Monthly Archives: April 2012
In between grading student essays and reflecting on the history of some pacification of the militant protestant sects, I began thinking about Adorno’s “Resignation” and the way I have seen Adorno rely on pure negativity as a means to dialectic. Now to get all Hegelian about things, this is a refusal to go to an axiomatic stage of the dialectic, and thus is a refusal to conceptualize a way out. Now in a crude Hegelian manner, I can point out that this seems like an abnegation as much as a resignation: a refusal to accept the dialectic as more than a via negativa, a negative ecology. to use a phrase from Malcolm Bull:
Even political undertakings can sink into pseudo-activities, into theater. It is no coincidence that the ideals of immediate action, even the propaganda of the [deed], have been resurrected after the willing integration of formerly progressive organizations that now in all countries of the earth are developing the characteristic traits of what they once opposed. Yet this does not invalidate the critique of anarchism. Its return is that of a ghost. The impatience with theory that manifests itself with its return does not advance thought beyond itself. By forgetting thought, the impatience falls back below it. [Adorno, “Resignation,” (1969), in Critical Models, trans. Henry W. Pickford (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 292.]
Now I have seen this read as a returning to Lenin’s critique of Left communism and as a embrace of nearly mystical Jewish eschatology, both of these have some rooting in fact no doubt. Yet one cannot help but note that despite Adorno’s Leninism, the Leninist project no longer resembled anything Adorno would be willing to defend (or most probably even Lenin would be willing to defend). The more critical question would be that psuedo-activity is endemic and if the Frankfurt’s school own fate illustrates, pseudo-activity of the mind is something that dominates most theorists, and yet this is something that is distinct from any pronouncement of Lenin I know of:
This is made easier for the individual by his capitulation to the collective with which he identifies himself. He is spared from recognizing his powerlessness; the few become the many in their own eyes. This act, not unwavering thought, is resignative. No transparent relationship obtains between the interests of the ego and the collective it surrenders itself to. The ego must abolish itself so that it may be blessed with the grace of being chosen by the collective. . . . The sense of a new security is purchased with the sacrifice of autonomous thinking. The consolation that thinking improves in the context of collective action is deceptive: thinking, as a mere instrument of activist actions, atrophies like all instrumental reason. . . .
Notice then that while Adorno critiques seriously the autonomous of the spirit of anarchism, he also psychologizes solidarity politics in a way that makes it also fairly meaningless as a means of avoidance of abnegation of truth. Adorno has put himself in a double-bind in left-wing politics and removed the meaningfulness of most action in the current context, rendering the situation to many a speed reader, much more eschatological than anything that would have slipped out of Lenin’s mouth.
Yet there is a point to this in which one begins to wonder if Adorno’s answer to this bind, similar to Kolakowski’s prior to him, is actually an answer:
By contrast the uncompromisingly critical thinker, who neither signs over his consciousness nor lets himself be terrorized into action, is in truth the one who does not give in. Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation. . . . Open thinking points beyond itself. . . .Whatever has once been thought can be suppressed, forgotten, can vanish. But it cannot be denied that something of it survives.For thinking has the element of the universal. What once was thought cogently must be thought elsewhere, by others: this confidence accompanies even the most solitary and powerless thought. . . . The happiness that dawns in the eye of the thinking person is the happiness of humanity. The universal tendency of oppression is opposed to thought as such. Thought is happiness, even where it defines unhappiness: by enunciating it. By this alone happiness reaches into the universal unhappiness. Whoever does not let it atrophy has not resigned.
One cannot ignore that whatever one thinks of this answer, it is a dramatic lowering of the bar from anything that ever left Lenin’s mouth. Regression is the normal answer given, and yet as a concept, do not let any Marxist-academic fool you, regression is not a category that can be simply understood or demarcated as, for some strange reason, as many an academic will tell you the situation of socialist and capitalist society is ALWAYS regressing. One has an almost inverted Steven Pinker/Pangloss “liberal modernity is the best of all possible current worlds” to “liberal modernity is best of all possible current worlds because we have regressed from prior possible visions.” Negri and many an Italian Marxist have lost patience with this deconstructive impulse, and criticized Adorno for his lack of a positive construction. Other friends see this as a point of failure of vision. Some see it as bad Marxism, a friend of mine once quipped: “it’s all dialectics and no materialism” and at the end Adorno does retreat the field of battle outside of the material world and its temptations of pseudo-activity. Regression has made that so?
