In Defense of Consciousness

A strict biological point of view skids quickly into pure determinism, and there isn’t much of a way around it. It is even possible to dismiss consciousness as a “pointy-haired boss” that adds nothing to the organism’s fitness.

Whether or not one accepts that, there’s an uncomfortably similar determinism lurking in sociology. It is a sense that social forces shape us and our personality greatly and fundamentally.

This, unfortunately, is frequently seen as being the same as excusing ourselves from any responsibility for our own actions. These things are not equivalent, and intent matters.

Let’s take systems of institutional sexism and racism. It is perfectly true that white males (or anyone) may perpetuate these systems *unintentionally* through participating in perpetuating systems of privilege. Think about the times you – or those around you – have dismissed a woman’s anger by claiming “It must be that time of the month.” Or perhaps you’ve heard a black person’s protest dismissed by “I don’t see how they’re still upset by something I didn’t do.”

To someone already aware, these seem horribly prejudiced – but neither of these examples need be uttered by someone *consciously* thinking that they’re perpetuating a system of privilege. And that’s the part all people need to remember. It’s a lack of consciousness that makes it able to perpetuate.

Our society – while perhaps originally powered by ancient societal or biological needs – is well and truly abstracted away from them. We have no need of “tribes”, for example. We are able – through *conscious* thought – to recognize these trends, habits, and desires. Once recognized, it is our conscious thought – whether pointy-haired boss or not – that allows us to overcome both biological and social limitations. Once we realize that, it doesn’t matter what’s “natural” or “unnatural” – it’s what our ethics and morals dictate that becomes paramount.

Yes, tests designed to look for subtle race and gender preferences will still find them. These tribal instincts may be the sociological equivalent of the appendix. They will remain, but by being aware of them, we can consciously circumvent them.

And operate on them when they get out of control.