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About ephelotes

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  • Gender: Not Telling
  • Interests: Evolutionary theory, psychoanalysis, history of psychiatry, film, Hegel, Plato, Chinese philosophy
  • About me: I am 28 years old and work at a research hospital in Philadelphia.

ephelotes's Activity

  1. ephelotes added a post in a topic Forum Registration   

    iko or aikoe
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  2. ephelotes added a post in a topic Forum Registration   


    Until you delete all the cookies
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  3. ephelotes added a post in a topic Forum Registration   

    When we sign into her account, we get locked into the account and can't do anything.
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  4. ephelotes added a post in a topic Forum Registration   

    It would be nice to get registrations back up so my girlfriend can register
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  5. ephelotes added a topic in History and Philosophy of Science   

    history of psychiatry
    I wrote this in my blog.

    If anyone likes the history of psychiatry, or has any comments to make on Deleuze and Guittari, or Robert Castel, that would be great.


    Hi all,

    It’s been some time since I’ve updated. I recently had to prepare for the conference, and I’ve been going through draft after draft of my personal statement for med school applications. The work, I think, is paying off, but it has been a lot of work. I submit my med school application within the next couple of weeks.

    I would like to make a new post about something, something that has been important area of study for me for several years now. I recently presented at a History of Medicine conference at Berkeley, and I put together the following paper for that.

    I did not finish my presentation; my mouth ran dry within the first 15 seconds, and I had to run off to get water. Also, unlike previous conferences, I went through the paper slowly and emphatically. This means that I got through a lot less material than I normally would. I prefer this, as I think it greatly improves the presentation quality. But it has its drawbacks.

    So, with minor modifications, I am attaching only the fragment that I completed in presenting. The entire presentation, and the argument when put clearly, runs through so many twists and turns that it is impossible to fit it into such a small space of a 20 minute presentation. I furthermore recognize how much I need to read the more modern, more theoretical historians of psychiatry, like Robert Castel, and others, like Deleuze and Guittari.

    If you like what you see, check again every once in a while for the next year or so. I will continue to post on this subject sporadically.


    The use of DSM since DSM-III is ubiquitous in psychiatric research and practice: it is used for every research study submitted to the FDA to prove drug efficacy for registration; a diagnosis is applied to every patient in order to receive third party reimbursement through insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid; almost all patients come to understand themselves as having a DSM diagnosed disorder.

    On the one hand, there is a corpus of research produced by the use of post-DSM-III nosology that is regarded as path-breaking and important–neuroscientific, epidemiological, molecular genetic. On the other, there is the ever-present caveat: are not the many persistent blind spots, perplexities, and limits in psychiatric research produced by the very categories that make it possible? This reflexivity is markedly present in the Research Agenda for DSM-V: “The limitations in the current diagnostic paradigm suggest that research exclusively focused on refining the DSM-defined syndromes may never be successful in uncovering their underlying etiologies. For that to happen, an as yet unknown paradigm shift may need to occur.” Nancy Andreasen–who was a core member of the initial 9-person DSM-III Task Force and Chair of the Schizophrenia Work Group for DSM-IV, wrote in 2007: “DSM diagnoses have given researchers a common nomenclature—but probably the wrong one. Although creating standardized diagnoses that would facilitate research was a major goal, DSM diagnoses are not useful for research because of their lack of validity.”

    I could go on for at least an hour with citations of the top guys in psychiatry who say these kinds of things. The question is, then, how did DSM come about if it’s so poorly regarded by the top researchers in the field?

    The immediate historical event that marks the background of practice at the psychiatric hospital as it exists today–and really, psychiatric services at large–is deinstitutionalization. Deinstitutionalization is generally defined as the movement of care for mentally ill from being confined in psychiatric hospitals, to outside of psychiatric hospitals, in outpatient care, prisons, nursing homes, marginal living conditions, the streets, etc. As you know, by the end of the around the time of the French revolution in the West (the years vary by country), the mentally ill had undergone a change in status during what Foucault called the great confinement. The rationale for this was that, by the patient’s being isolated from the community, in a specially created therapeutic environment, the patient could recover and be re-instated as a sane, rational member of the community. Therapeutic optimism was high; the practice was considered an apogee of civilized and humane practice, a capstone of Enlightenment.

