Monday, February 25, 2008

Object/Subject

I'd like to start out with something I said yesterday in Buhdy's essay.

If we are going to put an end to the MICMC, it means finding another way to structure our lives and our relationships. It means getting rid of greed/power over/hierarchy. And I think we are just in the infancy stages of learning what the alternatives might be. We have a lot of work to do in our own lives to recreate the cultural myths and memes that have predominately served the interests of the MICMC.


To me, one of the "memes" that needs to be identified and challenged is the tendency to "objectify" others. Once we have created distance from someone's humanity and given them a label, its easy to dismiss them. It also leaves the door open for hatred and violence. We've all recognized this use of objectification in a time of war. In order to kill someone up close and personal, its easier if you think of them as a kraut, gook, or raghead.

I'll never forget reading "All Quiet on the Western Front" and coming across this scene. Its a powerful example of an object - the enemy - becoming a "subject" in the heat of the battle.



But my concerns about objectification in our culture go beyond its ability to justify war. Certainly racism and sexism could not exist without the distance provided by making someone an object rather than a human being. And the very notion that capitalism has become our god in this culture has too often reduced human beings to nothing more than producers and consumers.

But I'd like to give you an example of this struggle in my own life and the questions it raises for me. I've been the Director of a non-profit organization for 17 years. Its pretty small - there are only about 25 of us all together who work here. In the last 7-8 years, I've felt pretty good about my success in figuring out how to do this job (Yeah, that means it took me almost 10 to get there. I'm a slow learner). Many have questioned when I'm going to move on to the next challenge and that usually means they think I should take a similar job with a larger organization. There's a whole message there about our assumption that we all should be "moving up" all the time, but that's not my point right now.

One of the reasons I have chosen to stay in the same job is that I don't know if its possible to work in a large organization and still embrace the mission and staff with a sense of the subjective. At what point do those you serve and those you work with become objects rather than human beings? I see this happen all the time with my counterparts in large organizations. Perhaps its not inevitable, but fighting the tendency would take a lot of focus.

Overall, I think our culture has swung into a huge embrace of objectification. I even see it in the staff I work with. Some of them can be prone to see a client as a "problem to be solved" rather than a human being to be engaged. It is in that kind of practice that too many of our social and human services have failed to have an impact. It sometimes leads to people not having their real need addressed and at other times to the kind of dependency that social services are rightly criticized for developing.

I have lots of questions about how subjectivity can be maintained with the scale of systems we've developed in our world, especially in our government, schools, and social services. It seems to me that the bigger these systems get, the more there is a complete lack of subjectivity until ultimately its gone from the system altogether. And the more people are treated as objects, the more easily they loose their humanity and can be dismissed. It can me messy and complicated to treat someone as the individual that subjectivity demands, but if we are going to be effective in addressing the needs of people, we've got to figure that out, don't we?

1 comment:

  1. As always, your words strike a chord with me.

    Once I was confounded by the prospect of loving everyone. It seemed a huge and overwhelming goal. Yes, of course, I could grasp it intellectually and philosophically, but the actuality of it seemed extra-human in its accomplishment.

    Then my wise unseen adviser explained to me that it is much more simple to accomplish if you just love the one right in front of you at any moment in time and continue to hold the larger view.

    I must say that for me, that was the answer. Just love the one right in front of me and in so doing I can love all.

    Indeed it is the dehumanizing of the groups, the objectifying of them that keeps us from seeing each one of us as a beautiful, unique and special individual.

    I could never relate to the "striving ever upward" in the sense of bigger, more grand positions in bigger more grand organizations. I think when we find a fit, wherever we find it, there is nothing more fulfilling than doing a bigger and more grand work within that fit.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Hugs,
    Shirl

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