Someone recently called one of my sentences regarding Thomas Jefferson and slavery one of the most “self-negating” sentences he had read. This made me pry into what the meaning of “self-negating” is thought to be in a deeper sense. This is what I found that was particularly interesting to me:
ON THE MEANING OF SELF NEGATION
September 13, 2011 selfnegation
“Self Negation is exactly what it sounds like; it is the abolition of the present world and with it an abolition of the self.
To negate one’s self is not to commit suicide, to destroy one’s physical body. Rather it is the transformation of the social content of the ‘self’ to such a degree that it effectively ceases to exist in its present form.
We all exist in the world in relation to others. We are White and they are Black, or the reverse. I am man, and you are woman. And et cetera.
These attributes are not simply internalized attributes that exist solely within our own beings. They are socially created and sanctioned. Man exists in opposition to woman, and is defined by what it is not. I am only one thing because you are another, and the intersection of our socially prescribed roles is what gives them validity. Without ‘minorities’ around, no one is ‘white.’ The category of ‘white’ is ontologically meaningless without another category outside of whiteness. This is not to say the mere fact of differing skin tones automatically creates the category; on the contrary, humans existed for most of their history dealing with people who looked different from them without creating categories based on these visual differences that supposedly inhered in a person – being ‘white’ had no meaning for the Ancient Romans, for example, although being ‘Roman’ certainly did. Rather, for any such category to have relevance it must be brought into relation with another group.
More often than not, these relationships have been hierarchical. In American society, for example, whites have been privileged over populations excluded from this category. Women have been subject to men. And those who have no value-producing property have been exploited by those who do.
This brings us to the necessity for self negation.
Self negation does not mean a world without categories. Categories are inherent in the way we understand the world. Every word, every concept, is a category formed by a host of data points classified into it. Diversity and difference can make the world a richer and more beautiful place, if these ‘differences’ do not mean the reduction of our own aspirations or those of others.
Self negation simply means doing away with those categories that limit ourselves and others from our full potential, that hinder us more than they assist our understanding.
Self negation cannot be an individual act. White people cannot escape from ‘whiteness’ by simply acting in a way they perceive as being contrary to this identity. Rather, they must work to alter the relationship between themselves and non-whites; and this necessarily means fundamentally altering the society we live in.
What is called ‘The Workers’ Movement’ in much of the recent history was an attempt to affirm and uplift the category of the working class within capitalism. As such it suppressed tendencies arising from within itself towards rupture with the logic of capital. The obvious outcome of such a movement was to cut a deal with the existing system, to accept a re-positioning of the class within capitalist society without challenging class itself.
The idea of being ‘proud to be a worker’ is ludicrous, as to be a worker is inherently to be subject to a boss and the vicissitudes of the market. Such pride is a stumbling block on the way to any real transformation.
Therefore, let us negate ourselves. Let us do away with all categories and identities that restrict the possibilities of what we can be. This cannot be achieved individually, through a change in behavior or an act of will. It must be a collective and collaborative effort. Without asking anyone to give up those identities which empower them – such as the cultures and traditions that some hold dear – let us give up oppositions and categories which exploit others or allow others to be exploited.
As a ‘middle class’ consumer, I benefit from the exploitation of millions of others. And yet this category is parochial and limiting in the extreme, coming as it does with a whole set of flawed values, prescriptions, and rules. It ties me closer to this system which can offer nothing to the masses of humanity nor, ultimately, to anyone.
As a ‘man’ I wish to abolish the category of ‘manhood’. I do not wish to alter my body; I simply believe this identity, as it has been traditionally construed, is limiting to me and exploitative to others.
Likewise with ‘whiteness’; to be white is to have access to privilege and power beyond those of ‘non-whites’. Despite this, a world without this unjust power is ultimately a world in which I want to live and one which is better for everyone.
To be ‘straight’ is similarly bestowing of privilege. Yet it also forces one to follow a prescriptive set of behaviors which are ultimately damaging to me in that they restrict what I think and feel.
As I said before, these attributes do not simply exist within me as an individual but are social relationships. My privilege as a straight, white, man of relatively privileged economic status (although I do not own any capital) is inseparable from the violence and oppression inflicted on those on the wrong side of the hierarchy; those who get the shit end of the stick. Hence I cannot simply ‘decide’ to stop being those things. This decision in itself would be a manifestation of unjust power. The middle class youth may drop out from school and leave the suburbs. Whites can grow dreadlocks, convert to different religions or follow different cultural practices. Straight men may semi-ironically appropriate gay or trans ways of being. Such meaningless stances do nothing to address the root causes of the problem.
Instead of behaving in this way, beneficiaries of unjust hierarchies must collaborate with each other and their victims to abolish these hierarchies collectively. Unfortunately, the oppressed usually find themselves taking action against hierarchy alone as those at the top of hierarchies rarely give up power voluntarily. However, there are the noble exceptions. The separation engendered by capitalism is one of the greatest weapons it uses against us. The privileges it hands down to favored groups of workers are crucial to keeping us loyal to the system as a whole and keeping us in line. Let us reject these bloody offerings meant to pacify us. Let us not be satisfied until we live in a society where differences and identities are chosen and not imposed; where the affirmation of ourselves does not depend on the destruction and exploitation of others.
Let us work to negate the present society and with it those aspects of ourselves poisoned by it.”
Summary lifted from the above: “Self negation simply means doing away with those categories that limit ourselves and others from our full potential, that hinder us more than they assist our understanding.”
And this: “Let us reject these bloody offerings meant to pacify us. Let us not be satisfied until we live in a society where differences and identities are chosen and not imposed; where the affirmation of ourselves does not depend on the destruction and exploitation of others.
Let us work to negate the present society and with it those aspects of ourselves poisoned by it.
Self negation simply means doing away with those categories that limit ourselves and others from our full potential, that hinder us more than they assist our understanding.”