But regression does imply a theory of history in which the future progressive standpoint can be known, which is why contingency is such a threat to the Adorno-influenced Marxist. Yet as Hegel dialectics can take, if we look at Hegel’s Shorter logic, both positive and negative forms and moves forward by positing new positives from prior situations. Yes, Hegel thought philosophy could become objective, but outside from the eye of God, no one knows the outcome of a dialectical moment until it is passed through, contradictions sublated, and new contradictions emerging.
The negativity of the dialectic is a given, but it doesn’t end there. Whatever you think of Lenin, thought was not a means out of resignation or a hope for a utopia, nor was it the belief that thought itself changed the world as an absolute idea in Lenin. Thought moves through world because it emerges from it, and is in a feedback loop with it. Therefore any thought that doesn’t change material condition as well as emerge from them is Utopian in the purely negative sense.
You can’t think your way out of a necessary historical situation.
It’s a nice evening in the mid-60′s Fahrenheit and the cherry blossoms are blooming, and I am finishing some grading after cleaning the apartment. My girlfriend’s cat is nuzzling me, and I can’t get the absurdity of a K-pop song’s questionable English out of my head. This said, I made the horrible mistake of getting on a facebook group of the left-wingers. I have made New Years resolutions to back away from the massive troll wars of the left as leftist internet trolls are a special breed of troll–admittedly often slightly more erudite than your average American conservative troll arguing on Huffington post, but only in the margins of difference.
So today I read an internet argument about Nationalism and racism. Now, as an avowed “anti-racist” and someone who takes nationalism seriously both positively and negatively, I would want to not call out basic mistakes in logic, but alas, being in the skeptical tradition and hating general illiteracy, I had to point out that the following paraphrased statement makes no logical sense: American capitalism developed among an explicitly white supremacist milieu, therefore any anti-capitalist movement is also anti-racist.
Now, I am not going to get into the history of how this is explicitly not true: the Southern Agrarians hated liberal capitalism and the decline of tradition therein, the National Syndicalists were explicitly anti-capitalist and were nationalists (which most said leftists and liberals would have considered racist, and the anti-capitalist rhetoric of the left-wing of the fascist movement. I won’t even get into how unbelievably wrong this sentiment is historically. Nor will I make too much hay on the fact that capitalism is much larger than the particular semi-hegemonic power in the United States, and it’s origins do happen to emerge roughly contemporaneously to European nationalism, but also play against it as many nationalists knew.
Setting all those criticism aside: this is a formal logical fallacy.
The fallacy at hand is the “Illicit contraposition,” which does sound like a new Cold War plot, is the following formal logical fallacy:
All S are P.
Therefore, no non-P are non-S
In this case:
All capitalism is racist*
Therefore, all anti-capitalism is anti-racist.
This not only is illicit contraposition, *whose first formal syllogistic statement is incoherent anyway (it does not follow that sense capitalism developed in a racist context that it would be always and forever racist), it also formalizes the informal logical fallacy of “No True Scotsman.” So historical examples to the contrary, I wouldn’t need that, I can merely point out that this short statement includes, at minimum, one formal (*always wrong) and one informal (*usually wrong) fallacy.
So the deeper question is this: Why do trolls not even bother to make convincing arguments? The hyper-reification of concepts leads to all sorts of fallacious foundations to arguments? This isn’t quite to “my” side: Derbyshire’s Taki Mag article last week is no less than a whole-to-part fallacy mixed with well-poisoning. Yet one sees “said abstract developed under context of said abstract, therefore anti-said-abstract must also be anti-said-other-abstract” is fallacious in the extreme and common as “sin” on the left-wing blogosphere.
No ideological position has a mandate on illogical thinking.
Despite my love of philosophy, my first love in philosophy was philosophy of science and as a child, I read Carl Sagan and Michael Shermer to show up the locals in science in my small middle Georgia town. My first love was biology and anthropology, and my first crush on a writer was the science fiction writer, Philip K. Dick, and the scientist and science journalist, Stephen Jay Gould. One of the things you will notice is that while I will make critiques of scientific community’s publishing practices, of the sociology of research, on fields with have little historical, comparative, or experimental checks (such as Evolutionary Psychology): I do, however, think the chanting of many in the New Atheist and “Skeptic’s Community” about “reason” is vapid and more than a little unreasonable as what is meant by “reason:” moves from meaning “science” to “logic” to “commonsense” to “critical thinking” without realizing that these are not the same thing, and even individually
Despite my philosophical critiques, I actually still consider myself part of that moment. I listen to Skeptic podcasts, and while I avoid the new atheist, one of my favorite popular philosophers is Massimo Pigliucci at Rationally Speaking (Blog and Podcast). I was struck, however, listening to a recent episode of Rationally Speaking: the difference between intuitive and deliberation reason is fascinating as it indicates that a) most people actually don’t think deliberately rationally, and b) this is rational in a extreme way. This leads to a set of flukes: human beings do not have a base-line “system b” intuition about probability and advanced numbers.
