially devoid of inherent meaning. For its administration/proliferation of objects with fixed meanings, the consumer paradigm mitigates the sense of discomfort indexed to an ultimate freedom – the freedom to choose and invest meaning in an as yet undefined world. The sense of discomfort transpires in the wake not of the freedom to choose meaning, but rather in the responsibilities we incur on account of having chosen a specific meaning. At bottom, then, it is in an attempt to circumvent this responsibility that we would rather live in an empirical world replete with ready-made meanings. We therefore crave an abundance of consumer objects, since such an abundance of ready-made meanings is directly proportional to the diminution of the nausea attending to a chaotic empirical world.

Understanding this dynamic between identity formation and the stability and meaning of an orderly empirical world requires that we examine the relation between being and nothingness.

Being and Nothingness: Consoled by Bad Faith, Forsaken by Freedom

Firstly, it bears mentioning that being and nothingness respectively correspond to being-in-itself (etre en-soi, which refers to the malleable empirical world) and being-for-itself (pour-soi, or consciousness). According to Moran (2000: 357), being-for-itself, or consciousness, ‘is always described . . . as an irruption into being, or as a fissure in being’. Moreover, in his The Transcendence of the Ego (2004b: 1), Sartre states that he ‘should like to show here that the ego is neither formally nor materially in consciousness: it is outside, in the world; it is a being in the world, like the ego of another’. Consciousness, then, is an emptiness of sorts, a nothingness, that acquires its contents from the objects at which it is intentionally aimed. Consequently, then, it may be ventured that the nothingness of consciousness finds meaning out there in the empirical world. ‘Being in-itself then is not present as such . . . as most being is made present through consciousness’ (Moran 2000: 357). Furthermore, Moran states the following:

Radically . . . Sartre insists that the meaning-giving function is a completely free act of consciousness. Humans give meaning to things by wrapping them up in their projects. In short, there is, for Sartre, only being in-itself on the one hand, and human projects on the other. These projects are attempts of consciousness to achieve being in-itself while still remaining conscious. (Moran 2000: 357)

Consciousness is inchoate and strives to become a something through the adoption of the meanings it, consciousness, by virtue of intentionality and projects, attributes to the malleable and disorderly empirical world. As consciousness also represents the seat of our identities, it may further be purported that identity is in fact out there in the world, not inside us. Thusly it may further be ventured that we are what we are – having a concept of self, as it were – only through our interactions with the exterior, empirical world. So construed, the confounding realisation that we are essentially devoid of content, is mitigated by appropriating as many empirical objects as possible; for therein reside our identities. The greater the proliferation of consumer goods within our direct milieus, the greater presence of intentionality – the very thing we avail ourselves of during our projects of self-definition.

Now, it bears mentioning that the Sartrean notions of freedom and bad faith may here be deployed due to their seeming utility and potential to address the limiting parameters set by the consumer paradigm, albeit the case that they fail, finally, to do just this.

As the following section sets out to address the notions of freedom (authenticity) and bad faith (inauthenticity), it bears mentioning that Sartre (Moran 2000: 388) believes that ‘[b]eing inauthentic means being in flight from one's freedom, attempting to cover it by clinging to a persona’. Again, here, it is emphasised that humans attempt to quell the nausea attendant to the nothingness that is being-in-itself. For being-in-itself remains an inchoate kind of nothingness right up to the point when we invest it with meaning. However, such an investment of meaning creates a chain of ‘meaningful’ events, the consequences of which we have to bear the brunt of; for it is us, in the first place, that attributed meaning to an event or object and thereby, through a causal transference of properties from the initial ‘meaning-attribution’ to the consequent eventualities, set ourselves upon a particular trajectory of meanings – contingent though they may be. Moreover, the creation and investment of meaning by the experiencing subject suggest that, in the first place, such meanings did not exist within consciousness. In agreement with Sartre, then, it may be argued that the true nothingness resides within the breast of each individual – hence our desperate attempts to conjure meaning where there be none and then proceed to colour the ontic world with such fabricated meanings. Though they be fabricated, these meanings offer a modicum of order to the world, which means that it enables us to navigate an otherwise inscrutable, unintelligible world. In short, then, ‘tis through meaning attribution that we escape the nothingness that is in fact consciousness.

