July 16, 2007

"Stem selves."

Amba coins a phrase and opines about "the one true thing Karl Marx ever said" ("The conditions of existence determine consciousness"):
[W]hen I think about marriage I think of stem cells. No, not because of anything to do with reproduction, but because stem cells, like unattached selves -- "stem selves?" -- are "pluripotent," they have the potential to become many different things. Once a stem cell is assigned a role in the developing embryo, the rest of its potential is suppressed, and it becomes one kind of tissue in a larger organism....

[M]y marriage was not a "normal" one (if there is such a thing; actually, I doubt it). It demanded much more self-sacrifice, which I long resisted (becoming stronger but barer in the process, like a tree that's all trunk and no branches), but it also forced me down to qualities I might otherwise never have found in myself. Unmarried or divorced I would have achieved more, and chased burnin' love more, and made a more manic-depressive, creative life...
If this is a good analogy, divorce is disastrous. You develop into the marriage, then you lose it, and you're crippled by having a self that grew to work inside a marriage.

In fact, you are always a human being and can always grow and evolve in a new situation (and you can grow out of shape for your present condition).

The single you after marriage is different from the single you that would have been if you had never married, but I think perhaps the post-married single person has even more potential then a never-married single, because you have real knowledge of the condition that, before, you could only imagine. The question whether you want to do something again is more complex than the question whether you want to try something once. "Anything once" is a phrase that doesn't need coining.

And I don't agree that the single person chases and burns and goes up and down more than the married person. The solo life can be more serene, stable, and coherent. But married or single, human beings are going to concoct an explanation of why where they are is the sensible place to be, unless they are really concocting the explanation for going somewhere else.

Makeweight argument: Agree with me and Karl Marx is wrong about the one thing Amba thinks he got right.

17 comments:

Sloanasaurus said...

The single life sucks for children. If you are not married you don't generally have them (and they are not born). If you get divorced, it sucks for the kids.

Maybe single people are just plain selfish. The want the most out of life, but mostly for themselves.

vet66 said...

Why is it so difficult to understand that marriage creates the much stronger and infinitely more capable "US" as opposed to the I and You? Stem cells seem to understand this for the most part. Why can't "Stem Selves" do the same thing?

As for Marx, his dreams defined his consciousness not his existence. Unfortunately, his dreams ignored the basic human condition that working hard and smart should be rewarded for it's own sake and not the sake of the multitudes.

The ineptitude of others should not dictate to or deny individuals the opportunity to improve their chances or choices. Just don't expect others to pay for your dreams. The viability of the whole depends on the strengths of the individual.

SteveR said...

"The conditions of existence determine consciousness"

Is that the same as "where ever you go, there you are"

Its an over simplistic statement, "consciousness" is a complex matter. Keeping it simple, I would hope for me, and most sane people, that attitude controls more than circumstances. Or at least it should.

Troy said...

Serene, stable, coherent... [Yawn]

Married folks are selfish too Sloan... we just manifest it differently -- sometimes not so differently.

Paddy O. said...

I think each stage in life carries with it it's own possibilities. The single life can be selfish, to be sure, but it can also be the most giving. The freedom of time and space opens up the possibility of giving that is incredible. It also can be the most spiritual. It allows a person to work out their foibles and pursue in tranquility a depth of spirituality that constant distractions won't allow.

St. Paul wrote that it's good to be single because a person can devote themselves to the Lord, while a married person should first devote themselves to pleasing their spouse.

A single person can masterfully get to know themselves and get to know the deeper aspects of life.

Marriage, of course, comes with the kind of learning mentioned. A person has to learn how to let go aspects of themselves so as to mesh with another. It's the ultimate lesson of living in community. St. Paul in commending marriage said it's an analogy of Christ and the church. By giving up a person can find more, and in that more contribute substantively to this world through children and other ways.

The problems come when the a person in one stage isn't taking advantage of the potentials of that stage. A single person always looking to hook up, or frivolously wasting their time and energy in empty ways. Or a married person who sees their spouse not as a community but as a check on the list of things to do, or as somehow adding to their identity, or otherwise feeding into selfish behavior.

The single person who only wants to get married and the married person who acts like they are single are wasting what is possible, and in doing that make the stage they're in seem utterly miserable.

The divorced single may have the advantages of both, but they might also have the disadvantages of both. They may instead be embracing the selfishness in all their lives, which led to no learning community when married and no self-learning when single. They become increasingly empty shells, not able to settle into any kind of identity.

I think I've known people who exemplify the good and the bad in all those stages, and when I see the good it makes that stage their in seem utterly wonderful.

Paddy O. said...

Oh, and yes I do know the right usage of its, it's, their, and they're. Just sometimes my fingers don't pay attention to them when I'm typing.

An Edjamikated Redneck said...

I've always said I didn't know what happiness was until I got married- and then had unhappiness to compare it to.

That being said (an only as a humorous aside) I can see a difference in the life I would have had had I remained single. I don't think I could compare myself, as a life long bachelor, at 40 and myself as a divorced 40, with or without children.