    In the 1950s and 1960s, this view was completely reversed. What was considered the hallmark of civilized society became the hallmark of its barbarity in a profound reversal.

    What caused deinstitutionalization?

    The view in psychiatry, among those not so familiar with the history or sociology of deinstitutionalization, the triumphalist view of the psychiatrists, is that the hospitals were emptied by the rise of the new psychopharmacology, the neuroleptics, the antidepressants, lithium, and so on, in the 1950s through the 1980s. This, according to the view, still found in much of the literature, including Edward Shorter’s widely read 1997 history, was the miracle of magic bullet medicine. This was however refuted as early as 1964. A list of reasons for refusing this interpretation include the following. First, it has been repeatedly shown that there was no statistical correlation between the introduction of Thorazine and the discharge rate in the hospitals. Second, the rate of deinstitutionalization has been extremely variegated worldwide, even as the introduction of neuroleptics has been relatively consistent—centered around 1955. Third, Japan is a completely different—and opposite story—with almost as many patients per capita in hospitals as the United States at its peak; Japan probably uses psychotropics even more extensively in its hospitals than does the US—presumably, to make the custodial aspects of its hospitals even more efficient. Fourth, in the spirit of the 1960s, all institutions were under fire and subject to reforms. In conclusion, I claim that deinstitutionalization was caused by a broader progressive social trend affecting Western societies in a variety of other profound ways. The psychopharmacological revolution was related to a third factor, a more fundamental change in psychiatry, which was in turn related to a restructuring of society’s social relations.

    The fundamental change in psychiatry, about which discussion of deinstitutionalization is, I’d venture to claim, a mystification, is as follows. Where psychiatry as a marginal medical specialty relegated exclusively to the administration of total institutions in 1900, with a fraction of a percent of the population in hospitals, to today, where 1 in 5 people are undergoing some sort of psychiatric treatment at any given time. In a word, it is not so much that psychiatric patients have been mainstreamed, but that the mainstream has become psychiatric patients. The notion of deinstitutionalization around which this contemporary discourse operates conceals its dialectical opposite in material reality.

    What is it that changed fundamentally in society that caused the change in psychiatry, of which I claim that discourse on deinstitutionalization was a mystification? To answer this question, let’s backtrack.

    Japan, as I have said, is the only country of its level of development not to have pursued deinstitutionalization. This is the exceptional case that will show the reason for the rule.

    When other countries were criticizing the asylum, Japan was doing much the same. Except in the case of Japan, what was criticized as inhumane was the practice of families locking up their mentally ill members in special rooms and cells at home. In Japan in 1950, legislation was passed to transfer patients from home care to the hospital setting. Keeping mentally ill family members at home was outlawed. In 1965, and several times thereafter, more legislation was passed to deinstitutionalize these asylums in turn, to no effect: while the legislation is on the books, the situation does not change. Today, there are over 350,000 hospital beds in Japan, often built up in remote mountain regions, secluded from society—13.5 times the number per capita as the US and 4.5 times the UK. This is almost as many as in the US, per capita, in 1955.

    I claim that this configuration of the Japanese is not unrelated to other aspects of Japanese society that are unusual by Western standards. The Japanese solution to the problem of the severely mentally ill is not unrelated to the mandatory confinement of lepers until 1996 on secluded island colonies, the notorious Japanese xenophobia, the almost neo-feudalist structure of society, the rigidity and polarity of gender roles, the strict conformism.

    To have eccentric schizophrenics pursuing distinguished scholarly careers—as we know that Elyn Saks did in the past few decades (get her book, called The Center Won’t Hold; you can also see her TED talk)—while in the midst of intermittent psychosis would be unthinkable in Japan. To have psychiatric services that attempt to re-shape subjectivities that diverge in wide variations to a basic cultural standard (as in the West) is unthinkable. Such a wide range of subjectivities simply does not exist; social and moral authorities remain strict and immanent within Japanese society, not outsourced, as it were, to technical interventions in psychiatry. When one’s desires do not match propriety, as they did for Confucius in old age, one represses oneself.