As we have seen in a previous section on consumer culture, it is the individual's desire to be a fixed and unique entity that gives rise to the propensity towards the acquisition of consumer objects, that will distinguish them from others. In an attempt to differentiate themselves, individuals partake of this proclivity towards consumption. In the hopes of addressing the moveability of nature, then, the individual acquires and consumes signifiers of happiness and fixity and tries to achieve a state of reified differentiation from others. Sartre calls this bad faith. He draws a distinction between fixity and transcendence, stating clearly that at each step along the way of human existence we are confronted by the ‘combinatorial structure of human existence: that human beings are a combination of facticity and transcendence. Whatever may be considered true is therefore provisional. Because this combination is inherently unstable, human beings are in danger of accentuating one rather than the other combinatorial aspect’ (Cerbone 2010: 92).3 What is meant by transcendence is one's ability always to be more than one's facticity. Facticity refers to the fact that we always already find ourselves in a situation and, as such, are subject to certain concrete conditions.

Consider Sartre's famous example of the café waiter. I might, for instance, be a café waiter, but the roles and the functions of being such need not dictate my every move. I can, at times, also transcend this role and be something else. So construed, the role I play as a waiter need not exhaust my whole being, allowing me the space and time to transcend this specific role. The latter would be an example of transcendence. To get caught up in being just a waiter – to fulfil my duties as an actor would his role – would mean a denial of the possibility of transcending my role as a waiter and is an instance of bad faith. On the other hand, however, I am a café waiter – not necessarily in the manner that an inkwell is an inkwell and cannot transcend its own function – and would be remiss in denying the factual, concrete aspects of my existence. As such, dissociating myself from the roles and duties to be discharged in service of my vocation would equally amount to bad faith. Thus, if I associate only with the transcendence of my concrete situation, I lapse into bad faith all the same. As Cerbone puts it: ‘In other words, human beings lapse into bad faith whenever they are tempted to assert identity claims with any finality (this is who I am or what I am all about) or to deny that anything serves to identify them’ (2010: 92).

We shall focus on the first instance of bad faith – that of denying the possibility of alternative modes of being and rejecting finally the possibility of transcendence. The only reason why someone would reject their possibility of transcendence is to make of themselves a thing – a unique thing that may be differentiated from others. It is in this spirit that individuals attempt to deny their malleability and so escape the lack of fixity that haunts human existence. In light of this lack of fixity, we may never achieve a firm handle on who we are, and as such fail to set ourselves apart from others.

According to Sartre, we, humans, are malleable, contingent4 things, always being what we are not and not being what we are. According to Sartre (1984: 120), this means ‘that the being of consciousness does not coincide with itself in full equivalence’. In other words, we are what we are not insofar as we are committed to specific roles and functions but are capable of being something else. We are not what we are, on the other hand, insofar as we are the different possibilities that we at present do not realise. The ‘natural attitude’ of human beings – which refers to the inclination of people to place stock in an unmediated world intuitively understood (Husserl 2014: 48) – would be to escape5 this duality of existence, our freedom, and to become something fixed – the acquisition of a final identity that may be told apart from other identities and that may be said to be unique.

Upon this desire the consumer paradigm preys and promises us a kind of fixity, an escape from the fundamental malleability that underpins human existence and causes in Sartre's view so much anguish. It is to be noted that it is the atomistic impulse towards self-differentiation that drives human action and, consequently, leads them into the domain of bad faith. The unfortunate upshot of this is that the fixity achieved by the individuals subject to the consumer ideology is such that it collectivises the individuals. Rather than setting them apart, consumers fall prey to the ideological homogenisation of their status as epistemic beings. As was noted earlier, this brings them into such close epistemic proximity that all alternative modes of being are neutered and dispensed with, concomitantly also doing away with the conditions of significant dialogue and the possibility of meaningful relation. According to Sartre,

if the “natural attitude” appears in its entirety as an effort that consciousness makes to escape from itself by projecting itself into the me and absorbing itself in it, and if this effort is never completely rewarded, if it merely needs an act of simple reflection for conscious spontaneity to tear itself brusquely away from the I and give itself as independent . . . it is no longer an intellectual method, a skilled procedure. It is an anguish that imposes itself on us and that we cannot avoid. (Satre 2004b: 49)

As such, the ‘natural attitude’ to deny oneself in bad faith is a propensity to be found within every agent and will most likely be underpinned by a desire to fix his/her identity finally through a commitment to either a reified factual interpretation of the self or through an adoption of transcendence, at all costs, of his/her concrete circumstances.

