The Self Is A Social-Psychological Construct Maintained With Defenses
A call for Africans to love and respect each other!
If somebody asked you to point to you, you probably would point to your body. Are you your body? Most people separate the self from the body; they do not see themselves as their bodies. The self is the I that talks about the body. But what is that I?
If you say that the self is your body, well, let me remind you that your body is a compendium of twenty six elements, mainly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, copper, zinc and so on. Each of those elements is a different arrangement of the known three particles that make up the atom: electrons, protons and neutrons.
Hydrogen is composed of one proton and one electron; carbon is composed of six electrons, six protons and six neutrons; oxygen is composed of eight electrons, eight protons and eight neutrons; we can go down the line explicating the 92 natural elements (and 114 if you add the ones we made in labs) on Chemistry's periodic table.
If you decay (via heat, radiation) the various particles of protons and neutrons you reduce them to quarks. If you decay quarks you reduce them to light, photons. If you decay electrons you reduce them to photons.
In other words, where you see your body is really light configured differently! Light is composed of particles called photons. What are photons made of? We do not know!
During the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, light came out from nowhere and nothing, got inordinately hot and exploded to begin the formation of the material universe.
So, can we say that light came from nothing? If so your body came from nothing, right? That which came from nothing is nothing, right?
In effect, your body is nothing! Or do you think that there is something in you that is more than your body? If so what is it? Spirit, what is spirit?
I am not writing metaphysics so let us stop that line of discourse and simply say that we do not know what our real self is. This is intellectual's agnosticism; any other thing is belief. Theism is belief that there is God; atheism is belief that there is no God. We do not know that there is God or no God.
Since we do not know the ultimate truth let us right here do what is called sociology of knowledge and leave it at that without tearing our little heads trying to resolve the eternal debates of epistemology, ontology and metaphysics (in philosophy).
Each of us believes that he has a self. This is what is meant by being human. Human beings are those animal creatures that believe that they have selves. You believe that you have a self and I believe that I have a self.
I have not seen myself and you have not seen yourself. Why don't we see ourselves? It is because the self is not a tangible thing; the self is not concrete and you cannot see it. The self is an abstraction.
That self-construct is always relative to other selves. (See, Kelly, George (1955). Personality of Personal Constructs. New York: Norton).
The human self does not exist apart from other selves, for in constructing it I/you used other selves as building blocks (as reference groups). Since I am doing some sort of sociology here, see, Mannheim, Karl (1940). Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. London: Routledge.
Because the self-concept and attendant self-image is a social- psychological construct it is not real; in fact, it does not, in real terms, exist. It only exists when its maker, I/you, defends it and other people around him help him defend it (and he helps them defend their own fictional selves).
The self is a make belief thing; it is a made up thing that, in fact, does not exist apart from its maker (who is the maker...some say spirit; we shall not dwell on that here; we shall delimit ourselves to the sociology and psychology of the self, to social science).
I must defend myself for it to seem to exist for me; you must defend yourself for it to seem to exist for you; collectively, we mutually defend ourselves for them to seem to exist for us.
At the physical level we defend ourselves with food, medications, clothes, houses and all the other things we do on earth. If you did not eat food, take medications and wear clothes and live in houses you would die.
I live in Alaska. During the six months winter (October-April) we regularly have minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are outside without clothes on you will die in a few minutes. Your body would be frozen into ice (frostbite).
The point is that our bodies must be protected to survive. Thus, we enslave ourselves to doing, often, meaningless work to provide for the needs of our bodies.
Because the self is not real it must be defended to seem to exist. We all have ego defense mechanisms with which we defend ourselves, and make them seem to exist for us.
All human beings have these self-defenses; how they developed them we do not understand. All we know for sure is that people in all human groups and cultures use them. See attachment below for iteration of the fifteen most used ego defense mechanisms.
The ego separated self appears to be an illusion; it does not seem to exist but in our minds seem to exist; because they are illusions they must be defended to seem to exist.
At all times you are using the ego defenses to defend your ego and using physical defenses to defend your body.
