Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I Am Dead and Gone

Sorry for my prolonged absence; last week I was quite busy/productive, this weekend I danced a bunch, nearly all day Saturday literally, somehow amidst all this I (finally) read The Hunger Games trilogy, and this week I am sick. However, the post's title neither refers to myself, nor my commitment to this blog, but rather to the song about which I intend to talk. That's right, as promised, this is my final (planned) installment in the series on music video philosophy. For those in the home audience paying attention, you might expect that this would be my 100th post, but as I was looking through my archive I found a post that was just a placeholder and deleted it, so 100 should be the next one, barring further deletions.

Anyway, on to Dead and Gone. Let me first say that while I really enjoy this song, and I really enjoy a lot of N'Synch songs, having Justin Timberlake featured in your song really diminishes its street cred', you feel me? Although, maybe this is appropriate, as Dead and Gone is about an ex-gangsta who has since left the life, citing fear for family safety and remorse over dead friends. Central to the song is that "the old me is dead and gone," hence the title.

While I am not familiar with a past of violence and crime, the message of alienation from one's past self rings true. In fact, the continuity of self is a serious philosophical question. We experience our lives as though we possess a single identity, yet with reflection, it is clear that fundamental things about who we are change as time goes by. It happens so gradually, usually, that at any one point it is easy to believe that you are who you have always been, but viewed over time it becomes clear that one's identity is in fact quite malleable, and the old you may indeed be dead and gone.

Of course, when major life changes are made quickly, and one's environment becomes extremely tumultuous, for example moving nearly across the country to try one's hand at grad school, the effects of personality drift can seem more pronounced. This is, of course, a big reason this song has such personal relevance to me. Whether one's personality shifts to accommodated the new environment, or simply due to a lack of familiar cornerstones that had previously anchored one's personality, is a question I fend interesting.

This line of thought also raises interesting questions about the nature of accountability. If sufficient time has elapsed since I did something that I truly am a fundamentally different person than the person that committed the act, in what sense can be held accountable for the action? This is immediately related to my reflections on mornings when I sleep through class and, although I am logically forced to conclude that I must have turned off my alarm at some point, I have no recollection of the event. If the me who wakes up neither remembers these actions nor condones them, but rather finds them seriously irresponsible and worthy of condemnation, in what manner am I to be held accountable for them?

In the end however, while the old me may be dead, he is certainly not gone. Who we are may not be identical to who we were, but it is intimately wrapped up in our past experiences and personalities. If I realize that I am no longer someone who recognizes myself as "myself" it may be a long and futile journey to, "find my way back home," to something that feels comfortable to consider as "myself," but it is a worthwhile journey, even if the destination remains ever out of reach. The quest to, "know thyself," remains as important as it was in the times of the Ancient Greeks, made all the harder by the realization that the "self" which we are to know is constantly in motion.

In conclusion, I just wanted to note a common theme I noticed in my posts on music videos. My first, "Poker Face," dealt with the difficulty to know others, and our desire to both know and be known. The next, "Gives You Hell," talked about how our self is being shaped by both our personal attributes and societal intervention. Finally I discuss the difficulty in even knowing ourselves. This leads to one last question, is the search for a sense of identity widespread through modern music, something common to these songs which causes me to become interested in them in particular, or something about myself which I am projecting onto these songs?


elfarmy17 said...

I'd like to request a post about your thoughts on The Hunger Games sometime in the near future.

I had to laugh when I started reading this, actually, because it pretty closely relates to what I was planning on posting today (which is good, because now I have an eloquent anchor on which to base my ramblings- ha).

One problem with accountability, I think, is that even if you know you truly regret and would never now do a past action, it's more difficult to convince others that you really are a different person.

I think your reason for posting/thinkng about songs of this ilk is probably similar to mine-- it's relevant to you personally, so you're thinking about it and want to share. Then again, I think it's something most people, especially younger people, think about, so it's natural for it to infiltrate the music of the day.

Kenny said...

At least one post inspired by Thu Hunger Games seems entirely feasible, I'll even try for the near future ;) It did take me almost a year to read them after I decided I ought to after all, I am not the most prompt at times. I considered doing one about blood sport, but I don't really know how relevant it is, in our society watching people die for entertainment is fairly taboo. Maybe I'll do it anyway.

You are right, once you do something, people tend to remember what you have done. But I think being remembered for doing something and being held accountable for doing something are slightly different, although certainly related. You can keep in mind what someone has shown they are capable of, without continuing to punish them for their trespass. I guess this would be the concept of forgiving but not forgetting, which I favor.

I get the feeling that when I was younger I had less concern for how much my identity had changed, because it had less time in which to drift. Of course, this could simply be my mis-remembrance of my younger self. I am curious why you think younger people especially are inclined to think about who they are? Also, do you mean that we think about it nowadays more than in the past, or that people tend to think about it less as they grow up?

Zaphodora Beeblebrox said...

I appreciate your view of "absorption," it's not as if you can suddenly be someone else, that would entail a decision which would have to be made by your past self, which generally "likes" existing and so resists change/"death" unless it's by gradual degrees. Though most of this discussion could depend on whether you have a more diachronic or episodic view of consciousness, being etc. Which matters very little if you're considering death (as he points out) but a great deal if you are considering the loss of parts of your personality. The idea of the self's continuity is probably slightly easier (philosophically) if you have a less reductionistic view of the world and view the self more as an emergent phenomenon, but if you have a modular view -- the loss of modules of yourself, even large sections of your personality, could just fit in as a natural and unavoidable growth process. Young people change a great deal, so I suppose it's normal for these thoughts to come up for us more often.

I do think people can completely change, but rarely do.
From what I've observed and experienced we try to dissociate our past and present selves, while being deluded about our future self, as a form of emotional protection, even though the final result might be disturbing.

What most people call "projection" is a natural human faculty that can become imbalanced. Projection seems to be related to empathy. Since we know that our cognitive structures differ from other people's, but we also understand that we have a common basis for communication; imagining what someone might have in common with you is not so very far away from "projection."
Because human's are so complex (well some are anyway… I'm not arrogating that privilege to myself) there are many ways that things can go wrong and it's a lot less obvious when things are actually functioning appropriately, so I think we must have fewer "labels" for background processes like that.

Kenny said...

Sorry your comment ran afoul of the spam filter, I guess it didn't like the link as much as I did. I haven't read the entire article (yet?) since I am a busy (read lazy) grad student, but I got through the definitions of diachronic and episodic. I agree that it seems my post would relate less to episodic awareness of self.

However, I don't believe I have ever met anyone who displayed an episodic awareness of self. I suppose that this could be an artifact of the way in which our language is structured. However, when I do make a point to distinguish between "past Kenny" and "me," the emphasis always feels a) linguistically idiosyncratic and b) based in logical reasoning rather than experience.

Although I am quite aware that my mannerisms and habits have changed, in some ways quite drastically, over time, at any given moment I experience myself as being the same person I was a moment ago. Making assumptions of induction and transitivity of self, one quickly concludes that one the person one has always been. Which feels accurate, but does not bear up to scrutiny of one's memories.

I am a philosopher, rather than a cognitive psychologist, by inclination, and an ethicist rather than epistemologist at that, so I am sure that someone else could address this issue with much more authority, but this is my take on it. I enjoyed glancing through your blog, and I hope you will do me the courtesy of assuming that if I put a bit more time into this response it would improve significantly ;)