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homo sum • humani ā me nihil alienum puto •

June 21, 2010

homo sum · humani ā me nihil alienum puto ·

“I am a person.  I consider nothing human to be foreign to me.”

Terence,  The Self-Tormentor, 77

I adore this line.  Sort of the Roman playwright Terence’s catch-phrase.  Certainly not action-hero punchy, but then again, it reportedly did bring down the house at the première of his comedy called—wait for it—Heautontimorumenos (and rather than tormenting yourself trying to pronounce that, you can just leave it the Self-Tormentor).

As a line it operates on a couple of levels.  It’s hard to know who in the audience was applauding it as a heartfelt statement of universal brotherhood, and who as a bit of bathos—a clever sport of such lofty sentiments (no, irony isn’t an invention of the post-modern age).  After all, the character who utters it, Chremes, is really just a nosy ol’ geezer who likes to pester his neighbours and brazenly justify his meddling in grandiose terms lifted from the Stoic philosophy of the day.  It is the motto of countless groups and organizations, and it’s for good reason that I’ve taken it as a personal credo.

I, as much as anyone else on the planet, have a set of overlapping responsibilities toward myself and my fellow humans.  The burdens shift and the responsibilities change, but there is one constant: the fact that we only have ourselves to work with.  In the words of another, more recent comic writer, “we’re all in this together”.  Where do I stand?

  • Hierarchical devolution of power through strata from a cephalous origin is not strictly necessary.  It is merely one of many possible methods of governmental organization, and one that is frequently pernicious as it is based on the assumption that social inequalities and stratification are normal (if not normative!)—and thus does little to eliminate social injustice at the source.  As a proponent of grass-roots mobilization, my broader concerns are in shaking up the top-down model of governance and administration, with the aim of offering alternatives to arbitrary hierarchies—or at least, of finding ways to work around them.
  • Our Selves are too complicated to be adequately addressed by any reductive social model.  We are not defined by demography, live not in layers in a social or economic pyramid, but conduct our lives as members of intermingling and fluctuating clouds of common concern.  When we commute on a bus, all of us can be defined and categorized as bus riders, and our common concerns extend to how well the driver is navigating traffic, how late we shall be if we miss our transfer, etc.  But our needs for being on the bus are all different and must be acknowledged.  And the moment we step off the bus, we enter other clouds: those of shoppers (and shoppers for what?), pedestrians (going where and why? and how far?), workers (doing what, and for whom? for what remuneration?).  All these clouds shift and change longitudinally, from hour to hour, from childhood to old age.  Our positions within them can never be pinned down.  Yet for all that they are utterly ineffable, these positions define our immediate and long-term positions as members of a larger and equally fluctuating society.  Think of the Self as possessing overlapping concerns, like an infinitely complex Venn diagram.  Then think of Society as a huge Venn diagram composed of millions of Selves.  Now try to disentangle them!
  • As an anti-poverty and mental health activist my general concerns are to promote solutions to poverty and mental health issues that respect the concerns of the Self as I understand it, all the while promoting social reform and pressing for alternatives to otiose, ineffective, disrespectful, pernicious and often downright malicious systems and practices.
  • Following upon this, my immediate concerns are to address numerous user-related problems in accessing community services in and around Saugeen Shores.
  • My activism is anti-corporate in principle, yet I acknowledge that in practise my own mental health and poverty concerns frequently make it necessary to employ prescription medication (Big Pharma) and attach myself to large employers (national enterprise chains).  These are matters of choice—but of choice constrained by lack of alternatives.
  • By the above token, I acknowledge that medication has been helpful in the management of my condition.  I am an opponent of the medical community’s knee-jerk pathologization of every potential emotional, psychic, mental, cognitive or communicative issue, yet I do not dismiss out of hand the biogenetic model of mental illness.  What I advocate is precisely the Self’s right to be informed, to decide and to choose amongst alternatives.
  • Moreover, I am not entirely anti-psychiatry, if one thinks of psychiatrists simply as M.D.’s with specializations in psychic issues.  I am, however, opposed to many of the current paradigms of psychiatry and psychology—namely, indiscriminate check-list pathologization from the DSM-IV, excessive reliance on pharmaceuticals, the employment of coercive techniques, recourse to restraints, and other affronts to human dignity and (physical and psychological) intactness.  At the very least these lead to abdications of responsibility for patient care and serve to distance the individual from ownership of his or her own treatment; at worst they are atrocities and violations of human rights.


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