But, says Sartre, resolution of the problem of bad faith are to be found in what he calls freedom. Freedom, he claims, is the first condition of action. ‘To act’, Sartre states, ‘is to modify the shape of the world; it is to arrange means in view of an end; it is to produce an organized instrumental complex such that by a series of concatenations and connections the modification effected on one of the links causes modifications throughout the whole series and finally produces an anticipated result’ (1984: 559).

An action, on principle, must be intentional. Knowledge of the anticipated result and the desire to bring about said result are conditions of acting intentionally. For one who acts carelessly and accidentally brings about a certain effect, according to Sartre, has not really acted. However, one who anticipates a result and then performs the requisite actions has, in fact, acted. Intentionality, then, is key to action and supposes in the first place also the current absence of the desired result. For if the result were already achieved, there would be no need of an intention to bring it about. The act itself, then, is based on a nothingness – the non-existence of the desired result. This nothingness, or current lack of the desired result, may thus be construed as the cause of the action and intention may be seen as the creation of the cause that prompts action. Thus, we intend a state of affairs that not yet exists, and this intention serves as the impulse that guides our actions. The cause for actions, then, is to be found in the intentionality of consciousness. Thus, Sartre argues, the intentionality of consciousness constitutes an instance of freedom.

However, is it not possible that our circumstances dictate what we intend to create through our actions? If this is the case, freedom is nothing more than the upsurge of an inclination following in the wake of the past we had already lived – our concrete, factual context.

According to Cerbone (2010: 93), ‘Sartre holds that since human beings, as conscious beings, are non-self-coinciding, they are also beings whose mode of existence is freedom’. We are, as Sartre says, ‘condemned to be free’, ‘precisely because we are not fully determined, and so incapable of being summarized by a standing body of facts’ (ibid.). Our freedom and anguish are enmeshed together and provide us with the very basis of freedom. It is thus the task of every individual, though constrained by their facticity and hurled in a direction by their concrete circumstances, to choose either the continuation of their facticity or, through the transcendence thereof, its cessation. Whichever way an individual chooses, however, they must realise that it is their freedom to choose that imposes upon them the responsibility for accepting the life they bring to bear through said choices. For, as Sartre famously states, ‘with man the relation of existence to essence is not comparable to what it is for the things of the world’ (2005: 154), and as such essence comes into being post facto as a kind of meaning through the decisions we make. But in so choosing, freedom requires of us to acknowledge the fact that the meaning which so transpires in the wake of our intentions and actions is a meaning we bear responsibility for. Freedom, as such, is the necessary freedom we have to create from our current circumstances a new future for ourselves – a future for which we alone bear the responsibility.

Sartre (2007: 48) explains: ‘When I affirm that freedom, under any concrete circumstance, can have no other aim than itself, and once a man realizes, in his state of abandonment, that it is he who imposes values, he can will but one thing: freedom as the foundation of all values.’ This serves to explain how and why humans have to take responsibility for their actions and for what the world becomes for them. However, willing one's own freedom, according to Sartre (2007: 49), also means willing the freedom of others; for one cannot concede a freedom for oneself as a social being without also willing and conceding the freedom of other human beings. This brings to the fore the problem of the collective psyche. For in conceding that our actions are so carried out as to bring about certain effects with an end-result in mind, we must also concede that others’ actions are equally geared towards the bringing about of certain end-results. Thus, insofar as we act upon intention to create something where at present there is nothing, we must also make allowance for the creation of an order, by others, not of our own making. This situates us squarely within the framework of a society.

Where this society is of a consumerist nature, it may be argued that Sartre's freedom might very well fail to provide the buffer against bad faith he claims it to be. The latter argument is based on the idea that, within an individualistic community geared towards the satisfaction of private needs, the peer pressure would be so great as to override the possibilities of either continuation of the factual or the transcendence thereof. In fact, within such a society all that remains is the status quo – that of the pursuit of a demonstrable happiness. Under such conditions, even though primacy is afforded to the factual reification of selves distinguishable from others, the continuation of the factual is not really a choice at all, but rather represents an unmeditated desire to be differentiated from others.

