Rich Paxson

Why do you think the title of the accompanying essay for the first three Modules of the course is, “Don’t speak until you’re spoken to”?

“Don’t speak until you’re spoken to” reflects the conundrum of autonomous individuals interacting with other autonomous individuals. What I learned from this chapter is that we are given our individual ‘selves’ through an anthropology of mimicking the intent of the social other. The saying captures therefore the ironic truth of human culture’s denial of our true, given selves.

“Don’t speak until you’re spoken to” is ironic, because the saying arises from the fact, as James laid it out in the chapter, that we cannot speak until we’re spoken to! Both our language and our memory arise from the inherently physical human necessity of imitating the intention of the social other over time. Language and memory invent us. It is not we who invent them.

“Don’t speak until you’re spoken to” double-binds both the speaker and the compliant listener. The speaker, who in reality is as given by the social other as is her listener, asserts the autonomy of a good-self to command the listener. This idol of a good-self cuts-off knowledge of the real source of her being. A silent, compliant listener denies his behavioral need to imitate the speaking of the other, and not able to cut-off his need to imitate, learns the wholly selfish (as opposed to holy selfless) intent of the speaker.