If one wanted to talk about “dialectics of Enlightenment” (to borrow a phrase from Horkheimer and Adorno and use in in a completely different way), it is clear that the more you study the “reasoning brain,” the more complicated our picture of human logic becomes. Most logical skills are not innate, and the optimistic vision of the 17th century Enlightenment enables the science which makes us question “natural” reasoning states. No wonder why post-structuralists philosophers can appear so convincing when you understand them, the more you know about science and logic, the more you realize that people do not automatically think scientifically and logically even without “substitution” and other forms of cultural habit.
So the legacy of the Enlightenment, to borrow a phrase from Jonathan Israel, is contested within itself. This, by the way, is why I am not “anti-modern” in a simple sense: I am a loyal opposition to modernity because I think “reason”–by which I mean logic and scientific rigor–actually undoes most of the optimism in the early parts of the Enlightenment and the violent meloncholia that Nietzsche calls nihilism can emerge if one is burned to bad by the dreams of a completely reasonable world. I, however, don’t think it is just philosophy that gets you there–either in analytic breakdown of modal logic or the speculative categories of modern European philosophy and critical theory.
Still understanding “reason” in a not naive way, and realizing the limitations of framing and limits of a particular sociology, science is one of the modern gifts that one should fight, tooth and nail, to preserve even when one is critiquing “scientism” (abuses of the scientific demarcation line) and bad practices, of which there are many, in the scientific community.
On theory, theories exist. In practice, they do not. — Bruno Latour
I have just come back from the market after walking my fiancee to her teaching job: my students are doing independent work for the mid-term, so I have only had to be available by consultation, which I have been by phone, e-mail, and skype. There is something to being an academic and a teacher, even one is not phoning things in, that makes for time to reflect, plan, critique, and study. In other words, to propose knowledge for students as oppose to merely replicating prior knowledge. Or, at least, that is the hope. There are moments in my more cynical periods where this seems far from clear to me: particularly given the staggering number of papers and projects that either don’t go anywhere or don’t do anything.
Anyway, being in Academia, particularly in the social science and humanities region thereof, I often linger in philosophical abstractions, and there is a good reason for this, as I am trying to deal with conceptual frameworks for handling and speaking about highly, highly complex issues, but I find myself more and more finding a certain level of philosophical abstraction completely not only alienating, but itself obfuscating issues. I have been critical of the way math is used in economics in a way that often hides important qualitative information, such as behavioral cues, which the Austrian economists were right to critique (there are to this is a set of apriori rationalistic arguments, however, is worse than the disease). I also critical of methodologies being given as an answer without specifics or context.
In a sense, this seems to serve two functions: to avoid symbolic violence and to distance oneself for failures of theory in action. I feel that when I read hyper-abstract theories of meta-history and teleology, which one sees in most Marxist writings and, frankly, most Anarchist writings. Why? In Marx and even in Lenin, one sees all sorts of specifics being dealt with in addition to a Hegelian dialectic. After Adorno (in one tradition) and Althusser (in an opposed one), the critique you get is either not theoretical at all in “actually existing socialist” societies or it is highly abstract dialectics or structuralists analysis in which the analysis seems to be subject of politics. There the lack of abstraction and the hyper-abstraction seem like moves of avoidance.
I am speaking know of Marxism and anarchism because that is what I write about here. I also despite appeals to simplicity and absolute concreteness as somehow proof of deep thought: such clarity can be profoundly muddling and obfucatory, but when abstraction is not backed with something concrete other than form immediately, I am beginning to think that this is an abstraction of politics. It is a form of obfuscation and avoidance.
