There are many ideas that are presented in the anthology by Linda Alcoff titled Identities: race, class, gender, and nationality. Of these, two stand out in the pursuit that human beings undertake in their understanding of identity and the structure of their self. These are Consciousness and what is Conscious by Sigmund Freud, and The Self by George Herbet Mead. On his part, Freud makes a stand based on the assertion that there are forces that exist beyond one’s awareness and which influence one’s physical actions and emotional reactions.
Indeed, many human beings would prefer a scientific stand that explains every aspect of human behavior. This would include the assertions that chemical reactions and imbalances influence everything from thought to action. However, Freud provides a psychoanalytic theory that is applicable in many disciplines and which, if indeed correct, would unearth many processes that take place in the brain, and which constitute the self (Freud, 2003). Considering his assertions as being accurate, the conscious mind can be considered as being quite minute as compared to its unconscious counterpart. The conscious mind is only therefore responsible for what we opt to control and can only supersede from the unconscious mind to a small extent. The feelings, opinions, memories that are in the unconscious mind are therefore in control most of the time and take over when one is not thinking about his or her actions.
However, one can criticize this school of thought by affirming that the unconscious is not always in control. The main point in this argument is the level to which the unconscious portion of our self affects our actions. Indeed, Freud’s work can be considered as idealistic since no actual physical evidence can be collected to verify the claims. There is also a notion that is presented from this work that suggests the rigidity of one’s actions and emotions as these are preprogrammed and are therefore beyond one’s control. It would be therefore difficult to change one’s self once it is constructed according to one’s past experiences (Freud, 2003). This would be contradictory to an extent if it were possible to change people’s actions based on who they are.
Mead’s assertions are noted as being based on the analysis of the formation of the self. However, from his perspective, the self is resultant from the social interactions that an individual is subjected to. This, unlike Freud’s assertions, can be considered more realistic if indeed Mead made a claim that a person’s self is formed by the experiences that he is subjected to. One of the notable things from this assertion is that a person’s self is reflective and making it a unique part of the body (Mead, 2003). One is therefore in control of his or her self if it is possible to control the social interactions that he or she comes across.
Mead is also noted as delving into distinguishing the conscious from the unconscious. However, this form of thinking is noted as taking consciousness because of the interaction with the direct environment that the individual is faced with. Human awareness is therefore a result of this process and a person’s self is therefore molded (Mead, 2003). Such a claim is therefore agreeable and proponents would argue that it the self is a result of the outer influences as opposed to an uncontrollable inner unconscious portion of the human mind.
It is however important to note that Mead’s article in this anthology is only introductory and would therefore not stand alone as a complete representation of his ideas on the subject of the self. Therefore, many loopholes can be noted in the presentation. These include the lack of an explanation into the formation of the self if a person were to be kept in isolation and therefore void of social interaction (Mead, 2003). In such a case, it is not clear, whether the unconscious mind would take control to form the self or if the individual would end up being an empty shell. However, despite the critics who would lay claim that the actual proof of these notions is not easily attainable, the explanation of the self and the mind in general is quite accurate if social perceptions are anything to go by.
Freud, S. (2003). Consciousness and What Is Unconscious. In L. M. Alcoff & E. Mendieta (Eds.), Identities: Race, Class, Gender, and Nationality (pp. 29-31). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Mead, G. H. (2003). The Self. In L. M. Alcoff & E. Mendieta (Eds.), Identities: Race, Class, Gender, and Nationality (pp. 32-40). Malden, MA: Blackwell.