Sunday, 28 June 2015

just because

At a tattoo studio the other week, when I asked ‘why’s that?’ to the instruction to bring and drink a sugary drink while having the work done, the tattoo artist, misunderstanding my question as a questioning of him rather than as an interest in the rationale for the action, and seemingly suffering a moment of regression, said rather bluntly ‘because I said so’, before recovering himself and explaining that it is to prevent fainting.

The answer ‘because I said so’, offered most often by an adult to a child in search of a reason, is rarely a satisfying or reasonable response. If the adult has a reason why they think the thing they wish the child to do should be done then why not proffer it? Or if the thing to be done is just itself a sui generic good, then again why not say as much (er, in different words than this...)? To say ‘because I said so’ seems - unless it follows a performative - to amount to little more than an authoritarian and demeaning move, albeit one borne, most likely, of a perfectly understandable exasperation.

One of the reasons why it is hard, I think, to take the second option - of articulating that here we have to do with something that is simply a sui generic good, something good in and of itself and not because it meets some further standard or aptly pursues some further end - has, I think, to do with the psychological difficulties involved in comfortably stopping with a not unwarranted 'just because', or a 'because I feel like it'. It is so easy to feel a, or try to make up for an imagined, lack of justification when instead we ought to be taking confidence, putting ourselves and our judgement directly on the line. It takes guts to say 'I and the source of judgement are one', 'I am not accountable to something beyond myself here', 'I am, on this occasion, now myself the voice of reason or of nature herself'.

So when is it apt to say 'because I feel like it!' to a request for a justification for an action? Perhaps we can ease our way into this by thinking first about the nature of inductive reason. The classical treatment of induction has it that the relation between my experience of some or other daily regularity and my judgement that the same thing will also happen tomorrow is one of justification or reasoning. That is to say, the classic treatment has it that when you ask me 'Why do you think the badgers will bound out of their set at 9pm?' and I answer 'Well, that's when they've come out the last two weeks', I am providing you with my justification for thinking what I do. Now I don't mind if we call this a justification, but what I want to point out here is that it appears to be a quite different logical species of animal than one which offers a piece of reasoning. It could just as easily be construed as a condensation of the claim that, precisely because this is what has always happened, and because it just is reasonable to expect what has regularly happened before to happen again, I am not here in any need of a justificatory rationale for my belief about the bounding badgers. If, by contrast, despite their 9pm exit on previous nights I maintained that tonight they would depart at 8pm, then, then, some piece of reasoning surely would be required, and what it meant to ask for and receive a justification would be a different matter. So, what I am claiming is that it is perfectly reasonable to return a request for a reason with a response which basically provides some context and says 'I've no reason to doubt this, and that's all there is to it'. Similarly, might it not be perfectly acceptable to say 'Because I feel like it' as a response to a request for a justification - where the answer is of course not really providing a justification but rather urging that here the simple fact of the desire obviates the question?

A friend recently told me that she came to a helpful new understanding when realising that it is ok to want to not go on a date with someone just because. Just not fancying it: that's itself all the reason that one could possibly need for not wanting to date someone. We are sovereign in our desires, in such instances, and anyone who tries to get between us and our ownmost feelings at this juncture is simply intruding and disrespecting our being as true subjects.

Yet we do, it seems to me, often intrude, as it were, on ourselves. The result is what we call 'alienation'. Marx tells us how we are alienated from our labour when it becomes simply a means to another end ('working in order to live' as they say), rather than a fulfilling end in itself (where an important part of one's being is one's work - where we are 'making a living' as they also say). We 'intrude' on ourselves, I believe, when we deplete ourselves, diminish our authority, when we tacitly or knowingly give it over to someone or something else. We might, for example, give it over to an employer or to the state, or to a social group or friend or lover.

James is hankering after Marjorie. He hopes that by bending himself to the shape of her ideal man she will love him and offer him the balm of recognition he longs for, and he will then possess the object of his desire. But in the process James becomes depleted and self-alienated. He loses a sense of the 'just because'-ness of his own thought, action and desire; instead 'because Marjorie would like this' becomes the measure of his being. James becomes increasingly depressed and desperate; and Marjorie, of course, becomes less and less interested, since she would in any case only be interested in dating a man who amongst other qualities enjoys self-possession, has 'his own mind', who 'believes in himself'.

When are and when are we not entitled to our 'because I want to's? Clearly there are many, many junctures at which I would simply be embodying narcissism were I to think myself beyond the need for justification. There is a recommended daily allowance of 'just because's' which the narcissist exceeds. And yet there will be many other junctures where to take myself in need of a justification for my actions, decisions and beliefs would be self-alienating. If I do that, if I render my desire as always awaiting the say-so of reason before I can be entitled to my standing firm in it, I deplete and disrespect - I depress - myself as a human subject.

There is surely no general criterion that can be used to distinguish what is a juncture for narcissism and what a juncture for self-alienation. We are here at a site of the being of the human that is more fundamental than any other, so the proffering of general criteria - which would themselves necessarily have to be couched in terms other than those which are here under scrutiny - would be to put the epistemic cart before the ontological horse. Rather than criterion wielding what we surely need is thoughtfulness and vigilance. There can here be no responsible outsourcing to ratiocination of what is really the work of the virtues of courage and conscience.