Tagged: Private

On the ‘public’ versus the ‘private’

As human beings reduced to “social animals,” our entire existence is divided between two disharmonious worlds: the public, and the private.

The public constitutes our shared or collective world of intelligibility. This is the structure of existence that enables us to be with others. The public gives each and every particular member his or her tradition, language, and structures the framework by which he or she participates in the whole of being with others. It establishes and gives content to the cultural paradigms that give meaning to what one is and what one ought to do. The public determines the values, beliefs, priorities, and make-up of all its constituent members (particulars). As such, the public is only understood through its generality, for the public is an abstraction — and thus never deals with the concrete, but only with the general. Though the public is not itself universal, for there are as many ‘publics’ as there are communities stretched across the planet, It nevertheless presents itself as the universal, a sort of perverted “universalized relativism.” 
Without the “public,” culture, civilization, and society could not be. Nothing would be intelligible beyond the purely subjective self insofar as nothing could be raised to the level of discourse or understanding between the Self and the other. 
The public operates through the Crowd. The Crowd itself is the public made manifest in the world. It is composed of “everyone and no-one,” and thus is never responsible, never accountable, and is omnipotent in its ability to defend and perpetuate the public. The public stands on the shoulders of the Crowd, the latter playing a critical role in preserving the former’s hegemony and safeguarding it against collapse. 
Yet despite its sheer breadth and pervasiveness, continuously shaping our average everyday experiences, the public itself is never fully in view; for it  withdraws itself into the background of such everyday experience. Therefore, the public only becomes distinct at the horizon — often times creating the barriers between that which is meaningful within the framework of the public, and that to which the public is hostile (the private, the idiosyncratic, or the exceptional). 
Yet despite this seeming withdrawal into average everyday experience, the public does, in special circumstances and situations, make itself felt. This always only occurs in moments of “break-down,” that is, when the public world is called into question or otherwise “challenged” by the individual (more on this below). Whenever the public is sufficiently challenged, it will respond accordingly through the Crowd. The Crowd, as the knight of the public, steps in to set matters straight by exercising its awesome power to induce even the most resilient or obstinate individual to resign himself and fall back. 
The public also brings itself into full view when it is forced to undergo some substantial change or adaptation — yet again an unconscious effort that takes place for the purpose of perpetuating the domination of the public. This is the process by which the public absorbs and gives new meaning to that which once challenged it; in other words, a process in which a practice or way of being-in-the-world is transformed via the Crowd from something viewed from the public perspective as unacceptable, into something acceptable (again, from the point of view of the public) This takes place at the level of the Crowd — in which particular practices, especially those which challenge or threaten the hegemony of the public, are subsumed, transformed, and often imbued with new “public” meaning — thus now becoming a part of, rather than set against, the public. 
Yet even before a breakdown can occur, the public perpetuates its dominance through the process of leveling. Leveling is the process by which all that is exceptional, different, unique, and individual is flattened. The leveling process is yet just one of the peremptory powers of the Crowd to eradicate threats to the public. It is the procedural expression of all things being reduced to the lowest common denominator. In the West, leveling has found its greatest expression through the transformation of cultural paradigms in the wake of the Age of Reason, with its most acute expression in the Enlightenment. This paradigmatic shift re-centered focus for cultural development to the mass man and population. As such. through the birth of mass-man, the public took on its greatest role ever — and finds greater expression in the spirit of the mass-man than any age before. 
The private, on the other hand, is the subjective reaction to the public. It exists only insofar as there is a real existing human self that defines itself (gives meaning to its own self) always in a way distinct from that of the public or the Crowd. The private is thus understood through individuation and self-determination. That being said, not every particular necessarily has a private world — for only an individual self is able to undergo the process by which it creates the private through existence. Whereas one may refer to a particular human being, a particular chair, or even a particular dog or pair of shoes — the word “individual” would be wholly inappropriate in the aforementioned context. Rather, and individual only exists through its own existence — as defined by taking a stand and defining itself through its own relation to itself. Hence, we can say that the world is composed of a people, and the ‘people’ is made up of particular persons — yet there are only a handful of individuals. In this sense, there is an undeniable distinction between a “human being” and an “individual.” This point can also be expressed in a simple syllogism:All individuals are humans, but not all humans are individuals; or, all x is y, but not all y is x.
Thus, the private world exists only insofar as there is an individual Self that may be said to exist within its existential structure of intelligibility. To simply have a private world is to always be at odds in some manner or form with the public. For the individual who has constructed for himself his own measure of intelligibility that defines his own relation to himself and the world must do so by doing violence (at least to some degree) to the domination and hegemony of the public. That an isolated and single individual Self can threaten the amorphous and anonymous “public” demonstrates the power of the individual Self to transcend the petty groundlessness of the Crowd. 
Nevertheless, the individual Self who defines himself through the private will always be in conflict with the Crowd (and correspondingly with the public). The Crowd will attempt to continuously bring pressure down upon the individual — a pressure so immense, and more often than not, so unbearable that few find themselves strong enough to resist. In light of this pressure, the Self must invariably lose — for the individual is incapable of successfully challenging the Crowd directly. Accordingly, the individual Self will be forced to choose either to (a) flee from the private; or (b) reinforce the private through resignation and solitude. Those endowed with a greater sense of resistance will be inclined towards the latter, whereas those who feel incapable of resisting the pressures of the Crowd will fall back into conformism.
This is why precisely why there is no necessary connection between becoming an individual self on the one hand, and happiness or a contended life on the other. In fact, the more one commits himself to becoming a self, the less and less likely he will find himself capable of feeling happiness. This is the cost of becoming more aware of oneself and exercising one’s freedom and responsibility to determine one’s own self at the expense of the naive stupidity of the interchangeable members of the Crowd. Only the latter are capable of knowing happiness, yet the true selves, though they will never be happy, will, for what it’s worth, find meaning and identity in their suffering — if only to ward off the temptations of self-annihilation. 
To be sure, a third alternative is also possible — the Crowd, in all its subterfuge and under the appropriate circumstances, will subsume the private into the public, and thus render the latter’s threat to the former null and void. Typically, this will have the effect of undermining whatever threat the private posed to the public by way of flattening whatever was original and unique and reducing it to the level of that vulgar baseness so synonymous with the public.