Law in Contemporary Society

Individualized Dualism

-- By AlexandraRex - 12 May 2012

Levels of Inherent Discord

Bruce Ackerman’s “dualist democracy” theory attempts to define and cohere three distinct periods of United States constitutional history – the founding period, the Civil war era, and the New Deal revolution. Ackerman’s dualism presupposes that our constitution provides for both periods of “normal politics” where the Supreme Court’s role is preservationist and “constitutional moments” where people devote concentrated attention to fundamental issues of democratic government. In a sense, dualism simultaneously accepts that our country has split multiple times and rejects that such splitting occurred as a result of unwanted national discord. Rather it is this ongoing discord that allows our government to continue functioning and responding to evolving concepts of fundamental rights and values.

Thurman Arnold also provides for a function of inherent discord – in organizations, such discord is woven into the very creeds and rituals underpinning each organization and allowing for diverse group membership (The Folklore of Capitalism). However, unlike Ackerman, Arnold treats discord as an inevitable outgrowth of organizations founded on conflicting ideals – while awareness of such discord does not directly threaten the existence of the carefully welded foundation, it is also not necessarily constructive to an organization’s functionality. While Ackerman embraces dualism as a way to make coherent a discordant national history, Arnold recognizes underlying discord as a basis for the lack of coherence evident in all organizations. Ironically, Arnold’s inherent discord ultimately creates a coherent explanation for the disparity seen within such organizations and their conflicting values.

Lawrence Joseph’s Something Split introduces inherent discord on an individual level. We “split” because of internal conflict – either we attempt to appeal to too many people, or we disagree so fundamentally with what we are doing that the only way to cope with that discrepancy is to split into multiple “people” with different values and beliefs.

Discord as a Means to Coherence

Joseph ends Something Split with a quote by Walt Whitman:

“City of the world for all races are here all the lands of the heart make contributions here city of the sea city of tall facades of marble and iron proud and passionate city mettlesome mad extravagant city.”

I think Joseph, like Ackerman, leaves open the possibility of individual dualism – splitting as a built-in mechanism to make coherent each individual’s multiple conflicting viewpoints and varied situational responses. Perhaps our individual evolution does not happen despite internal splitting, but because of it. Similar to Ackerman’s dualist democracy, I propose that our lives are filled with two types of periods – “constitutional moments” where splitting is so evident that it creates a corresponding external split and “normal politics” where splitting remains internalized. While discord defines each turning point, the sum of our constitutional moments provide for a coherent explanation and awareness of our inherent discord.

Whitman’s quote speaks to this acknowledgement of discord, and I posit that by acknowledging and embracing such moments of heightened splitting, we are more aware of ourselves and better able to control exactly what such splitting will lead to. Looking back on my own life, I have had three “constitutional moments,” where increased internal splitting has effectively culminated in definitive turning points, in regard to both my outlook on life and future decisions.

The first constitutional moment occurred when I was nine. Although divorced seven years earlier, my parents returned to court to battle over my custody. Switching back and forth between houses and personalities was commonplace by that time so when a third party moderator asked me what I wanted, I had no idea how to answer – was I my father's daughter or my mother's? Years of trying to appeal to each parent’s respective wishes and rules culminated in a decisive external split. Forced to make a decision about how to split my time, I also resigned myself to maintaining my “split” personality for each parent’s household. While this exemplifies clear discord, awareness of such discord brings with it a type of a coherency, an explanation for my ability to compartmentalize. Learning to read my parents reactions and respond positively to them proved invaluable as I grew up and was pressured to appeal to a wide spectrum of personalities.

The second major turning point occurred when I chose not to participate in the Catholic sacrament of Confirmation. Raised to that point in the Catholic Church, my decision marked an awareness of institutional inconsistency. While I reserved making a decision about any future relationship with the Church, I acknowledged that my beliefs were too internally variable to remain dedicated to any one religion. Again, contrary to producing a negative contradictory personality, this external split and the resulting awareness fundamentally changed my approach to, and future interactions with, cultural institutions.

The third and most recent split occurred when I decided to move to the east coast for law school. After receiving both my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in engineering, I was at a crossroad – either diligently continue engineering, or pursue a half-formed dream to “make the world a better place through Law. Consciously choosing the more obscure path was an external split both from what I was doing and where I was going. It also marked a change in perspective – my inherent discord forced me to choose between comfort and impact, and choosing the latter will undoubtedly affect the rest of my life.


Analogous to Ackerman’s constitutional dualism, Lawrence Joseph’s notion of splitting serves to cement the inherent discord found in each of our lives. While an undercurrent of splitting constantly ebbs and flows as we find new interests, appeal to different people, and attempt to figure out exactly what we want, there are marked periods of heightened splitting, after which our lives are fundamentally altered. And while awareness of such splitting is critical to avoid the potential negative implications, acknowledgement and acceptance of these contradictory viewpoints serve as a medium for growth, and a method for explaining and maybe understanding our inherently non-coherent lives.

(I'd like to keep working on this throughout the summer.)


Webs Webs

r4 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:09:46 - IanSullivan
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