    Not so in the West. If the 1960s was the time in our history where universality was extended to an unprecedented multiplicity of groups, then it was also a time when no longer could we as a society comfortably define abnormality as merely a kind of moral and cultural “Other.” Moral authority, the authority of the Father, was completely rejected at this time—we now live, as some call it, in a post-Oedipal age. Recall Foucault’s indictment of Pinel, Pinel the Father, near the end of the History of Madness. With the abolition of Pinel, or the Father in general— (Foucault, in a move characteristic of his critique of psychiatry standing for a critique of society, conflates the two) — as the nodal points of morality, you also lose a unary notion of madness, you lose anything apart from the notion of a pragmatic, technical intervention into the problem behaviors of another. This relativization, this critique of psychiatry was more than a critique of psychiatry, but a critique, as the 1960s radicals had it, of bourgeois morality as such.

    Because of this collapse of the buttressing of psychiatry from the point of view of a uniform, homogeneous societal moral authority, Western psychiatry took a sharp turn; DSM-III is the outcome of that. As psychiatrist David Healy notes, the 1973 extirpation of homosexuality from consideration as a category in DSM-III was the crowning symbolic event of this change. The shift from DSM-II in 1968 to DSM-III in 1980 was a shift from a relatively unified psychoanalytic theoreticization of disorders numbering in the dozens, to the technical, atheoretical description of diverse aberrant behavioral domains numbering in the hundreds. (Although DSM-III was a manual produced in the 80s, it had its origins in 1967, with the Feighner criteria–which had all the main features of DSM-III categories.) We are instead now encouraged to see a patient as mentally ill more primarily for the purposes of that context-specific intervention that suits them, not in the psychoanalytic framework of DSM-II, which, though less specific than DSM-III still implies a lot more that is claimed hard and fast about human nature. If old moralities are still present (the moralities of the Father, that target of Foucault), each is today split and scattered about in dozens of pragmatic pieces.


    End of my fragment.
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  6. ephelotes added a post in a topic The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates, philosophy, and women   

    Okay, I just got back from a conference. I have a couple of days of free time. Incidentally, at the conference, I was reminded how much of a troll I am, and how much I need to get even more serious about theory. So I thank you for this engagement. Without it, I will just be a troll at academic conferences.

    I find it frustrating that you would imply that Zizek's text is self-ironizing, or lucid bad faith, or a phony rationalization.

    I don't mean, at all, to say, "oh, be nice Mister Heretic, follow the rules of academic engagement, which is to say, couch everything in positive terms that make you seem to agree, like a good academic, even if you don't." No, instead I mean, you acknowledge Zizek's point, you say you get it, but then you call it a rationalization. So what is it? That's my question. It seems to me like you still cling to an ethics of action--even while you admit that it is justified only through thinking. Yet, if it's justified only through thinking, then why disavow thinking?

    In any case, I think Zizek is not merely recasting Sloterdijk's thesis in adroit wordplay to save the legacy of Marx, which is what some accuse him of: rationalizing his way out of the inescapable failure of Leninism through sophisticated argumentational strategies that serve to, ad hoc, defend a set of ideas that he lacks sufficient psychological economy to abandon, for whatever perverse reason at the heart of Zizek's twisted soul. This possibility is in fact addressed in the very opening paragraphs of The Sublime Object of Ideology. Zizek knew well in advance what the criticisms would be, that he would be taken as another Ptolemy, building up layer upon layer of system-saving rationalization.

    Instead, I claim that Zizek's recasting of Sloterdijk's thesis lies at the heart of the original position of Marx. He is simply teaching this position, so often misread by stupid leftists. Read:

    "Although in capitalism the subjects are emancipated, perceiving themselves as free from medieval religious superstitions, when they deal with one another they do so as rational utilitarians, guided only by their selfish interests. The point of Marx's analysis, however, is that the things (commodities) themselves believe in their place, instead of the subjects: it is as if all their beliefs, superstitions and metaphysical mystifications, supposedly surmounted by the rational utilitarian personality, are embodied in the 'social relations between things'."

    See here how Zizek does not present his view of Marx as an interpretation, but as what Marx actually said. I think this is justified. As you know from Capital, in the early chapters, Marx built up rather quickly to a kind of anthropomorphization of commodities: they jumped from hand to hand of capitalist, as if metaphysical, as if by a kind of life of their own. The commodities came to use the people exchanging them, in their own inescapable logic of their own, more than those people used commodities, in their cases only contingently (based upon an individual's access to commodities, which by no means occurs by virtue of an inescapable logic).

