On consciousness, by Miguel Catalán

This post is also available in: Spanish

How does one get from individual consciousness to establishing the right to secrets and their convenience?

We must set aside the idea that consciousness emerges at a given point in history. We must set aside the idea that, in prehistorical peoples, there was only community. The dialectic between the individual’s more or less asocial wishes and the moral instances established by society to control them has always existed. Contemporary anthropological philosophy hasn’t yet drawn the conclusions it should have from the Darwinian revolution, but certain apes already have to decide regarding some good the have in their hands: sharing it or keeping it for themselves. Therefore, the tension between the individual and the group predates the appearance of human consciousness. The net of tensions laid out between the temptation to satisfy individual wishes and the prudent submission to the rules is in the origin of humankind itself and has nothing to do with the appearance of some allegedly specifically human consciousness which would have happened later. From a different angle: the great myths of the West, the two great myths on the birth of humankind, which are the Judaic myth of the Fall and the Hellenic myth of Prometheus, take for granted that, for man to be really born, for him to achieve this second birth from animalness, it is necessary to hide and deceive. Prometheus deceives Zeus and that’s the cause Zeus later punishes him; Adan and Eve have to hide, they have to make themselves opaque to God, and that would be the reason for their expulsion from paradise. However, there was never a Paradise or a Golden Age: since the beginning, it was all about the conflict between wishes and rules.

From a different part of the interview:

We are going back to the subject of self-consciousness.

Yes, of course, consciousness and deception are two terms of a great semantical richness. A poet friend of mine, Jaime Siles, was telling me that his father -when he was eighty-something- once ran into one of his former classmates. They were, therefore, the same age. When he got back home, the man dropped on the sofa and said to his family: “I’ve seen Johnny, you can’t imagine how much he’s changed. He’s gotten so old he hasn’t even recognized me.” the man could not conceive the fact that, if the other person didn’t recognize him, it was because he himself had changed a lot, not because the other man had lost his sight. We always interpret that which happens to us from a point of view which is acceptable for the self. Self-deception is the most common form of deception. Take, for example, the voice, something which doesn’t seem to leave much room for interpretation. And, nonetheless, it’s pretty usual for people not to be able to recognize their own voices. For example, when hearing them on tape. It’s very normal for the person who’s hearing herself to ask the rest if that’s really her voice, because she doesn’t recognize it: it sounds too shrill or unpleasant. In his war diaries, the German writer Ernst Jünger mentioned he had heard his own voice reproduced for the first time in a wax record, and it ruined his days because he realized he sounded like those middle-aged people from Hanover which he had always found vain and pretentious. He had always detested that type of intonation, just to find out it was precisely his. He finished his not saying something like: “we indeed now ourselves very little!”

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