Inside/Outside: Part Two

One of the issues we regularly discuss here because it comes up in so many facets of existence is the subjectivity of people. An objective reality exists outside of us but we have no reliable means of grasping that reality that is not subject to human frailty or self-deception. A subjective reality exists inside us but that reality has no particular importance or value to the extent that our own views and thought process are not valued by others. We often run into problems when we seek to enforce our subjective reality on other people, or when we overestimate our understanding of objective reality, and both errors are legion in contemporary society. And what we find when we look at the problem inside and outside in our understanding of groups is something very similar to what we find when we look at ourselves individually.

When we are inside a group, we are operating with knowledge about its operations and we are acting in collaboration with those of like mind with whom we have a great deal of knowledge and familiarity and agreement, we are engaged in a task that is not too dissimilar from our own subjective internal self-understanding. We think fondly of ourselves, usually, and we similarly tend to think fondly of those who are fellow insiders we cooperate with. Our level of shared belief and understanding allows us to relate to others with a feeling of being on the inside that marks the celebration of subjectivity. This subjectivity is furthered by our shared culture and jargon as well as the internal rules of operating in an institution that acts as a body. Indeed, many institutions use the language of the body to describe those who are involved in their operations as if they were body parts. We find this language, for example, in the Bible (Ephesians 4), as well as in our discussion of the body politic of the operations of government, and it is unsurprising that this should be the case because a body is formed when those who were once outsiders to each other are united in a common structure that makes them insiders.

The way that we tend to view groups as an outsider is analogous to our relationship with external reality. As an outsider, we have limited ability to see the inner workings of groups, and so we view them with a handicap that insiders do not possess because of their intimate working knowledge with those interior operations. There are occasions where being an outsider gives us insight because of the way that a sympathetic but observant outsider can avoid some of the self-serving biases that people have on the inside. Unfortunately, there are often just as many self-serving biases that outsiders have that are negative towards those on the inside that are formed out of resentment, something that can easily happen with ourselves when we look out at an outside world that we have a certain degree of hostility with. It is hard to see clearly that which we despise and hold in contempt, and a great many people forget this and think that they are insightful about that which they viscerally and emotionally despise.

Recognizing that groups can be viewed as bodies with their own subjective internal reality that is recognized and exploited by insiders and their own problematic relationship with external reality in a similar sense to ourselves personally allows us to gain a certain degree of insight into the inner workings of a group as well as an understanding of how that group interacts with outsiders, some of whom are ignored, some of whom are treated in a friendly but somewhat distant matter, and some of whom are actively viewed as hostile enemies. It is normal to think of institutions as being somewhat less natural and more artificial than that of human beings, but institutions live by the behavior of people, and live so long as the people within them gain something from membership, be it a sense of identity, or an ability to collaborate with those of like mind and spirit, or something else of that nature. So long as we are able to recognize that groups have the same sort of existence that people have, with that survival being dependent on the work that is done within them, we can recognize either the “natural” existence of groups in ways that we do not often consider, or recognize that our own survival as individuals is just as dependent as the workings within us as the groups whose workings are more visible to us.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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