A friend of mind pointed me to this passage from the above referenced book:
“I believe that there is a profound relationship between the drive to activism and male depression in late-modernity, which is most evident in the voluntarist and subjectivist organisation of Leninsm. Both from the standpoint of the history of the worker’s movement in the 1900′s and from that of the strategic autonomy of society of capital, I’m convinced that the twentieth century would have been a better century had Lenin not existed. Lenin’s vision interprets a deep trend in the configuration of modern masculinity. Male narcissism was confronted with the infinite power of capital and emerged from it frustrated, humiliated and depressed.
[…] Lenin emerged from the 1902 crisis by writing What is to be Done? and engaging the construction of the ‘nucleus of steel’, a block of will capable of breaking the weakest link in the (imperialist) chain. The second crisis came in 1914 at the height of breakup of the Second International and the split of the Communists. The third crisis, as you might guess, occurs in the spring of 1917. […] Lenin conceived of the April Theses and decided to impose will on intelligence: a rupture that disregarded the deep dynamics of class struggle and forced on them an external design. Intelligence is depressive, therefore will is the only cure for the abyss: ignore but do not remove it. The abyss remained and subsequent years did not uncover it; the century slipped into it.
[…] Leninism’s intellectual decisions were so powerful that they papered over depression with obsessive male voluntarism.”
I don’t have After the Future in English or Italian on me, but I did find a similar passage in Precarious Rhapsody.:
I believe that there is a profound relationship between the drive to activism and the male depression of late modernity, which is most evident in the voluntaristic and subjectivist organization of Leninism. Both from the standpoint of the history of the workers’ movement in the 1900s and from that of the strategic autonomy of society from capital, I am convinced that the twentieth century would have been a better century had Lenin not existed. Lenin’s vision interprets a deep trend in the configuration of the psyche of modern masculinity. Male narcissism was confronted with the infinite power of capital and emerged from it frustrated, humiliated, and depressed. It seems to me that Lenin’s depression is a crucial element for understanding the role his thought played in the development of the politics of late modernity.
I have read Hélène Carrère D’Encausse’s biography of Lenin. The author is a researcher of Georgian descent, who in the 1980s also published L’empire en miettes, where she foresaw the collapse of the Soviet empire as an effect of the insurgence of Islamic fundamentalism. What interested me in Carrère D’Encausse’s biography of Lenin more than the history of Lenin’s political activity was his personal life, his fragile psyche, and his affectionate and intellectual relationships with the women close to him: his mother, his sister, Krupskaia, comrade and wife, who looked after him at times of acute psychological crises, and, finally, Ines Armand, the perturbing, the uneimlich, the lover whom Lenin decided to neutralize and remove, like music, apparently. The framework of the psyche described in this biography is depression and Lenin’s most acute crises coincided with important political
shifts in the revolutionary movement. As Carrère D’Encausse writes:
Lenin used to invest everything he did with perseverance, tenaciousness and an exceptional concentration: such consistency, which he thought necessary in each of his efforts, put him in a position of great superiority over the people around him… This feature of his character often had negative effects. Exceedingly intensive efforts would tire him and wear down his already fragile nervous system. The first crisis dates back to 1902 (1998: 78).
These were the years of the Bolshevik turn, of What is to be done? Krupskaia played a fundamental role in the crisis of her comrade: she intervened to filter his relations with the outside world, paid for his therapy and isolation in clinics in Switzerland and Finland. Lenin emerged from the 1902 crisis by writing What is to be done and engaging in the construction of a ‘nucleus of steel,’ a block of will capable of breaking the weakest link in the imperialist chain. The second crisis arrived in 1914 at the height of the break up of the Second International and the split of the Communists. The third crisis, as you might guess, occurred in the spring of 1917. Krupskaia found a safe resort in Finland, where Lenin
conceived The April Theses and the decision to impose will on intelligence: a rupture that disregarded the deep dynamics of class struggle and forced onto them an external design. Intelligence is depressive, therefore will is the only cure to the abyss, to ignore it without removing it.
The abyss remains and the following years uncovered it, as the century precipitated into it.
Here I do not intend to discuss the politics of Lenin’s fundamental choices. I am interested in pointing out a relationship between Bolshevik voluntarism and the male inability to accept depression and develop it from within. Here lies the root of the subjectivist voluntarism that produced the setback of social autonomy in the 1900s. The intellectual decisions of Leninism were so powerful because they were capable of interpreting the male obsession with voluntarism as it faced depression.
