Reflections on a bad consciousness. (archive 2012)

“I believe that while philosophy may well terminate in definitions, it cannot start out from them; and that, in order to understand, to have knowledge of, the content of philosophical concepts themselves – and not simply from the point of view of an external history of ideas or of philosophy – it is necessary to know how concepts have come into being, and what they mean in terms of their origins, their historical dimension.” – Adorno

“Philosophy” is often he pathology of the way people justify their identity, but when it is not, it generally ends with questions and genealogies and logics, not pat answers.  Generally, however, as Marx, Nietzsche, and Adorno understood and as many other non-German thinkers have also understood but not did have the press to articulate, philosophy is the product of the material development of history mixed with the social development of people. In other ways, people have a condition or position and need to come up with a justification, and then there we go.  I would not go so far as to say it was always just a justification as the epiphenomena it produces actually justify all sorts of developments from technology to science (through meta-justifications that do themselves clarify).

Philosophy too then is as Badiou defines it: a way of mediating between truth processes.  But this is only in the ideal, and the ideal, sadly, is only rarely the real. In the end, our rubric cannot be the formalized definition, but it’s opposite: The informal question and genealogy.

That said, it is important to look at the historical development of a philosophical position or a political position for what it obscures as much as it what it says.  One should also question one’s motives for doing it.

The separation of agitprop from a political philosophy, the slogan from a coherent political stance, the ideology from the meme, and the hard answer from the easy one may be something I take up for wrong reasons. Un-reasoned positions can’t be reasoned out of, and positions which reinforce identity doubly so. That itself may be a problematic form of distinction. Yet, if no one says anything, the easy answers keep getting pushed. I think I am going to have a cup of tea and read a book then.

The easy answers confirm our identity; they reduce cognitive dissonance, they allow things to go unchanged.

So much of what I see on the “left” or the right or the center–the reduction of things, the recitation of statistics without context, the half formed views of nation states as being one thing or the other, is the easy answer.  No, I realize that these ideological positions aren’t equally guilty, but the tendencies to view philosophy as a handmaiden to politics and for politics to be about identity or its obfuscation.

Sometimes I think a lot of what passes for progressive ideas is a conspiracy to make fascism look good. No, I don’t actually believe that, but damn, it’s easy to see how bad ideas bring worse ideas to life.  Fascism, here, is not right-wing ideas alone or totalitarianism, or discipline, or any such notion: fascism here being the willingness to combine all sorts of ideological predisposition to maintain an identity, despite the fact it is legitimately falling away. (This definition is actually also incomplete, but it fits for here).

The reason I feel that way about a lot of what passes for “progressive thought” is that it often ahistorical and also abiological. Neo-keynesian focus in the 1933 through 1955 and Keynesian spending, ignoring the leveling and rebuilding of Europe in the process and the decline in real profits of the 1970s.  ‘-isms’  (able-ism, capitalism, sexism) and ‘archies’  (patriarchy, corporatocracy) are spoken about as if they were anamorphous enemies that have been constant throughout time without any improvement or context. These -isms and -archies are rooted in the very real, very lived experience, but as they are spoken about in this way, the realness seems to fall away into mere projection. This is a projection of value that looks inherently unknown and can make conservatism or other forms of ideological positions that are actually not in the interest of many of the oppressed (as individuals or as a class) seem more natural and more contextual.  Luckily, in the US, conservatism in the popular parlance seems to have gone insane, but many liberals, leftists, and otherwise take a false sense of security from that and other demographic facts without realizing that they themselves could easily be becoming the sane version of the status quo.

Badiou would inform us of the truth process here in seeing bad politics and our need to cut away. So the formalist and genealogist meet again.

So I’ll end with a chuck of Gravity’s Rainbow and let you, gentle and intellectual reader that I hope that you are, see the relevance as I saw it today:

But the rocket has to be many things, it must answer to a number of different shapes in the dreams of those who touch it – in combat, in tunnel, on paper – it must survive heresies shining, unconfoundable . . . and heretics there will be: Gnostics who have been taken in a rush of wind and fire to chambers of the Rocket-throne . . . Kabbalists who study the Rocket as Torah, letter by letter – rivets, burner cup and brass rose, its text is theirs to permute and combine into new revelations, always unfolding . . . Manicheans who see two Rockets, good and evil, who speak together in the sacred idiolalia of the Primal Twins (some say their names are Enzian and Blicero) of a good Rocket to take us to the stars, an evil Rocket for the World’s suicide, the two perpetually in struggle. Gravity’s Rainbow (727)


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