Folks ask me why I study Hegel. There are a few reasons. The major one is that I think people are living relatively meaningless, depressing lives, and their only resources are pills and hack therapists. Hegel offers better insight.

Here is the goal: You should be able to think through your life without getting anxious or depressed.

There is a way in which concrete problems are a blessing.

If you have concrete problems, even if you don’t know how to address them, at least you have a clear handle on what’s wrong. If you are in jail, you may not know how to get out, but you know what the problem is. You aren’t confused about what’s wrong. However, if your problem is indeterminate, you may not know where the instability comes from. That’s a recipe for anxiety. Here is how this all works.

Hegel is trying to figure out how to separate legitimate and illegitimate ways of reasoning, and it turns out that in order to have a stable understanding of yourself that is given by yourself, that is, a stable self-determination (a determination is a property), your self-determination has to be mediated by an other that stays an other. This means that to be something, the something you are has to be mediated by another something.

This is why:

He wants to reason in a way that does not have presuppositions, so that whatever he ends up with is legitimized by reason alone. So he starts with being. Being without any determinations. The thing is, when you start with pure being, that is, being without any determinations, you are immediately moved to a different category: nothing. So now you have two categories of thought, pure being and nothing. These two categories have the same content, that is, no content, yet are irreducibly different. Also, when you think of one, thought immediately goes to the other. There is an analog in empirical science. It’s called the observer effect. As soon as you investigate something, the object of investigation becomes something else, and you can’t investigate it without changing it. (I guess its kind of like your credit score that way.) So if you think about pure being, your thought immediately takes you to the category of nothing. In fact, you’ve already passed over to nothing. Once you think about nothing, the same thing happens, you’ve already passed over to indeterminate being. Again, since being and nothing both lack determination, they are identical, yet these are different categories of thought. But you can’t describe the difference because they are both without determination. This immediate relationship between being and nothing is the root of all instability. This is why any two things that are immediately connected are unstable. To have a stable determination, you have to be mediated by an other that has specifiable, determinable otherness.

It’s not an accident that when you go to Alcoholics Anonymous, you get a sponsor. That sponsor mediates your sobriety. This mediation stabilizes you so that you aren’t sober one moment and drinking the next, because in your own mind, unless you have a very strong sense of the self you want to be while you are sober, as distinct from the self you are while you are drinking, you run into the instability problem suggested before, and we all know that ends in the bottle. Without the sponsor, you are a recovering alcoholic without any stability because stability comes through mediation. It is true that you can mediate your identity through an idea. That’s what musicians, or at least serious ones, do when they practice. They have what it should sound like in their head and what it actually sounds like, and they are working out the difference. But there has to be appreciable, determinate differences. If they aren’t striving for an ideal that is mediating the sound, there is no real reason to expect improvement.

So if you are going have a self-determining life, it has to be with people who are themselves free. If you are dealing with someone who is fixed by nature, their nature is going to determine what YOU are allowed to be. For example, I can’t play chess with a dog. In this way, what I’m allowed to be is circumscribed by the dog’s nature. I can be someone who plays fetch. I cannot be someone plays chess. There is a similar problem with dealing with someone who is an addict. Having an addict friend circumscribes the kinds of activities we can do. However, if the person I’m with is not determined by their nature or pathology, we can figure out what to do together in a way that is emancipated from the given natures of either of us. We can be the mediators of each other’s self-determination.

This comes down to how a good bit of mental health issues have to do with some form of how people are positioned to take on alien determinations, based the strictures of the medium. The antidote is that we need to create better institutional relationships that allow for self-determination. Because if it all stays unmediated in your head, then your “freedom” is really indeterminate instability.

There are also different kinds of instability. If I am insecure of my chess playing capacity. I think I’m a good chess player, but since I never play, when I think about chess, I also think about all of the ways I’m not a good chess player. The same person who is a good chess player also isn’t a good chess player. My identity is a mess that’ll only be answered by actually playing chess. I need someone else to play chess with, in order to figure out who I am myself. But what happens when I sit down to play chess with a monkey? Well, I’m subjected to a completely different variety of instability. The monkey’s throwing pieces everywhere and tossing aside the board because my identity needs to be mediated by the right kind of medium, so that it’s not dictated by the fixed nature of the medium, but rather, the medium is itself free to engage on the appropriate terms, while staying an other.

Again, if the medium through which you certify your identity is has a fixed and alien determination, you are in the position of a vegetarian who walks into a restaurant to find the only two choices are chicken and steak. In that case, you choose yourself into your own alien determination.

The good is to choose yourself into a self-determination, e.g., to take the vegetarian example, that means there needs to be a bean option on the menu for you to choose. To take the chess example, that means there is an appropriately skilled player for you to test yourself against to certify whether you are a good or a bad chess player.

You may have to read this a few times, but it’s right so go back, work out the arguments, and talk about this with your friends. You’ll also come to see why if you are to be self-determining, the medium with which you work out your determination is also going to have to be free, so all self-determination is a variety of co-determination, else your options are going to be unduly fixed by the determinate nature of the medium.