I won’t comment too much on this except that everyone is always trying to parse a subjectivity as a means to figure out Lenin and the course of the socialist at end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21th. Why so much focus on what cannot be know about one man’s subjectivity? Something crucial is in that impossibility, and hence why everyone focuses on it. Yet it is totally outside the bounds of reason, and take very weird forms: What makes Lenin’s willfulness particularly masculine? suffragettes and Temperance movement women both manifested it. Why I get tired of trying to justify Lenin’s works with the actual actions of the Bolshevik party during his rule, I just must admit that given the way Lenin acted and Lenin wrote, and the tosses and turns he made in response, this sort of psychologizing is an avoidance.
Exhaustion sets in over time: Or how I learned to quit arguing about “the left” and started see politics for what was (meta-relationships).
In the rush of cars outside in cool evening air calms me. I have written about a page on my short story today, gotten more house work done around my fiancee’s apartment, and went back to a politics and philosophy group I started almost a year ago. I must admit: I am tired of the concept of the generic, non-liberal left. I am tired of even the generic Marxian left as a concept and as a practice. I would rather listen to the cars outside because it is about of the same usefulness.
I have already spelled out that I doubt that the teleological view of history, even the contingent or “dialectical,” teleological view of history avoids the fact that we speak as if we know what is good or possible, and we do not. We only know the probable. We can only have probable knowledge through a variety of processes. We may call them “truth” processes. Meta-theories about these processes, the content of philosophy and non-philosophy (to use term by Laruelle), are necessary just like science is justified in a variety of epistemological frameworks, but they cannot in any strict sense be known to be true. Our evidence for them is in the effects. Hence, my point about Hegel’s, History is the judge of human ideas. These things can only be seen in hindsight, and the conservative caution about them is not unwarranted.
The problem with the conservative position is that historical contingencies do change: material conditions change, cultures interaction, events happen. The rupture of an event changes everything, and just like the you who is a person tomorrow is not the same as a person today nor totally distinct from it, the needs of a culture do change over time. The needs of an ecological system changes. The needs of an individual changes. The individual is a complex system and the ecology is a complex system: neither a unitary nor a plurality. Yet we can’t assume the needs of either scale up. This is why the personal is political is a too reductive and simplistic to be useful.
One of the things I have noticed, sitting here thinking about it, is that I have been forced to try to defend or condemn the subject impulses of anarchists or Leninists, the pluralism of Lenin whose next moves after said pluralism were to ban all political parties opposed to him? Or to defend Bakunin who endorsed “invisible dictatorship” and whose associations with barrack’s anarchist Sergey Gennadiyevich Nyechayev blacked his name when Nyechayev killed many of his own comrades. Nor I can defend Nestor Ivanovych Makhno, hero of so many left anarchists, who tried to ethnically purge the German Mnennonites from his city. It is not that I don’t understand that politics contains violence. Violence is a fact of human relationships. It is that I cannot make excuses for it.
To say that history has judged this harshly is to say that events have emerged that show the problems of these positions. The subjectivities or fidelities to the intention of these ideas is irrelevant, ultimately.
Don’t worry, I am not going to hand in my cards, and become a Democrat, and retire as a head of a non-profit. Nor will I take the false pretense of being a moderate: I do think violence is sometimes necessary, but these aims have historically been against real people. Marxism dominates among scholars, I think, because we can disconnect events from theories. After all, Marx only gave us critique: critique of the socialist movement (Blanquists, Saint-Simonians, LaSalleians), critique of political economy (against Proudhon, against Bentham, moderating and expanding Ricardo and Smith), and critique of Hegel and the Young Hegelians. The dialectics in Marx and Frankfurt School have only ever been negative, and in most Leninism and Maoism have only ever been justifications. That’s a huge generalization, but the incoherence of the practice indicate that theory lacked, not led, the discussion. In all “communism” states, positive political economy was given by another theory beyond Marxism. Take the Soviet example: for NEP-period and for Stalin, Taylorism. For the 1950s and early 1960s, US cybernetic theory. For late 1960 and 1970s, limited forms of social democracy. In China, you have similar issues: Mao borrowed much of his positive proscriptions from Chinese Legalism and from Stalin’s forced collectivization, and after Mao, we saw Mercentilism and development along state-capitalist lines like an accelerated form of policies from 17th century Europe. One of my friends says this because of the managerial class infecting Marxism, I go much further them him: it is from from lacking a positive vision of social organization that could actually work.
