Some (inchoate) thoughts on under-determination and over-identification

“Monogamy is a way of getting the versions of ourselves down to the minimum.”
― Adam Phillips, Monogamy

Identity is the Ur-form of ideology
–Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics

Talking to Douglas Lain this afternoon while grading papers, he was explaining some of his ideas on over-identification. I won’t share them as he is writing an essay, and while I may an accidental plagarist, I am generally not that much of an asshole to friends. It occured to me, however, that there is a relationship between under-determination and over-identification.

I suppose this is obvious: the way people who need to reduce causes into narratives that simple and have single factor origins. We see this trend in science–ignoring, of course, that social sciences actually use similar controls as “base” sciences but the not of factors that can be correlating or even playing casual role in a complex social development may not be reducible to single factors for which one can control. We definitely see this in political identify.

Over-identification can be anything by which we try to sure up our self image, reducing cogntive dissoance, and make our lives more coherent than they are. For whatever reason, and I will leave this to more speculative anthropological psychology, we feel the need for coherence to imply both narrative and consistency, and identifying with this narrative of the self seems vital to our view of the world.

One thinks of the tendency to idealize and demonization lovers–often the former flipping easily into the latter. One thinks of David Horowitz going from Maoist to hyper-conservative. The reduction of ideas to simple narratives–understandable, and generally wrong–plays into the an attempt to derive an identity.

The question becomes if we admit that over-determination of social events explains more than reduction, what do we have defining “us” as “radicals”?

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4 thoughts on “Some (inchoate) thoughts on under-determination and over-identification

  1. This is a highly overdetermined version of what overdetermination is. But i guess its good for discourses rooted in justifying metaphysical truths. 😀

  2. That is a nice set of thoughts.

    “Identity is the Ur-form of ideolgy
    –Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics”

    I’ve never known what to make of this view of ideology.

    The etymology directly translates as a science or body of knowledge of ideas. It is more typically taken as just a set of ideas, whether systematized or loosely linked. One way or another, the central aspect is that of ideas.

    So, is identity the Ur-form of ideas?

    “Over-identification can be anything by which we try to sure up our self image, reducing cogntive dissoance, and make our lives more coherent than they are.”

    I wonder how that would then relate to the research showing people have variance in tolerance for cognitive dissonance. If one has too little self coherence, it would certainly make it difficult to live in a society where most people demand high self coherence.

    “For whatever reason, and I will leave this to more speculative anthropological psychology, we feel the need for coherence to imply both narrative and consistency, and identifying with this narrative of the self seems vital to our view of the world.”

    Are all societies based on high self coherence? To answer that would be speculative anthropological psychology.

    That issue has been on my mind lately. Modern individuality requires high self coherence. But the hypothesis of the bicameral mind posits that wasn’t always the case. According to theory, self-conscious interiorized individuality developed at the same time as abstract thought. This goes back to ideas being the core of ideology.

    “One thinks of the tendency to idealize and demonization lovers–often the former flipping easily into the latter. One thinks of David Horowitz going from Maoist to hyper-conservative. The reduction of ideas to simple narratives–understandable, and generally wrong–plays into the an attempt to derive an identity.”

    That is something that has interested me for a long time. There is the example of progressives becoming neoconservatives. I think this is the basic process of how a progressive reform-minded liberal like Burke could become a reactionary and inspire modern conservatism.

    You know how I often say that I’m not ideologically dogmatic. I’ve explained that what I meant is that I lack ideological loyalty. The psychological explanation is just that I have higher than average tolerance for cognitive dissonance. It bothers me less that reality (or rather my understanding of reality) is less than perfectly coherent and I’ve grown to accept my own personal lack of self coherence.

    My ‘ideology’ as such is defined by a relatively more loose sense of self. Hence, the connections between ideas in my worldview is accordingly loose. I’m also a rather socially dysfunctional person. The psychological research I’ve seen would indicate that there is a connection between these attributes. Those high in the traits like the FFM Openness do tend be more tolerant of cognitive dissonance and, by society’s standards, to have significant personal problems (messiness, addiction, etc).

    The advantage to this Openness is that it probably lessens the likelihood of reactionary politics. With less ideological coherence in any particular direction, there is less chance of making a complete ideological switch. Someone who measures high on authoritrarianism, though, probably would find it rather easy to completely switch ideologies, just as long as the authoritarian group dynamics demanded it.

    • I think this gets back to the distinction I was making between temperaments of liberality versus reactionaryism as opposed to ideologically coherent, historical traditions. The difference being that because of an overlap between temperament and ideology, we falsely tend to conflate the two. On Haidt’s chart, for example, I am weird, because I show lower than average concern for disgust–even lower than liberals–but higher than average concern for loyalty, higher than most conservatives actually, but Haidt’s research doesn’t and can’t place what that concern for loyalty is actually is.

      Openness is an advantage, but also a limitation. But I share you general high preference for cognitive dissonance, and I off side that by rigid self-criticism, so while I fall into messiness, I fight addiction pretty well.

      Over-determination, looking at ALL the things that cause me to doing and not trying to reduce it to one as if that could give me self-knowledge is how I approach both politics and myself as a discipline. It does not determine the cynical, semi-Marxist way I analyze the world (I see semi-because I supplement by world view with anthropology, psychology, neurology, Weberian sociology, critiques of the philosophy of science, and not-entirely-marxist pedagogy), but it is there. This leads to my frustration with liberalism, particularly as I see liberalism as an activist set of ideas (it’s never one thing, not even one temperament), turn into reactive posturing to protect itself sometimes surpassing the groups it is critiquing. You have run into this yourself when dealing with specific forms of ID politics, and yet you and I both can still see the validity of the facts that would lead someone into that shell.

      That shell, however, does stop one from getting where they should go from the point of view of their own goals, and that is the tragic part of liberality turning reactive.

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