All of society's laws, mores, norms and rules are designed to protect the ego self and its body. Formal Laws are particularly designed to make all of us respect all of us, see each of us as important and dignified (I have just given you a summary of the philosophy of law, jurisprudence by telling you that Laws exist to protect our ego selves and bodies).
Society cannot exist without laws; even the most primitive society has the rudiments of laws (rules that guide peoples behaviors otherwise people kill each other). The laws of nutrition, the laws of health and medicine exist to protect our bodies and egos.
Society and laws protect our self-construct; they protect that which are made ups and do not exist. How do we know that our selves do not exist? Find out. Point a gun at a person and pull the trigger and he is dead (as I write, in the news is an Omar Mateen who felt like killing people and went to the Pulse, a homosexuals night club at Orlando, Florida and shot up the place; he killed 50 people and wounded 53).
Any of us can be killed by any of us. I can choose and kill you and you can choose and kill me. Our lives are in each other's hands. No one is invincible.
Please get that point into your head lest you like a deluded paranoid go about thinking that you are some kind of big shot. You are nothing, literally nothing. Your body can be transformed to food for worms by any person who so wishes to do so, now!
Because each of us can destroy each of us we posited rules of behavior that require all of us to protect our lives. We bid people to love and respect each other. If I love and respect you chances are that I will not harm you; if you love and respect me chances are that you will not harm me.
When two people meet their inner selves (sub-conscious mind) quickly assess each other and evaluate each's potential to harm the other. We do not do this consciously but do it, anyway. If I meet you, a part of my mind that I am not conscious of judges whether you love and respect me and if I feel yes I relax around you with the understanding that you will not harm me and you do the same to me.
Haven't you seen people that for reasons you do not fully understand you feel uncomfortable around them and quickly walk away from them? Something in you judges them a threat to your physical and psychological existence, so to survive you avoid such persons' presence.
In social interaction we want all those around us to reassure us that they love and respect us; we want all people to treat us as if we have dignity and matter to them (we, of course, do not matter since if they choose to they can kill us).
IGBOS DISRESPECT OF PEOPLE THREATEN THEIR SURVIVAL
Many Igbos tend to treat their neighbors without love and respect. Hausas and Yorubas and other Nigerians around Igbos sense that Igbos do not love and respect them. Therefore, they feel that Igbos could harm them. They see Igbos as a threat to their survival. Because they want to live as social constructs they necessarily do not like Igbos presence for Igbos disrespect of them threaten to destroy their self-concepts.
Ten years ago, a lady friend in London, England referred me to Nigerian Internet forums. I joined and beheld Igbos verbally abusing other Nigerians, calling them every put down names they could muster. I felt annoyed and wanted to leave. A part of me said that there is a reason why I was referred to this lunatic joint and for me to do something about the lunacy. Thus, I undertook to write on psychological matters; I talked about the role of respect in maintaining human society.
The normal person has good self-esteem; that is, he values who he thinks that he is; he says that his self-construct is good and works to provide food and material things for it.
Now, if you devalue a person's self-esteem by putting it down you have attacked it and want to kill it. Every time you call someone insulting names he feels attacked by you, he feels his life threatened by you and feels fear and anger.
Depending on who he is, the insulted person could counter insult you or walk away from you. If he is a middle class white American and you insulted him he would simply walk away from you and thereafter avoid you. In his mind he would see you as a savage and wants nothing to do with you.
If you insult a typical Yoruba he fights back and insults you. If you insult a Hausa man he would avoid you but is very angry at you (Hausas join Nigerian Internet forums and quickly leave for they do not want to subject themselves to the degrading name calling by other Nigerians).
The self is not real; it is a social, psychological construct; one must defend it with physical and psychological things for it to seem to exist. If you insult it you have attacked it and could destroy it; the person you insulted feels threatened and either counter insult you or walks away from you (some would physically attack you, even kill you).
Those who have self-concepts and live in bodies want you to respect and love their selves and bodies. If you insult their selves and bodies they will not like you and some may attack you.
The major cause of war is when a group's sense of prestige is lowered by their disrespectful neighbors.
Perform this experiment. Call the English queen a bloody cunt; if you do, I bet you that the typical Englishman will automatically slap your filthy mouth. Why?
