ASSUMING A POSITION


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"The kind of blogging I do has to be based in personal obsession, in spats and rivalry, in a kind of light, oblique but perpetual autobiography. There has to be a subject for all this data to make any sort of situated sense, and that subject has to be seen to have a body, clothes, a way to wear those clothes, and so on. As soon as I get tugged out of that embodied, situated world I get bored and anxious and mistrustful. I want to know always who's speaking, how old they are, what culture they were raised in, what their vested interests are, and so on.

For me, the Anon is suspicious because I can't see what s/he looks like or what life his/her comment is rooted in. For the Anons (or some of them), I'm the suspicious one, because my comments are far too obviously rooted in an ego, a persona. The Anon's habitual mode of attack is therefore ad hominem, but since it comes from -- apparently -- no-one it could also be described as ab nemo."

[Momus]

"To disagree with three-fourths of the British public is one of the first requisites of sanity"

[Oscar Wilde]

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What is a "position"?

Psychologist Eric Berne described a position as a "simple predictive statement which influences all of the individual's transactions [...] Unless something or somebody intervenes, [a person] spends the rest of his life stabilizing his position and dealing with situations that threaten it: by avoiding them, warding off certain elements or manipulating them provocatively so that they are transformed from threats into justifications."1

We could see a position as a castle. We may live within it, and we may, when we need to, man the barracks and defend it against attack.

When we look for someone's position we are looking for their epistemology; the ideas and beliefs that lead them to think and act the way that they do. To see their castle is to see the individual bricks that it is composed of, and, if we look hard enough, it is to see the foundations upon which it rests.

In understanding a person's position we bring perspective to our image of them, framing their behaviour within a larger picture. When their thoughts and actions no longer clutter the foreground, we are able to relativise their claims to truth; instead of being the whole truth - transcendent, impersonal - they become someone's truth. A person's position is the centre of their individual mythology, and both influences, and is influenced by, the stories that they tell themselves about the world. To see a position is to see a person's fictions, the meanings and values that are guiding them.

When we can see a story, and when we can frame this story within a network of alternative fictions, we may feel less threatened by its otherness. For example, when Oscar Wilde tells us that "The first duty in life is to assume a pose", we may find his words incommensurable with our own experience, and may reject his statement as false. If we understand Wilde's background - his fiction - and can see his position, then we may be less tempted to reject his statement on the grounds of its truth. For Wilde, the idea of the pose may have been an important one in giving meaning to life, and it may be that it could also mean something to us. Be if we take his truth as literal - as objective, as transcending the realms of subjective fiction - then we are forced into a corner, into either accepting his truth and modifying our own position accordingly, or rejecting it outright. If, on the other hand, we are able to relativise his truth, and to frame it within his position - and this position within a system of multiple positions - then our tight corner disappears. His truth can exist without threatening to annihilate ours.

Because it is no longer in the foreground, making claims to universality and thus threatening our own truth, we may feel more able to approach, and entertain, Wilde's idea; to visit his castle, look around, note the structure, the decor. To see his position, and to frame it within a landscape of alternative positions, is to allow it room to exist.

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1 Games People Play, p.42