In a different way anarchists too have been primarily about opposition: to various forms of rulership, to the state, etc. Syndicalism was the only form of anarchism that I know actually developed a long-range coherent political economy, although Murray Bookchin’s dialectical naturalism did attempt to do this as well. Mostly, however, this is been active critique. Anarchist victories have been, well, small. Confederations have never been able to counter well-heeled states, nor have autonomous zones really been able to resist. Most anarchists I deal with instead of offering real fixes this, justify loses as virtues. Yet there is much to admire in the anarchist vitality and the Marxist historical rigor: much to admire and I used to think bring these groups together would lead to a way through this impasse. A lot of people believe this as it was the zeitgeist of Occupy. To be honest, I don’t think this works now.
I could go on about Social Democrats being unable to resist market forces, and left-liberals almost always letting conservatives define the debate for them.
Chastising the left alone, though, is a form of posturing. An exhausting one which hollows out one’s tactical political goals, and leaves one a husk of a person. Critique should always have an axiomatic aim: a dialectical process must be able to handle the sublation and know what it is not acceptable as an answer. Dialectics isn’t politics though, its a form of logic.
The “revolution”–which has become an over-full signifier–will not be televised. It will not be an “inner” revolution. In fact, I don’t know what it will be, but I am pretty sure it won’t be televized. I also have a feeling that most of the existing ideologically-driven left will not recognize until it hits them square in the head. Until then, we have to do the hard work: this is issue work, and its outside of electoral spectacles. Of course, we must make concessions to the societies we actually live in, but let’s not be false about it.
IF I go searching for pathology, I will find disease or possible disease, particularly if my guide isn’t anything objective. There is a point where this is a waste of time. I have issues I care about, I have axioms for what I find unacceptable: I don’t think electoral reform will fix these issues, but trying to battle this as a totality seems, well, like a recipe for failure.
History is the judge of ideas. This not mean there is some meta-historical or trans-historical meta-logic to which we will be able to have a theory of the correct idea, it can, however, show us with ideas where botched, maladjusted, and counter-adaptive. This is the way history shows us things. Anything thing else reifies the concept.
I am going to go back to listening to cars.
It is election day in South Korea, so the dancing girls and old woman handing fliers with numbers on them (as candidates are assigned a number here) with the booming trucks trying through small city streets and crowding the corners. There is not much in American style attack ads and the spectacle is limited for a month or so. In Mohyeon-meon on the outskirts of Yong-in, where my university is nestled in the side of a mountain, I see little of this, but in visiting my beloved in Daejeon and travelling through Seoul, which I do weekly, I see the carnival of democracy.
Of all forms of democracy, I value representative democracy the least: in either its American or Parliamentary form. The tendency for “rational irrationality” to creep into deliberation and the human inability to intuitively understand probabilities make this almost a given. There is one maxim that Badiou gives from his various sets that I take more seriously as I get older: Politics is what cannot be represented. However, I am not taking the purist stance of many anarchists who wish that there are no concessions to spectacles as people’s lives are made and broken in public policy.
At least, in Korea, election day is a national holiday, so people do not work in the mildly warm spring air, one sees children playing in the knocks of the side walk and the edges of the street while street vendors , I stopped by my local fruit vendor and bought some naval oranges. I don’t drive here in South Korea and “New Urbanism” is just, you know, the way cities organically function here for all their problems. So I stop by and interact more with people, even as just as respite from the carnival.
I keep mulling some of my new story in my head: It’s refreshing to be writing something other than critical theory or political blogging for once. Not that there isn’t politics in my short story, even in the long arm of the Hegelian geist: I deal in science fiction because I can critique what is and what could be.
Yesterday I completed most of my spring book buying: I tend to seasonally allot myself reading. In Kyobo Bookstore in Gwanhamoon in Seoul, there is little fiction so no new Paolo Bacigalupi that I wanted, although I have quite enjoyed re-reading his “Pump Six” collection of stories, which rank up their with Philip K. Dick and early J.G. Ballard, as well as China Mieville for writing that truly deals with issues substantively without reading like it is a fictionalized version of a Berkeley culture studies class. So I got a few more shorter Badiou works after looking fruitlessly for anything else by Francois Laruelle.
