What do we want from other people?
I like my solitude and so spend a tremendous amount of time alone. But I'm not a hermit. I don't live in a cave bereft of all social contact. I hear the cars and voices, honks and sirens, of this almost-city. The social is the very backdrop, the very condition, of my life. Of course.
And, frankly, I crave some desire from others. Most of us know this desire in ourselves all too well: it's the glances in the streets we seek, the blinking light of the answering machine, the likes of a post, the rings and dings of the phone.
So while I like being alone, I also want someone to want me not to be alone. I want someone to desire my company. I want my solitude but not just as a saying Yes but as a saying No. I want the best of all possible worlds (not in the Leibnizian sense): I want the peace of my own company and the desire of others. Which is a certain kind of sickness, as Nietzsche would have it — and I'm prone to agree. I am often not utterly and thoroughly content in my own company. There's the Groucho Marx joke in there somewhere which speaks to self-loathing, guilt, a sense of indebtedness to others — hence a sense of being incomplete, ill at ease, when alone.
When I am utterly, thoroughly content in my own company — for moments, nights, days at a time — I feel my very best. I feel life surging through me, with me. I feel I am the universe, or at least this moment of it.
But here I am writing this — on a blog, no less. These words are, at the very least, a ping in the pond of the social. I want my ripple, my Doppler effect (from my palace of solitude).
What does the social offer? The Hobbesian argument is that we want agreements from others that we won't kill each other. I get that. I don't want to walk down the street fearing for my life from every person I pass. That'd suck, for sure.
But what a funny assumption Hobbes makes — that our first instinct is to kill each other, and as that's annoying, we agree with others not to kill one another. I don't think that's our first instinct. It's not mine, that's for sure. Which is not because I'm a good person, trust me. It's because killing someone else sounds icky, not to mention exhausting. There is not state of nature; no fundamental law of kill or be killed. Those things, like all things, are little created machines, engines that drive relations, laws, discourse, identities, desires.
As a machine, I get the social contract thing: we all take care of things together that we share and need— roads and water treatment plants and plumbing of every sort. Why these aren't all government institutions is a different, if related, question. The point is: we all use this stuff so let's work together to build and maintain it. I get it.
Needless to say, we don't always agree what stuff we need. Still, the basic idea of a social contract — my individuality vis-à-vis the anonymous social — makes some sense.
But it doesn't suffice. We want things from the social, seek things from the social, that exceed any contractual terms. Deleuze and Guattari argue that the social is not forged via a contract. A contract assumes that rational individuals already exist; Deleuze and Guattari argue that such things — individuals, rationality, contracts — are created. Culture produces itself along and with flows and orders rational and not, individual and not. For Deleuze and Guattari, we are always living within flows that have been hedged, stipulated, veered this was and that: within desiring-machines of which we are constitutive (and which are at once rational and irrational).
And, rest assured, I don't think you complete me, Lacan-meets-Jerry Maguire style. Sure, we're ontologically interdependent. Yes, of course. But that tells me nothing of the mechanisms that drive, motivate, and create social dependencies and desires (beyond the utilitarian, which never suffices as an argument. Forget Maslow: that's a false, dangerous path. As Nietzsche argues about the Greeks, form and function, beauty and utility, art and survival need not be distinct or opposed; on the contrary, the healthiest wills will them together).
Of course, there's the matter of sex. From one perspective, sex is no different than any other desire. I live, and am created and constituted, within a desiring-machine that we can alternately call culture, discourse, ideology that drives my drives (as it were — and which my drives, in turn, drive). There is no doubt that much of my desire for sex comes from the same slave ideology (to borrow Nietzsche's figure) that would have me needing others to confirm myself. That is to say, I often find myself pining for sex in which said pining is really just a desire to confirm my ego. I am wanted! This is part of the machine Burroughs calls the Orgasm Death Gimmick. Sex and desire, then, not for pleasure per se or for seething vitality but to confirm my worst self. I should let that go just as I try to let my desire for page views to go.
And yet unlike the desire for the ringing, dinging phone, sex really does involve another person — and not necessarily to confirm my ego but to, well, touch me and be touched. I am not suggesting that the desire for sex is somehow more primal or instinctual; it is produced from the cutting of the flux as all desire is. But I am saying that the desire for sex operates with different mechanisms and along different trajectories (at least for me).
My will to solitude, then, is not a will to solipsism. It's the will of a certain metabolism that needs time and space and quiet to regenerate. At my best, my desires to have sex, to touch and be touched, to love and be loved, are vital to my existence — as vital as food and shelter.
I believe that the role of the social is not to agree to live without fear (that's clearly failed, anyway). Nor is it to complete me (fuck Lacan and his lack). The role of the social is to bring out you — not the best you, forget that moral nonsense — but the you qua you. Friends and lovers are not there to console you; they're there to nourish you, fuel you, vitalize you, to touch you and be touched by you. It is an exchange and mingling of energy and vitality, not existential confirmation, emotional consolation, or the proffering of so-called basic needs.
What would a society constructed along these lines look like? What would community come to mean? What kinds of discursive regimes might we build that would foster the fomenting of personal strength rather than playing on — and creating — our weakest, most ill-constituted selves? What might a society of individuals look like? I'm pretty sure it would include the non-human — ideas, clouds, books, moons, and cows.