Ideological fluttering as like knots in the stomach; sometimes they cause us to move forward and other times we purge ourselves into convulsing wrecks. Today, amidst more arguing about Hegel–and since I have Phenomenology of Spirit and the shorter Logic under the guidance of a conservative Calvinist Professor who saw the history of philosophy as purely pathological, intense debates over Hegel punctuate my philosophical life–I finished Michel Onfray’s A Hedonist Manifesto. I read it quickly, devouring the 120-some-odd pages while at a salon academy waiting for my wife to dye her hair. At risk of over-sharing, my wife’s hair has turned partially white from her treatments: not gray, white. No melanin left. Her own cells attacked it when it attacked her cancer.
I will review Onfray’s manifesto more completely later. His calls for embodied philosophy speak to me, obviously. This is not mean his book is without problems: the attempts to reconcile a left Nietzscheanism with a kind of pragmaticism and utilitarianism seem to be impossible. Yes, Onfray sees things in Bentham that both Foucault and Marx ignored, but the selfless selfishness of J.S. Mill creates a tension with Onfray’s coalition of mutual egoism.
Yet, I cannot speak to how refreshing his approach is despite Onfray’s penchant for lyricism when he moves away from the narrative approach. It brings me back to my love of Hellenistic philosophy, aside from the suspiciously de-theologized Stoicism, stripped of its metaphysics, that is the vogue right now, particularly the classical Cynic, Epicurean, and Skeptic.
I admit that I distrust the way these philosophies are used now, as purely ethical palliatives cut off from their physics, metaphysics, and whatnot. Like the way, many people reduce Buddhism to a few meditation techniques and some hip “deepities” or some guru worshiping. Or the way people turn their politics in the make-shift religion. In lieu of an episteme and an ethos, the will of a group’s portrayals are often substituted superficially.
When I was a teenager, I saw my own step-father, a man I love as much as any I may share DNA with, struggle with his “law-and-order” stances and his own son going to prison. For all his tough talk, he was not an economically conservative man as he believes in things like government health insurance, but he was a shot-em all and let God sort of out type when it came to perceived criminality. What drove this? I suspect fear for his family. Yet when his own family came into the contact with the law, he had a tendency to be most lenient and forgiving. In a way, he was the most Christian, although he was never particularly religious. For a while, as a child, he took us all to Episocal church. In graduate school, conflicted about communal identity and discovering the depths of a hidden relationship to Judaism that had been buried, I even tried to go back to that parish. The rituals were comforting but no belief came with them. I currently am undergoing Jewish religious education to try to understand parts of my own family history, but not beliefs come there either.
So the temptation for politics as religion makes sense to me. I mean, most definitions of religion are pathetically inconsistent and often assume Christian and Islamic focus on belief as the standard for what the term means. I have said that if Confucianism is a religion then Epicureanism counts too. Indeed, I have been convinced that the idea of religion as a separate sphere of life–an ersatz anthropology, ontology, and ritual community rolled into one–is an accident of the secular sphere being delineated. This makes me at an odd fit with “secularism” or “historical materialism.” While I absolutely accept that there are material limits to an idea being able to be manifested, and the opposition between systemic logics actually tend to push “ways of life” into being. Indeed, this historicism of conflicting ideas and ways of organizing society is the one element of Hegel I am willing to defend. Yet I am not willing to say we can easily predict the way these conflicts work out. Therefore, it makes sense to me that even the nominally religious and Christian often have a superficial alliance to biblical values but a profound alliance to the politics that pay them lip service. God, for most people, looks like themselves. Yet, this hollowing out of the religious impulse shows how much religious institutions have been secularized themselves. I mean, evangelicals support Trump disproportionately to even other figures whose religiosity are more sincere? Why? A secularization of their own ethos and politics as the real tribal identifier explains this.
In my field of the “extreme left,” despite my hesitation to linked to most of the ideas circulating under that directional orientation, this is doubly true. The amount of “materialists” who talk about Orthodox and Heterodox as if this focus on belief makes sense to a material philosophy astounds me. The confusion of dualism of our perception with an ontological dualism has led people to talk about “materialist dualism” as if this could make any sense metaphysically. What can be dual about the unitary metaphysics implied in materialism?
I find myself digressing constantly. This is why I am a poet trained in philosophy, English literature, and anthropology to varying degrees. The concision of poetry allows me to focus, and its elliptical nature forgives subtle digressions. Everyone loves Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Leopardi these days, but few tolerate people who write like them. I understand though at a time when I speak to even college educated people who think an assertion is an argument. That just stating a belief is self-evident for it. This is a laziness in thinking that would cause one to favor the rigorously systemic. I tend to favor nearly absolute analytic precision on social media because it plays against the nature of medium, whose brevity encourages arguments by authority and wit.