I noticed a few more “skeptical” titles on religion that I considered: I have become re-engaged with Skeptical Thinkers in both the classical tradition and in the so-called “Skeptic’s Movement.” I am still highly critical of the positivistic inclination in many of the Skeptic’s movement, and the want of consensus of scientists to decide norms from descriptions. In many ways, I find it philosophically undeveloped, and politically naive. The rampant soft-libertarianism, un-reflective left-liberalism, and the acceptance of bad economic thought as well bothers me. Furthermore, I doubt I could get a one of them to put Bertrand Russell, quit whining about relativism and post-modernism without understanding them (or even knowing what isn’t Post-modern or Post-structural.), and realize that criticizing scientific practices in both practical and scientific grounds is often not done out a fear of science, but a love of it within its demarcation.
I consider this a sign of the times, though. The radical Enlightenment never completely one and the few truths of those in the Counter-Enlightenment never really took hold. It is, however, cowardly not to engage with skeptics. After all, I started blogging in order to combat bad science in education and misreadings of science in the humanities, then started combating naivete realism in “Skeptical blogs”–structural frameworks have to be engaged in. As I am not a believer in anything that could be called supernatural, and I detest ignorance as much as arrogance, I should engage with as a person who has come to similar conclusions from radically different means to illustrate the point.
So instead of science fiction, I picked up Jonathan Israel’s massive, “Enlightenment Contested?,” because at the core isn’t this what it is all about? The skeptic’s movement is sort of a popular form of the French Newtonians which pretty much influenced all analytic philosophy. But this book not only goes into thinkers like those considered Counter-Enlightenment, but also Asian influences on the Enlightenment, and how three different variants of the mood of the Enlightenment set the stage for most of political theory in the modern period. As I think we are living in a time when these ideas and the political arrangements, even the aesthetic trends in this, have begun to hit a limit and we can see how they transform.
The spring air calls through the window. One can forget it is an election sense or that even the environment is beginning to show severe signs of wear-and-tear.
I do not call myself a progressive, as it was a term used by left liberals to distance themselves from communism and for liberal-leaning communists to hide, furthermore as the demonization of the word liberal in the popular imagination and simplification of the political spectrum into a highly misleading and rather vapid binary. Yet in pondering the historicism of Hegel as well as Nietzsche and DeMaistre, there is a tension in all historical thinkers for even the most conservative ones realize that while time may not be moving in a presupposed teleos, it most definitely moves and Hegel supposed as did DeMaistre that history was the judge of right.
This, however, has always problematized the left. The left conception of history can not longer be simply linear. It cannot think this because history did not judge left projects well. One was seen two trends in left philosophy: to embrace and accelerate the end of history within liberal modernity or to see everything that has happened as regressive. DeMaistre had the same conflict when he saw the Enlightenment win. The Right has not be judged well by history either.
Now I do see a validity to this later view yet this is in fundamental contradiction to a materialist conception of history without a teleos which is known. We cannot know the future, and even the past is but a rhyming dictionary. To paraphrase Mark Twain, history doesn’t repeat itself but it rhymes. So this fundamental contradiction requires a self dialectic that remains unaddressed.
I say this on a day I am on a bus and ill with cold. The winter is over but peeking its head up for one more day, and the predictable unpredictability of the natural emerges yet the climate is altering slowly day by day. This actually primes my thought.
Finally, after a day of travel all of the North end of South Korea, I am back at dorm room apartment. Oh, the life of an expatriate lecturer, one gets to live in a “dormitory” well into their early 30s. Anyway, after vowing to move this blog anyway from abstractions, and mix things up a bit.
I am getting married to a wonderful woman: I was hesitant in some ways for a variety of reason, and I am hesitant to talk about my views on the contradictions within our concept of marriage. With a caveat, I opposed the idea of marriage for most of my early 20s and did, again, after my first divorce. My ex-wife and I are actually still great friends and both did and didn’t divorce for the common reasons: it was not infidelity, it was lifestyle incompatibility and money issues that stem from said incompatibility. I used to joke that I being a “Married male of any orientation should be a different gender category from an unmarried one.” I still, actually, feel that way in a sense.
Now, I am also a believer that no marriage arrangement is entirely natural: both polygamy and monogamy come with some strain and tension with most individuals inclinations and thus cannot be said to be or not be natural unless the social and environmental constraints are accounted for in a realistic fashion. I also a believer that very little avoidances of marriage are entirely without their aleinations even in a particular context, in Northern Europe where divorce and marriage are no longer common, the unmarried relationships often assume a form resembling in almost all domestic aspects a marriage. Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá document pretty convincingly that most narratives on sexuality have had a present bias and a pretty moralistically bleak view of libidinal economy, even in good works by Darwin and so forth. The book “Sex at Dawn” which is often taken as a defensive of polyamory can be properly be read as a defense of contextual relationships.