Everything effects us, not just consciously, but also emotionally, physically and financially, assuming you don't consider consciousness a combination of the three.

Is not marrying and/or having children a form of selfishness? I can see both sides, and would say yes and no. In some respects could we consider someone selfish who wants to make sure their needs are cared for by having a spouse for the here and now, and children for their dotage? Would that be more selfish than never marrying so as to be able to spend your time and money solely as it pleases yourself?

rhhardin said...

Barbara Feldon wrote a book in 2003, Living Alone and Loving It, that is actually sort of sad to read, in that it seems to consist of emergency measures made into a life. The social networking required seems to be enormous!

It's probably a book for women. A guy, anyway a mathematician or physicist type, is happy with human contact less than once a year, provided he can putter in the field he loves.

Anyway, Feldon was Agent 99 in the superb series ``Get Smart,'' now out from Time Life 5 seasons on DVD. I was wondering why it wasn't out, and now it is ; I threw out my TV in disgust in 1971 and have not been tempted to go back, but I did like that series.

What the series actually is, what its soul is, what its genre is, is a love story for actual guys. Max is sent on a quest, he screws up (here's where the average guy can identify with him), and 99 is the one who always announces that it's okay with her, she is satisfied with him.

I don't think even the writers realized they were putting this heart in, but it's what made every American male fall in love with 99, who, looked at abstractly, isn't actually stereotypically beautiful. ``99 is hot!'' was the feeling, but it referred to her acceptance of Max in spite of screwups. So the series differed from the mix of James Bond and Pink Panther that they thought they were doing, in being actually centered on 99 as the one who says it's okay.

But Feldon is a theater type in real life, and I think no husband can match the requirements of the role. Anyway I dated a theater type once and I couldn't. So now she's single.

But she still says that it's not precluded that a knight in shining armor will come along for her ; so she still knows what love would be like, but doesn't recognize the very thing she portrayed, when she sees it in real life.

She sends her man off on a quest - important that it not make sense to him - and he goes heroically off and, being average, screws up, and she shows him that she's satisfied with him anyway.

James Tate has a poem on it, The Blue Booby .

Theo Boehm said...

He sleeps fastest who sleeps alone.
—Richard Avedon

rhhardin said...

He sleeps fastest who sleeps alone.

You need a Doberman .

amba said...

And I don't agree that the single person chases and burns and goes up and down more than the married person.

Maybe I didn't make it clear, Ann, but that was not intended as a generalization. That's just me. Purely autobiographical.

I also don't think divorce is necessarily disastrous. You're putting words in my mouth, or thoughts in my head. Obviously, the person who chooses the divorce (if it's one of them) has been quietly growing into a new shape for some time. The person who was obliviously committed to the marriage (or in denial, or whatever) receives a shock, and is forced to begin to find a new shape. On my analogy, they can now take a liver cell or a cheek lining cell from your body and shock it back to being a stem cell, and in a sense that's what happens to "stem selves" when they are divorced or bereaved. The process of dedifferentiation and redifferentiation begins. We have neuroplasticity. Short of something like Alzheimer's, we can readapt until we die.

And "the conditions of existence determine consciousness" does not suggest that the conditions of existence cannot radically change, and consciousness with them. (See the Eddie Murphy/Dan Aykroyd movie "Trading Places," in which my husband Jacques has a cameo, for a comic illustration.) Nor is this merely a passive process.

amba said...

"Trading Places."

amba said...

vet66: I don't think Marx was a good prescriber. AT ALL. For a minute. Just, on that one point, a good diagnostician. He really meant that the way people materially survive and subsist has a profound effect on the way they think. Now try to tell me that is not true. For the most trenchant example, women's attitude toward marriage has changed why? Because they can now survive and even thrive economically outside it.

amba said...

The single person who only wants to get married and the married person who acts like they are single are wasting what is possible, and in doing that make the stage they're in seem utterly miserable.

Well put!

Revenant said...

If this is a good analogy, divorce is disastrous. You develop into the marriage, then you lose it, and you're crippled by having a self that grew to work inside a marriage.

That the marriage ended in divorce suggests that the two selves *didn't* "grow to work inside a marriage".

Peter Palladas said...

The question whether you want to do something again is more complex than the question whether you want to try something once.

...I presume we're talking Wilde's take on second marriage - the triumph of hope over experience.

Note on textual density - should I ever actually ask you to sleep with and/or marry me, then a simple 'Yes' or 'No' would suffice.

Not sure I could stay awake long enough for the full answer;-)

reader_iam said...

Marriage is one long conversation, chequered by disputes.

The disputes are valueless; they but ingrain the difference;
The heroic heart of woman prompting her at once to nail her colours to the mast.
But the intervals, almost unconsciously, and with no desire to shine,
the whole material of life is turned over and over,
ideas are struck out and shared,
the two persons more and more adapt their notions one to suit the other,
and in process of time, without sound of trumpet,
they conduct each other into new worlds of thought.

--Robert Louis Stevenson