It appears that Sartre's notion of freedom must fail to account for the choices made under the rule specifically of the consumer paradigm. People have the freedom to choose, but what they choose will most likely be the creation of a future that, according to the subject, best describes them as differentiated individuals. The consumer paradigm provides them with the means of attaining this latter brand of demonstrable differentiation and, with it, also a kind of egalitarian happiness. Moreover, the consumer paradigm, for its proliferation of like objects, homogenises the life world. Within such a world, the choices to be made by individuals are between like objects and, likely, like eventualities. What difference does it then make that one can choose either this or that factual stance. And then, if one were to decide on the transcendence of the homogeneous factual situation which is the consumer world, one's transcendence would, as would be the case with others, issue forth from the same origin – a homogeneous life world. If transcendence is to be thought of as a negation of one's factual situation, and if all factual situations are the same, then it follows that all negations of the factual situation at large would be, similarly, of the same ilk. Thus, even should one decide to transcend the homogenous facticity of one's shared life world, one would merely focus on negating the factual situation and not necessarily work towards a bespoke meaning of life. The ego, thus, remains indebted to its origins in the consumer paradigm and must, facticity or transcendence notwithstanding, carry in its breast the vestiges of the consumer ideology.

It is our contention that a paradigm shift – one in which self-authentication is not taken by each individual to be the chief goal in life – may aid us in recovering the distance between people needed to actually tell them apart. If we are to make such a paradigm shift, however, we would have to dispense with the atomistic desire to self-authenticate within the confines of the consumer paradigm. The problem, then, it would appear, is the consumer paradigm itself; for it elicits among the members of a community the desire to de-collectivise and brings to the fore the desire to self-authenticate. Therein lies the problem: every individual attempts self-authentication and, as such, sets themselves on a path similar to every other individual. We thus need a system in which primacy is not given to the paradoxical collective differentiation of individuals from one another. We need a system, perhaps, which highlights the heterogeneity of the collective, not the autonomy of the individual. We need a system wherein people may be considered different not due to the objects they surround themselves with, but rather due to the sundry roles played by various individuals. African communalism, for its emphasis on the wellbeing of the group, allows for the delineation of various roles, which in turn allows for the differentiation of people within said community. The shift in focus, then, needs to be from objects as markers of individuation to roles played within a community as markers of identity.

African Communitarianism

I should like to commence the following section with an explanation of why I have here chosen to avail myself of a Senghor-derived account of personhood, instead of incorporating more recent accounts thereof. Firstly, the idea that personhood is achieved, as will become clear upon perusal of the next section, asymptotically parallels the idea that one creates meaning through transcendence and the fulfilment of specific duties. This stands in stark contrast to the idea that everybody pursues the same goals, availing themselves of the same means, objects, and phenomena. The traditional account of personhood serves the purpose of emphasising the importance of an individual's adoption of a unique function within the community, thereby differentiating him or herself from others, in turn again restoring the epistemic distance requisite for authentic being and meaningful relationships.

An African communalist perspective might fare better against this trap of homogenisation precisely for its focus not on the individual, but on the community instead. Referring to an African communalist perspective of self, Louise Kretzschmar (2013: 35) intones that ‘[p]ersonhood and personal morality develop through relationships in the context of community’. John Mbiti's popular adaptation of Descarte's Cogito ergo sum also underscores the primacy of community in the formation of personhood and reads as follows: ‘I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am’ (1969: 108). As per an African communalist stance towards personhood, identity can only be analysed as a relation between people: ‘Africa's recent intellectual movements have tried to give communitarianism a robust and prescriptive status. Claims that the values of community override the freedoms and rights of the individual pervaded much of the nationalist rhetoric which was associated with independence movements in the 1960s’ (Masolo 2004: 488). The latter transpired due to the desire in postcolonial Africa to create a political Africa distinct in principle from the Africa erected by its colonisers. The aim was to create an anti-capitalist Africa, with her political programme firmly rooted in Africa's indigenous histories and social structures. Whilst allowing for cultural diversity and the heterogeneity of different nations, the programme loosely translated into a form of African socialism. But, as is indicated earlier, this socialism meant different things for different African groups of people. For some, it represented a form of altruism; for others, it represented religious ideology. According to Senghor, pioneer communitarian thinker, for most it meant an Africa focused on the centrality of communal values and the priority of the community over that of the individual (Senghor 1964: 77).

