Synecdoche : Little World

The concluding part of Hariod Brawn’s wonderful essay.

Haroid’s opening part was republished by me in this place yesterday, under the blog title of Alone in a sea of many. For the concluding part, I have named this blog post in accordance with Hariod’s chosen name. Thank you to all who read Part One and I hope you find Part Two equally stimulating.


Synecdoche (Part Two): Little Person

Fool’s Cap Map of the World. Unknown origin c.1580-1590
Fool’s Cap Map of the World. Unknown origin c.1580-1590

In the first part of this article, we discussed how each person, in coming to understand how they construct themselves as the self-entity they take themselves to be, must in the process come to understand how all others do too. In other words, self-knowledge is not particular to the individual, because the self – in essence an embedded, accumulating and by graduation morphing narrative and body schema – comes into being by identical means in our species. Each of us remains unique in many ways, such as in our formative experience, our psychological make-up, conditioned traits, genetic inheritance, and in our individuated physicalities. Yet that which we regard as our quintessence, the enduring internalised construct we each unquestioningly hold as the self and the aspect of ourselves which we most intimately cling to, is little more than a formulaic pretence determined and governed solely by means of evolved, unbidden and unconscious processes.

Each character has a given name, societal position, cultural identity and perhaps a hierarchical status; yet all such markers are in part a figure of speech, or synecdoche, denoting an undeniable correlation with countless others. The markers delineate superficial distinctions alone, and the greater the number of them, the more we remove from our understanding the underlying truth of the other’s commonality with us. In much the same way, in our coming to understand how the worlds we ourselves inhabit are constructed, we see also that same world as a synecdoche for all others. How I relate to my home and environment, my relatives and loved ones, those I engage with out of chance or necessity, and those whom I depend upon or those who depend upon me, human or non-human, all make up my little world. It is a relational world, an interactive adventure forged from myriad connections, surprisingly few of which do I have great control over.

The argument against this is to assert that such correlations are facile, that how can I, a materially secure Westerner living in a largely strife-free state, possibly share any commonality with the oppressed and malnourished other on, say, the Indian sub-continent? Are these conditions not worlds apart, if only qualitatively? Well, in examining human suffering, we find it has a common genesis, proceeding as it does from the mind. For example, we commonly mistake unpleasant bodily sensations for suffering, failing to distinguish between physical pain and the attendant overlay of mental anguish. Is the suffering of the wealthy financier who contemplates suicide at her portfolio’s decimation greater than that of the homesteader in sub-Saharan Africa facing a crop failure of a few sacksful of grain? Objectively, then yes, these are worlds apart, yet the subjective suffering of each may be qualitatively indistinct, even in their wildly differing experiential settings.

Geography of Twitter. By Eric Fischer, Washington, DC
Geography of Twitter. By Eric Fischer, Washington, DC

And what of care and affection; are we to suppose that our world as comprising love is any the lesser or greater than others? Ought we to suppose the human instinct to loving solicitude is greater than that of our fellow creatures? Who amongst us knows what human love is as distinct from other forms of animal love, and whether it is qualitatively superior? Am I so arrogant as to suggest my altruistic benevolence is any the greater than that of my pet Border Collie, for it seems far from being so? If I am unable to define precisely what constitutes this world aspect, how am I to know that those of other animals are not simulacra of my own, there being no original and authentic love-world other than the one as represented by the many – is this not a truth hard to refute? I may describe a personal world of felt affection, yet in doing so prescribe but a figure of speech alone, a synecdoche for all worlds inhabited perhaps by most beings of sentience.

My little world is forged at the interface between psyche and otherness, between ideas and the world as impressed upon my senses. Those impressions and the precise nature of that otherness differ in every detail from the next person’s, yet the means of forging are identical. This shared action results in distinct narratives of course, and it is these that are held to in our bids to assert the pre-eminence of individuality over commonality. I want to believe I am, if not special, then unique; yet that is only true in the differing stories of what I am and what my little world is. To those without privilege to my narratives of self and world, my assumed mantle of uniqueness is meaningless, and the same is true of theirs to me. We may here be at a cold and sterile juncture, yet it also is a starting point from which we may begin to introduce the binding agents of humankind – our innate qualities of kindness and compassion, of empathic understanding.