That said, both the abstracted notions of sex on sees in liberal-radicals like Judith Butler (who would never use that phrase) as well as hyper-conservative notions on sees in most people who defend traditional values as “biological” is highly problematic. Traditional values may have been biological in a specific context, but it takes more than will-power for a traditional context to make sense. In this sense, it is not without problems to see our current openness about sex and hook-up culture as a form of liberation. It seems to me that it makes the real objects of sex taboo and also allows us to turn people into objects in lieu of taking about the real objects of sex.
I use “objects” and not object because I think both “radical” and “conservative” discourse about sexuality is entirely reductive to a stupid degree: if sex were about merely procreation then we would have “heat” cycles to ensure pregnancy like, well, most other males, and if it were merely about pleasure then the female orgasm would not be so elusive. Evolution is a harsh mattress and not a teleologically consistent one: it’s an ad hoc universe in the biological sphere. (This, of course, makes speaking about “nature” coherently almost in possible? Even nature has a context).
This is not to deny that there are real limits to human sexuality and real battles fought over it. But in a way, our dialogue on what the “meaning” of sex is may be incoherent to the point of schizotypal because a decoupling of social context and biologic context, but a severing into a dialectical tension that which is not in fundamental contradiction in its unalienated state.
Wait, here I revere to tendencies I dislike about philosophy writing, the tendency to over-abstract: people love and people fuck for a variety of different reasons in a variety of different contexts. Almost none of us are comfortable with that because some form of “other” enjoyment indicates a lack created by our ability to articulate.
What is it Lacan says? Lack is created by language. Before we speak, we cannot postulate that which is not?
So I’ll try to avoid name dropping, with the caveat that Foucault’s basic premise that sexuality is a socially situated, seems to be more or less right. The problem is, as always, that our conceptions of biological and social are falsely separated: while I am critical of the metaphor as “nature” as a “machine,” I do fundamentally think that social structures and biological structures are in a feedback loop. I desire someone both because I have a genetic impulse to desire them, but how I desire them and what forms that relationship takes are, in no small part, socially shaped. The real dialectical conflicts come when social notions no longer fit biological reality, even if biological reality has changed for essentially social reasons.
Technology changes who you are. How can you not think it changes your relationships to people?
This leads to all sorts of issues: I am gay or straight or bisexual? How is that it appears that while sexuality is definitely determined by social pressures and yet we cannot castigate certain practices out of existence? Does it make sense to get married?
In my personal life this plays out in a lot of strange ways: I am getting married to a woman because I love her. Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, even from personal experience, love is a weak reason for marriage. In fact, it’s not even a good predictor of martial happiness. The information on arranged marriages startlingly conflicts with the notion that peer-love marriage is a good means for contentment for most people who are belong a certain social class and income range. Even the sexual revolution, interestingly, has been more positive for upper middle class women and men who seem to benefit from promiscuity then still get into relatively stable marriages (of varying degrees of openness) whereas the poor who often value marriage more as a social good see fewer marriages and fewer of its benefits? I love a few women quite deeply, and yet I choose one of them because I love her and it seems conductive to that kind of social relationship.
In a way, just talking about fucking is avoiding the a lot of the larger issues here isn’t it.
Nothing in modernity seems to be without its contradictions. Particularly in sex where anything viewed long enough and believed in general in mass culture seems to be fraught with outright contradictions. I, as I stated, am no exception: the polyamorous man entering into a relationship that is rooted in monogamy. Doing so willingly and knowing from personal failure the dangers involved, and yet when I am honest with myself even in my most polyamorous moments my relationships have been based on fundamental rules and commitments that are both from my partners and the larger social milieu. Sometimes, I find it more than a little ironic that liberals for all their emphasis on social importance and social contextualization, take a completely individualistic view on love and sex.
Funny how so many refuse to look honestly at the contradictions in their lives: dialectics, as I understand it, is a way to look at one’s contradictions honestly and try to move past them. Most people, however, from the pain of cognitive dissonance cannot do this: doing this in one’s most intimate relationship is even more traumatic.
But it is spring time, after all, and thus we like to think we should talk about love.