According to Masolo (2004: 489), ‘Senghor traces the African's tendency toward communitarianism to a way of life rooted in his experience of the world’. As such, the African view of communitarianism places stock in the way African people feel and think in union with his or her fellow human beings, but also in union with all of creation, including animate and inanimate objects such as animals, God, minerals, etc. This indicates how the African ‘self’ is one embroiled in the totality of the world that surrounds it – it participates in and embraces the natural world around it rather than relating to it cognitively from a distance.

Moreover, Masolo (2004: 490) contends that in traditional Akan thinking, ‘[e]very individual self is constituted of a nommo, a nyama and a kikinu say, all being spiritual forces from the Dogon metaphysical (ancestral) storage’. From these forces issue all human characteristics as members of the human species as well as members of specific clans and tribes. These forces provide the content for individuals as differentiated, authentic human beings. Kikinu say provides the driving force behind an individual's capacity for rational thought. Masolo (ibid.) further contends that, ‘[i]n union with another element, nani, it is the individuating principle which makes every individual unique from every other. In other words, the uniqueness of individuals is manifested . . . through their moral and intellectual dispositions which they, in turn, reveal through their public behaviour’. From this, it is yet again clear that the individual is fashioned as an individuated being through his behaviour within a community. His/her behaviour, in turn, refers us to the discharge of various duties germane to the wellbeing of the community itself; the individual is free, and as such an autonomous being insofar as he/she decides through which duties he/she will benefit the community. Thus, although the wellbeing of the community enjoys precedence over the needs and desires of the individual, its specific structure and composition is such that it allows the individual a certain degree of latitude in being this or that kind of human being. There are many ways of being a good person – a person whose actions will benefit the community – and the African communal context is not only cognisant of this, but also fosters such differentiated courses of action that would allow the individual a degree of autonomy.

‘In African modes of thought, personhood is a concept closely related to the defining capacities of humans’ (Masolo, 2004: 491). Those aspects that define personhood are believed to be acquired from a person's socio-ontological beginnings and then learning to apply those capacities in a socially acceptable manner. This means that, albeit the case that a person is born into a context, it is nonetheless through the self-chosen projects of learning to discharge these duties that a person becomes truly a person. So construed, then, acquiring personhood is a matter of education and the inheritance of socio-historical pieces of knowledge from one's forebears – a process that ‘intensifies at every stage in one's growth and development’ (Masolo 2004: 491).

Masolo further contends that becoming ‘truly a human member of a specific community occurs through communication which makes it possible for people to create coherent scenarios that articulate shared meanings’ (2004: 493). Moreover, the human mind, as an outcropping of the brain, is conceived of as the capacity to formulate ideas and is situated within the framework of the community – ‘[i]t grows and matures with the incremental change in the span of an individual's communicative world’ (ibid.). Human nature must then be community-oriented. Socialisation, thus, provides the basis upon which cognitive and moral capacities are built and is undertaken as part of a learning process. According to Wiredu (1983: 19), ‘[t]his learning process, which at the start is nothing much more than a regime of conditioning, is, in fact, the making of mind’.

As formerly noted, ‘[i]n Africa, the theoretical beginnings of communitarianism re due to the emancipatory politics of independence from European colonialism. But as an ethic of everyday life it precedes recent African political and intellectual movements. Its expression can be found in many local idioms among African communities’ (Masolo 2004: 493). African communitarianism is not a doctrine for most Africans, although most of them would be able to explain succinctly why the African mode of living represents a better way of living than any other. It is for them rather an intuited mode of being (ibid.). In this egalitarian, community-oriented manner of living, it is the good of the community that comes first, and, as such, the needs of one's fellow human being also, to a certain extent, enjoy precedence over that of one's own. The latter statement indicates that the African communitarian mode of life is rooted in the idea of interdependence – an essential part of human nature. In this sense one can speak of the metaphysics of African communitarianism. Altruism, then, is a distinct part of the African moral standpoint and provides the principle in accordance with which the actions of individuals may be said to be conducive to the realisation of the goals of others. So construed, the aid of particular individuals to others may be said to be conducive to the fulfilment of others’ potential. It is, therefore, at bottom, an ethic of egalitarianism. ‘It is expected that everyone should carry their share of the responsibility for creating humane conditions of life for everyone’ (Masolo 2004: 494).

