We Are More Than A Socialization Product

Commentary On Self Continued

The capacity to generalize is a uniquely human characteristic. It is this
aspect of thought that allows a person to mentally jump from the general to the
specific and from many specifics to the general. It is, as Mead points out in
his description of self, that which allows a person to conduct his/her behavior
in a logically consistent, organized, and non-contradictory manner.

“He (the person) can view himself from a consistent standpoint. This means, then, that the individual can transcend the local and present expectations and definitions with which he comes in contact.” (Meltzer, 1959)

This socialization process is always going on, but the capacity to insure consistency and non-contradiction in one’s behavior is what the individual contributes to this process.

Mead’s claim—that a person can conduct his/her behavior in a logically consistent, organized, and non-contradictory manner was, for me, a little confusing until one day when I was working in one of my University’s residence halls, in my
capacity as janitor, I remember walking into a storeroom to pick up some tools.
My friend and co-worker, who was with me at the time, had many nice things to
say about the students as we approached the storeroom. In fact, in our
conversation I recall my friend saying that he had never had anything stolen by
a student. Upon reaching the storeroom and not finding any of the tools, my
friend replied, “Those damn students are always stealing my tools.” My friend,
before we discovered the missing tools, was accurately responding to the
socialization process that revealed the students to be trustworthy and honest
but upon arriving at the storeroom and discovering the missing tools, he found
himself participating in the socialization process that revealed some people to
be dishonest and unreliable. On both occasions the socialization process was
doing its job, that is, teaching the lessons of social life, and, on both
occasions my friend was, by first taking the role of the honest student and then
the dishonest student, exemplifying Mead’s socialization theory (specifically
the play stage), but when it came to applying Mead’s concept of the generalized
other to this particular situation my friend failed miserably. Before we found
the tools missing the students never stole anything and after we discovered the
missing tools the students were always stealing tools. The bottom line here is
that if a person is to demonstrate consistency in their thinking and behavior
they must first question the reliability of their generalizations, and if this
questioning turns up an inconsistency or worse, a contradiction,
then that person becomes free to change his/her thinking or behavior. We, as
individuals, bring to Mead’s socialization process the “penetrating logical light” that allows us to see through the expediency or convenience of the social role we
happen to find ourselves in at any given time.

To sum up, my description of self and Mead’s description of self are not in
conflict with one another. In fact, they are speaking the same language.
For instance, in the following Meltzer’ quote there is no difference in
meaning between Mead’s concept of self and my own self-concept:

“Because a person has this mental ability to communicate with themselves they
may imagine the implications of possible activities. If the imagined results of
possible activities are negative a person may refuse to overtly act out these
activities. This mental activity results in a person actively engaging his/her
environment in a controlled, organized fashion. A person, in this light, is not
simply a billiard ball getting knocked around by other billiard balls. A person
has the ability to see the billiard ball coming, erect an inclined plane,
calculate the balls mass, direction, and speed, and, at the appropriate location
place the nut that will eventually get cracked by the force of the falling
ball.” (1959, p.21)


About bwinwnbwi

About me: Marvin Gaye’s song, "What’s Going On" was playing on the jukebox when I went up to the counter and bought another cup of coffee. When I got back, the painting on the wall next to where I was sitting jumped out at me, the same way it had done many times before. On it was written a diatribe on creativity. It was the quote at the bottom, though, that brought me back to this seat time after time. The quote had to do with infinity; it went something like this: Think of yourself as being in that place where infinity comes together in a point; where the infinite past and the infinite future meet, where you are at right now. The quote was attributed to Hermann Hesse, but I didn’t remember reading it in any of the books that I had read by him, so I went out and bought Hesse’s last novel, Magister Ludi. I haven’t found the quote yet, but I haven't tired of looking for it either.
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One Response to We Are More Than A Socialization Product

  1. bwinwnbwi says:

    Mead asked the question: “How do human being’s express cooperative behaviors?” and his answer was that the intertwining of self with the social environment produces the minded activity that relates objects to meanings, images, and “plans of action.” Humans are many times more flexible and creative then their biologically determined animal counterparts in expressing themselves. According to Mead, that is what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom; that is, the ability to communicate with oneself (to have a self) and identify symbols. In our capacity to talk to ourselves, we actualize the mechanism that maintains and perpetuates society and this particularly human ability allows for the experience of shared meanings, a common vocabulary, and shared expectations.

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