Integral Manifesto Pt II(2): Subjects and Surrogates/ The I-Thou

Books Discussed in this Section

Martin Buber (2008) I and Thou, Hesperides Press

Hannah Arendt (1958)  The Human Condition, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago

Bonnitta Roy (2006) A Process Model of Integral Theory, from Integral Review Journal, Issue 3 at www.integral-reivew.org


In a very real sense, the central subject in a political act is not an individual subject, but a subject-to-subject actant. Not unlike Latour’s equation of humans and non-humans enfolded into each other, in an authentic encounter, aka a political act, subjects are enfolded into each other as an I-Thou. The notion of I-Thou-ness is not specifically a relational one, since this is a situation of complete reflexivity, parody and equanimity– whereas for two thing to be related, there must be a third term namely the scale of their relatedness. In an authentic I-Thou encounter, there is no third term. Of this encounter, Martin Buber has written

Beyond the subjective and this side of the objective, on the narrow ledge where I and Thou encounter each other, is the realm of the in-between. This reality, whose discovery has begun in our day, points the way for coming generations, leading beyond both individualism and collectivism.

This I-Thou enfoldment might be considered to be vis-a-vis the intersubjective realm, a reconstitution of the originary, primordial process described by Roy that, along with layers of affect, image, body and world, also enfolds the sense of “other” in the microgenetic series of the cognitive occasion that is responsible for the primary unification of these pre-subjective levels into the “unified subject.” In this sense, it is a re-cognition of a pre-subjective inter-face “between self and other,” in the special case where “self and other” are pre-subjective surrogates of the conventional level, standard meanings, of “self” and “other.” At its most fundamental level, this subject-to-subject encounter is a re-en-actment of a prior, pre-subjective occasion, in which the surrogate subject allows (acknowledges, accepts, invites) “otherness,” the surrogate other, in inimical communion as a vital and necessary step to achieve union as a “self”– in other words, as a necessary component of the question “who am I?” Normally, the pre-subjective component of every moment-to-moment arising of cognitive occasions remains unconscious, hidden in the preconstitutional components of self. Occasionally, this pre-subjective, a-conceptual “experience” revitalises itself through intense I-Thou encounters in which something of the below, beneath, behind the self-other formulation discloses its originary aspects. Still, even at the level of fully formed subjects, the subject-to-subject encounter continues to provide essential components of the individual subject’s question of the “who I am,” as the Greeks fully understood. According to Arendt,

Action and speech are so closely related because the primordial and specifically human act must at the same time contain the answer to the question of every newcomer: “Who are you?” This disclosure of who somebody is, is implicit in both his words and deeds. …

[Moreover] … it is likely that the “who” which appears so clearly and unmistakably to others, remains hidden from the person himself, like the daimon in Greek religion which accompanies each man throughout his life, always looking over his shoulder from behind and thus visible only to those he encounters.

According to Arendt, it is this special quality of the subject-to-subject encounter which distinguishes authentic human action versus the instrumentalization of human deeds. This space of human action– “the space of appearance in the widest sense of the word, namely, where men exist not merely like other living or inanimate things, but make their appearance explicitly”– is not a comfort zone. On the contrary, “the conviction that the greatest that man can achieve is his own appearance and actualization is by no means a matter of course.”

[both homo faber and animal laborans] will inclune to denounce action and speech as idleness, idle busy-bodyness and idle talk, and generally will judge public activities in terms of their usefulness to supposedly higher ends– to make the world more useful and more beautiful in the case of homo faber, to make life easier and longer in the case of animal laborans.