Moreover, African communitarianism oversees the distribution of wealth in accordance with the principle of need. ‘The individualistic alternative, well articulated in Western liberal social theory since Locke, is that the individual has sole rights to the results of his or her labor, which, in turn, is the effect of his or her individualized capacities’ (Masolo 2004: 494). As such, the latter statement indicates how, within the Western paradigm of liberalism, and also the consumer paradigm, the pursuit of wealth is mainly an individualistic affair, geared towards the accumulation of goods and the expression of self. According to Minka Woermann (2013: 144), Locke argues ‘that each person possesses natural, negative rights. A natural right is a right we possess independently from any social or political institutions, whereas a negative right obliges inaction or non-interference’. As opposed to African communitarianism, then, the libertarian theory of the distribution of wealth suggests that, where a person has become the possessor of certain goods or wealth in accordance with a contractarian view of possession, he or she is entitled to such goods or wealth. This stands in stark contrast to the African distributive ethic as an economy of affection: ‘Libertarians would argue that “the communalist ethic contradicts one of the primary objectives of modern liberal economics, namely, the ability of individuals to increase and diversify the quality of their own life through access to modern consumer goods and benefits”’ (Masolo 2004: 494). African communitarianism, rather, builds on empathy as a means of the distribution of wealth.

If African communitarianism is to provide a feasible alternative to the consumer paradigm's atomistic approach to identity formation, we need also look at the rights of the individual. It would be unwise to suggest in the place of the homogenising consumer paradigm a system that, for its part, dismissed the rights of the individual. For rights, though not the only premises upon which autonomy may be said to be built, nonetheless form an integral part of what we consider to be a free person. From the discussion leading up to this point, it would appear as though a communitarian ethos dispenses with the rights of the individual in favour of the benefit of the community as a whole.

Masolo, however, opposes the wholesale dismissal of individual liberties for the sake of the common good and argues rather that communitarianism has both benefits as well as burdens for the individual. On the whole, he argues that communitarianism need not be as oppressive of individual rights as is commonly thought. He argues that the individual, within the communitarian context, can and must be different from other individuals, and that their rights cannot be revoked willy-nilly. However, he also argues that the individual within the latter context must acknowledge the fact that to exist within a shared space requires that each individual not be indifferent to the plight of the other, in specific, and the community, at large. ‘The ethics of participatory difference requires of everyone a responsibility towards those with whom they share a social space. Everyone is called upon to make a difference by contributing to the creation of the humane conditions which, at least, conduce to the reduction of unhappiness and suffering’ (Masolo 2004: 495). It is clear, from the latter, that communitarianism need not call for the complete subjugation of the individual to the needs and duties of the community, but rather that the individual, within a shared space, will of his or her own accord endeavour to act in such a way as to uplift the community. Masolo then also refers to Gyekye – a famous defendant of a more moderate version of communitarianism – claiming that the latter thinks it possible to reconcile the notion of personal liberties with a communalist approach to the common good. Personal liberties and communitarianism, so construed, thus need not be incompatible. ‘The critique of liberal individualism latent in African communitarianism is, therefore, not a rejection of the value of individuality; rather, it merely envisages an alternative way of pursuing it in the human community’ (Masolo 2004: 495).

Rights and Duties within the Moderate African Communal System

We are at pains to prove two seemingly disparate notions. Firstly, that within a communitarian system, duties towards the community – in specific their fulfilment – are what confers upon the individual human being the title of person. As such, the community's functioning enjoys priority over the needs and requirements of the individual. This has the seeming effect of absorbing totally the individual within the workings of the community and rendering moot the ideas of volition and freedom. Secondly, that within a system geared towards the prioritisation of the community's needs and requirements, the individual can still be seen as free and autonomous. It is in the former sense that an individual may be seen as authentic; for their discharge of duties specific to their station, they are set apart from their fellow human beings. However, in the latter sense, the requirement that the individual subjugates his/her needs to that of the community implies a loss of volition, autonomy and freedom. Perhaps a moderate version of communalism might allow for the importance of duties towards the upliftment of the community as a whole while at the same time also allowing for those rights generally associated with autonomy and freedom.