So what, why should I care about such ideas when I have altogether more pressing concerns? What is the point in abstracting notions such as these from the warp and weft of daily living, the place where I earn my crust, feed my children, and work on my betterment as a means of personal fulfilment? Perhaps the answer lies somewhat starkly in the evidence, and which seems to me to be in a state of constant deterioration. We live in a polarised world, where theists fight theists and atheists argue against both, where the wealthy seldom flinch in their impoverishment of others, and where power-hungry and psychopathic leaders crush the potential of all they have dominion over. Is it not time to find our common humanity, or even our common animality? We humans are destroying our sole environment; we are chasing down the darkening corridors of economic systems at the point of failure. Can we not rest awhile so as to perceive our little worlds as one?


My sense is that for quite a few readers who read yesterday’s and today’s postings, they were not the easiest read that has been seen on Learning from Dogs. But in a world where the dumbing down of the English vocabulary seems ever more present, to read Hariod’s essay slowly and carefully, and let the deeper meanings of her arguments settle within the mind, is a profound and compelling reminder of the beauty and elegance of the English language.

This introspective mood continues tomorrow: you have been warned!

8 thoughts on “Synecdoche : Little World

  1. “Not an easy read” That’s to say the least. I hope that at the end you will furnish us with one single file that can be printed out… I read much better when I can hold it on paper in my hand… though even then the first part might be too hard.

    That said I am not sure about what this all should take us in terms of avoiding chasing down the darkening corridors of economic systems at point of failure… since realizing the commonality between all of us could lead many to think they need to run even faster down that corridor so as not to be trampled by others 😦

    But let’s see whats coming.

    1. Hello Per, thank you so much for your kind interest and for making the time to explore the essay; I greatly appreciate it. I do appreciate that my writing often requires, shall we say, a certain amount of re-interpretation in the subject-reader’s mind. I try not to set too much in stone, as I of course make no claim to any unimpeachable authority – my words being more a ground-basis for contemplative reflection than exhibiting any great fixity of idea. And the ground-basis here in these ‘synecdoche’ pieces is to suggest that we establish some equilibrium as regards the pre-eminence of individualism over commonality.

      Whether our political perspectives may converge on matters such as man-made climate change and Neoliberalism, I have no idea Per. My own view is that these two phenomena pose a great threat to the weal of humankind, and the animal kingdom too for that matter. It would appear that you see the competitive spirit in humankind as being something of a given, and perhaps that is a reasonable assessment given the current paradigm, which is, if Paul will forgive me, something of a dog-eat-dog one. From my reading, I believe Neoliberalism to be fatally flawed, and as I say, harmful in the extreme. It is predicated on the myth of free markets, which is the lie at the centre of it, and sees no value in conservation of the environment, only instead the exploitation of it.

      If one accepts the existence of these threats, then what can be done about it? My own view is that we can only put the global house in order if we are prepared to do the same with our own firstly. It is pointless looking to political systems which are sponsored and largely controlled by corporate business interests for any solution, for that is not their mandate, and neither is it in the interests of those same sponsors. I take it to be a matter of there being a need for personal transformation, and for this to gather apace and spread throughout humankind – or much of it – before any tipping point can be reached. A necessary step in the process is the realignment of values of commonality with those of our cherished individualism. Now we have a ground-basis for changing the world, one rooted not in cupidity and narrowly competing interests.

      1. Glad to fulfil your request Paul, and thank you for reading sonmi-upon-the-cloud. Per will doubtless be able to offer us the benefit of a more sophisticated analysis, should he have the time and inclination. I always enjoy discussion, and generally come away a little better informed. 🙂

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