The Queen represents what England stands for; she is the symbolic English self-concept and if you insult it you have insulted all Englishmen and they would fight you. Did you get the point?
If you did, then do not ever insult the English monarch, or Yoruba Oba or Hausa- Fulani Emir. People band together to defend themselves against those who attack them, especially against those who attacked their leaders.
In this light when Igbos disrespect other Nigerians self-constructs, especially their leaders what do you think is going to happen? Those insulted feel threatened and react with anger.
To be civilized is to love and respect all people; to be uncivilized is to not love and respect other people; if you do not respect people you invite conflict and war and live in unstable society, in chaos, as in Nigeria.
If you desire peace around you treat the person in front of you with total respect. Treat men, women and children, white or black, Igbo or Hausa with love and respect.
It is in loving and respecting all human beings that we obtain individual and social peace and happiness.
In this brief essay, I observed that the self does not seem to exist, in fact, but is imaginary; the self is a mental construct that we must defend to make it seem to exist and survive (albeit temporarily). We must all respect and love the self to help its owner feel safe around us.
Because the self, as we know it, is a social-psychological construct the question arises as to who constructed it? Is it merely epiphenomenal, the product of the dance of particles and atoms in our brains? The atheist (materialist) says yes.
The idealist says that there is more to people than their bodies; religionists posit the existence of spirit as the actuating force in people. That may be true or may not be true. I am not here going to get into religion and spirituality; there are other places for doing that sort of thing.
Science does not accept any proposition on faith. Therefore, let us leave faith aside and mainly follow the scientific method; in following the scientific methodological approach to phenomena we accept only what we can verify and or falsify.
We can verify that the self is a mental construct and that apart from belief in it does not seem to exist. We defend our fictional selves and feel safe if our neighbors help us defend them.
Therefore, if you are rational you love and respect other people; if you do not love and respect people they will feel unsafe around you and some will attack you to remove the source of threat to their selves.
If you want to stay alive, therefore, pure reason and human experience urges you to love and respect people. Love and respect for other people is not just doing them a favor, it is also doing you a favor, for it is what keeps you alive.
Love and respect people; stop putting people down (when you insult people you ask them to attack and kill you). Your safety and survival lies in respecting your neighbors.
Following the urge of your emotions to degrade people is childish. It is childish because in doing so you ignore the reality that those you humiliate have it in their hands to kill you. It may make you feel good to belittle people but that belittlement may be the last word that came out of your mouth before you are sent to your grave.
This is why civilized people respect their neighbors. Primitive people are not aware of the existential reality that their lives are in other people's hands; they have the delusion that they are invincible hence they insult people and think that they can get away with it. No one is invincible; therefore, your safety and survival requires you to always be polite and courteous in talking to other people.
White folks generally avoid the company of black folks and Africans because, among other reasons, they do not want to subject themselves to constant verbal abuses!
Those who perpetually say negative things about each other tend to develop low self-esteem. High self-esteem is correlated with high productivity.
It can be argued that Nigerians, Africans and black people in general are less productive because they have low self-esteem, low self-esteem engendered in them by their tendency to perpetually insult each other.
It follows that to become a productive people Africans have to learn to love and respect one another and all people and do so at all times. The only rational approach to all human beings is love and respect for them. Hate and disrespect is mental disorder!
Perhaps Africans shameful history of enslaving each other led them to develop disregard for themselves. It is now time that that mental disorder is healed and Africans respected their people and in the process become a productive people who contributed to the world of science and technology.
Kelly, George (1955). Psychology of Personal Constructs. New York: Norton.
Mannheim, Karl (1980). Structures of Thinking. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Mannheim, Karl (1986). Conservatism. A Contribution to the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Mannheim, Karl (1940). Man and Society in an Age of Reconstruction. London: Routledge.
Mannheim, Karl (1936). Ideology and Utopia. London: Routledge.
Mannheim, Karl (1950). "Freedom, Power, and Democratic Planning." Oxford University Press.
Mannheim, Karl (2001). Sociology as Political Education. New Brunswick, NJ. Transaction.
Mannheim, Karl (1993). From Karl Mannheim. New Brunswick, NJ. Transaction.
Ozodi Osuji, PhD
June 16, 2016