According to Gyekye (2002: 312),

[c]ommunitarian . . . theory, which considers the community as a fundamental human good, advocates a life lived in harmony and cooperation with others, a life of mutual consideration and aid and of interdependence, a life in which one shares in the fate of the other – bearing one another up – a life which provides a viable framework for the fulfilment of the individual's nature or potentials, a life in which the products of the exercise of an individual's talents or endowments are (nevertheless) regarded as the assets of the community as such, a life free from hostility and confrontation: such a life, according to the theory, is most rewarding and fulfilling.

The latter quote serves to highlight Gyekye's emphasis on both individual rights and duties, autonomy and community, liberty and liability. The ideal community, then, is one wherein the individual's exercise of rights is not to be taken as necessarily antithetical to the advancement of the community, but that the exercise of rights may in fact be conducive to the upliftment of the community. This stems from the fact that certain rights, and their attendant duties, have in mind the wellbeing of others as well as the self and that, as such, the exercising of these rights would not necessarily lead to a community wherein the priority of the community and its wellbeing is subjugated to the needs and rights of the individual. Let us take a closer look at what is meant by rights and, more generally, moderate communalism.

Gyekye advances an argument in favour of rights based on rational grounds. He suggests that we need only look to human nature to discern those qualities in humans that will dispose them in a manner conducive not only to their own private development, but also conducive to the development of the community. Gyekye (2002: 307) contends that ‘Immanuel Kant, on the basis of his rational analysis, grounds the notion of human dignity or intrinsic worth on the capacity of the person for moral autonomy, i.e. rational freedom. Thus conceived, argues Kant, the person ought to be treated as an end in himself’. Thusly, Kant arrives at a notion of rights which he terms innate rights and which belong to everybody concomitantly. As these rights naturally belong to everyone simultaneously, it undermines the idea of individualism. ‘In other words, the derivation of individual rights from naturalism . . . cannot be confined to an individualistic framework; the derivation is not an activity or characteristic or a possibility solely of an individualistic social ambience’ (Gyekye 2002: 308). Moreover, from a practical standpoint, communalism must take stock of the fact that the development of personal talents and qualities would also be for the benefit of the community. For when developing one's own talents and expertise, one becomes a better version of the self, enabling one to be of greater service to the community. The development of each individual's talents and the observance of their rights would thus be to the benefit of the community. A moderate communalist approach would thus not only focus on the duties of each individual towards the community, but also, if it is to uphold its prioritisation of the community over the individual, make sure that each individual is in a fit state to contribute meaningfully to the wellbeing of the community; ‘even though rights belong primarily to individuals, as we said, nevertheless, insofar as their exercise will often, directly or indirectly, be valuable to the larger society, their status and roles must be recognised by communitarian theory’ (Gyekye 2002: 308).

In summation, then, the African communal paradigm, in its moderate formulation, allows the individual certain rights and, consequently, an equal degree of autonomy. It was argued that a cognizance of individual rights will allow each individual to grow into the best form of self possible and that, by doing so, the individual may be best situated to benefit the community as a whole. The principle that dictates the priority of the community over the individual is thusly honoured. Moreover, it was also argued that it is through the discharge of various duties that an individual may attain personhood, thereby setting him-/herself apart from his/her brethren. For should we construe of the community as a heterogeneous entity, it follows that the duties to be discharged are sundry and varied. When each individual is assigned the discharge of a specific duty, it follows also that said individual will be set apart from his fellow human being by virtue of being put in charge of a bespoke aspect of the community's functioning. A community is a variegated construct, with its sundry parts differing markedly from the nature of the whole. This being the case, the fulfilment of the functions corresponding to the sundry aspects of the heterogeneous community must also render the actor – the individual fulfilling the role – in equally bespoke terms. Authenticity, therefore, is a function of the heterogeneity of the community itself. Any individuals embroiled in the discharge of their duties towards the wellbeing of the community are in fact embroiled in the self-ascription of variegated attributes and are to be considered different from their fellow human beings.

