Are Enslaved People Less Conscious?

Discussion of consciousness: what it is, what it isn't, Jaynes's ideas vs. other theorists, consciousness and language, studies of cognition in non-human species, etc.
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martinem
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Are Enslaved People Less Conscious?

Post by martinem » Tue Sep 01, 2009 7:31 am

Are enslaved people less conscious than free men? Is the hebrew's Exodus from slavery in Egypt an example of consciousness appearing in history?

And conversely, if you put a human of today into slave-like conditions (as in the nazi-camps), would he fall into a less conscious state? I certainly hope I would. The reaction would fit into the "Maladaptive stress response"-diagnostic criteria.

I understand that these thoughts contradicts modern ethical principles. It is probable that it was these kind of thoughts that made (and, sad to say, sometimes makes) it bearable for humans to keep slaves.

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Re: Are enslaved people less conscious?

Post by Moderator » Tue Sep 01, 2009 3:13 pm

It's possible that prolonged hopelessness might lead to a diminished consciousness but I certainly don't think it would be inevitable. An example that contradicts the Nazi prison camp example would be the famous author Victor Frankl ("Man's Search for Meaning") who purposely cultivated an enhanced mind-space to survive the ordeal.

My own view is that for (Jaynesian) consciousness to be consistently altered or diminished in a modern, conscious population you'd have to have a situation where people were raised as slaves from birth and for whatever reason not educated or "taught" consciousness by their older peers.

martinem
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Re: Are enslaved people less conscious?

Post by martinem » Wed Sep 02, 2009 5:27 pm

I agree that not all people undergo compromising of consciosness under submission. Allthough it is a widely accepted concept. It can be expressed in a freudian way as a defence mechanism of the mind. Torture victims therapists talk about "identification with the aggressor" and that the victims looses its self, don't they? Diminshing of consciosness certainly doesn't happen without the most horrible of suffering. I have ordered Frankl's book and I will read it with great interest. Another book on the matter is 'If this is a man' by Primo Levi.

About 'teaching' consciousness to ones children. This is an interesting picture! What is it in our attitude towards our children that makes them conscious? It should be something that we say or do if it is supposed to be cultural. Have you got any information about research on this subject? I remember to have read Piaget about the childs development of its self, but I don't remember he talked about 'teaching consciosness'.

It also brings to my mind the stories of the (mostly mythical) wild kids, Mowgli, Kaspar Hauser, and some french guy in the 19th century, etc. Would they have been bicameral or what?

Greatfully, Martin Essen-Möller

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Re: Are enslaved people less conscious?

Post by Moderator » Mon Sep 21, 2009 4:01 pm

RE: Teaching consciousness. Jaynes talks about this a bit in some of his lectures. The parent cultivates the child's mind-space by talking about what they did yesterday and "going to grandma's house tomorrow," etc. But in general I think the child learns consciousness as a by-product of learning complex metaphorical language.

Just recently I came across an article that discusses this issue from a very Jaynesian perspective. See: "Consciousness is Nothing But A Word" by psychologist Henry D. Schlinger, esp. the sections on "Learning to Be Conscious."

Interesting also that you mention feral children and specifically Kaspar Hauser. I just read the book on his life a few weeks ago. In the next issue of the newsletter I will include a brief discussion of the relevance of Kaspar Hauser to Jaynes's theory, so look out for that in early November (be sure to subscribe to the mailing list).

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