Conclusion

To recapitulate, the African communalist view stands in stark contrast to consumerist atomism, which emphasises the individual's rights and basis its individuation of the individual upon the acquisition not of duties but of objects. Considering that, under the rule of consumerism, the objective landscape is homogeneous, it may be argued that individuals all acquire the same set of objects by way of which to self-differentiate, consequently establishing a community of likeminded agents. As such, every individual comes to resemble every other individual. The difference, then, between African communalism and consumerist atomism is a shift in focus from rights to duties. The latter allows the individual the opportunity to fulfil a function unique from others and therefore to be authenticated and differentiated from his/her brethren. The former, namely rights, unfortunately leads to a culture wherein everybody considers themselves discrete elements, for within the consumer paradigm, everyone considers themselves entitled to an equal status before the object. Accordingly, everybody then strives towards the acquisition of such objects as would make of them self-contained phenomena of authenticity. What happens, instead, is that a homoeomerous society is created, where every individual part, in fact every individual, comes to resemble the whole. A focus on duties towards one's heterogeneous community, on the other hand, may serve to restore self-differentiation, authenticity, and with it the epistemic distance between people required for sustaining meaningful relationships.

Communalism, on the assumption that the community is a variegated construct, restores through its requirement for the discharge of duties to the individual a unique ontological status, in accordance with which a unique epistemic status may also be inferred. To discharge one's duties is to become the other.

To summarise, then, it may be argued that diversity of thought is lost in the wake of the impoverishing consumer paradigm. Personal referential frameworks akin to one another are adopted by individuals in the hope of setting themselves apart from one another. Sadly, however, the constellations of objects procured by each individual within a homogenised empirical world are similar to others’ constellations of objects, all requiring for their navigation and operation similar sets of actions. Thusly, a kind of uniformity is cultivated among individuals, collapsing the epistemic distance needed for both authentic being and authentic relationships. It may, in conclusion, be argued that a return to a communalist orientation will in turn resurrect the epistemic distance needed for people truly to relate meaningfully.

So, then, it all boils down to a dichotomy – the dichotomy of the Western trend towards self-differentiation, on the one hand, and, on the other, the communalist trend towards the wellbeing of the community. In case of the former, we have individuals, all fumbling and wrestling for the expansions of their personal constellations of objects – therein to find a modicum of authenticity. However, since the empirical landscape has been transformed into a homogeneous milieu of objects that require similar operational activities, those who avail themselves of these objects do, ironically, not find the self-differentiation they seek. Instead, they become more and more alike for their cultivation of similar modes of praxis and therefore forego the authenticity they so fervently covet. As a result, the epistemic distance between individuals needed for sustained dialogue is collapsed and meaningful, authentic relationships are forfeit. The latter communalist trend, however, prescribes different roles and functions to each individual in accordance with his/her talents and abilities, thusly also requiring a similar degree of variety, for each individual, in their daily operational activities. In carrying them out, individuals within communalist communities beget their identities – bespoke and authentic – within the roles they have to perform. It is the shift away from Western trends of individualistic atomism – a shift towards responsibilities and duties – that confers upon each member of said community a bespoke role and, in turn, a bespoke referential framework, resuscitating the epistemic distance between members required for authentic dialogue and relation.

Notes

1

It will later be argued that the arrangement of objects and phenomena within the empirical world is an arrangement, in part, transferred to the epistemic vista or referential framework of the individual.

2

Fixity, as a form of bespoke thinghood, is discussed by Lowe (2005: 915–916).

3

Regarding the provisional nature of truth and its nauseating malleability, see Sartre (1995: 20)

4

See Sartre's Nausea (2000: 188) for Sartre's account of the contingent nature of existence.

5

See Stumpf and Abel (2002: 416) for an account of the desire to escape our necessary freedom.

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Contributor Notes

Ettienne Smook obtained his PhD in philosophy from the University of Fort Hare in 2022. His thesis analysed the relationship between the ontic and epistemic within the consumer paradigm, concluding finally that consumerism must have an alienating effect on individuals. During the course of his studies, he lectured at both the Universities of Fort Hare and the Western Cape, focusing particularly on ethics, logic, existentialism, phenomenology and epistemology. He currently specialises as ethics consultant and philosophical counsellor. E-mail: ettiennesmook@gmail.com

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Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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