    This way of talking about things is Marx's position. It is the basis of the idea, in Althusser, of History without a Subject; Capital, a subjectless substance, itself acted as Subject. It is also related to the notion of History as an inviolable process, a teleological unfolding, which is present in Marx as much as it was present in Hegel. It is why Marx never says capitalism is unjust; it simply is. It is the slaveowner that sets its subjects free, as its subjects earn their freedom. This also explains why, even as communists took the reign, things quickly evolved into a kind of state capitalism, reproducing commodity exchange and hierarchy, even as the fruits of wealth were redistributed in a token communistic gesture.

    In this sense, no, Sloterdijk did not beat Zizek to the punch. Marx beat Sloterdijk to the punch.

    Furthermore, I would claim there is some real payoff to Zizek saying, yes, this is ideology, and maintaining his stance of ideological critique. After all, what is it that helps us maintain ourselves in the face of this obvious bad faith? Anyone who is aware that social relations underlie the exchange of the commodity, and not just two abstracted people meeting in a "marketplace" to fairly exchange their goods, also has to have some mechanism to deal with this gap between action and thought (the definition of ideology). This is the mechanism for the proliferation of other ideological fantasies, i.e. ecology, help the children in Guatemala, buy organic foods, redistribution to the marginalized, etc. In this way, you say, yes, even though there is a gap, but I will try to make it better through my individual action, defying the necessary logic of capitalist exchange. But of course this is an ideological illusion, since it has no impact on the logic of Capital, and may even in some cases intensify it. (Zizek here uses the example of Starbucks, where you can go to buy your cherry blossom latte, which both buttresses international capital and lets you know that you're not just a stupid consumer at the same time, since some of the money goes to protecting the rainforest that is being destroyed by international capital.)

    It's here that I take serious issue with this notion of, "stop thinking, just do something." By this, do you mean vanguardism, an obvious big failure of the 20th century? Do you mean only buy your lattes from Starbucks? It is this position of "stop think, just do something" that I take to be ideological, since it necessarily operates in an ideological space and is thereby ideological.

    There are serious problems, I think, with the framework that Zizek proposes, but I can't see them to be what's been offered here. I'd like to take on Sloterdijk's work and think about it, very much, but I don't see how Sloterdijk would reframe the debate to gain any leverage over Zizek's system.

    As far as Zizek being a kynick versus a cynic, I still don't quite understand the point you made. I'd agree that he's a kynick though, and I'm sure that that's definitely significant in understanding Zizek. It's not something I understand about Zizek though
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  7. ephelotes added a post in a topic Leo Strauss' Lectures--Appropriating the History of Political Philosophy on Behalf of Modern Political Philosophy   

    Many of the transcripts have been posted on, even if they haven't made it to the Leo Strauss Center website yet.

    So you can follow the Leo Strauss lectures on PDF, as you listen to them. This is amazing >_<
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  8. ephelotes added a post in a topic Hegel, the last great philosopher?   

    You might have saved yourself the trouble and simply posted:

    "Hegel: No."

    Your post amounts to nothing more than that, loaded with lists of names and evaluations of these, so wild and unclear as to be nearly useless for any purpose except understanding your emotional state when confronted with these signifiers. I call them signifiers rather than philosophers, because, as you've used them, they exist only as unexplained sounds that we might think are names but could never be sure.

    And if that is what post-philosophical philosophy amounts to, I'd prefer any alternative to that--especially if it is pornographic.

    I'd also like to take issue with your scientism, when you say that science overwhelmed philosophy as a method of truth. Nothing could be further from the truth; science itself should properly be understood as a branch and school of philosophy.

    The idea that this is impossible, (partly) since there is no "metanarrative" to unite the discourses of the various sciences, is fallacious. This is because the sciences are a distinct sort of philosophy that does not make the same sorts of claims that the previous philosophies did. It is instrumental and pragmatic; the previous philosophies were, on the contrary, theoretical and metaphysical. As a result, there needs to be no metanarrative; in fact, science depends precisely on the absence of a metanarrative; this absence of metanarrative in the traditional philosophy is itself is the metanarrative of the new philosophy. This metanarrative entails a politics, an ethics, and so forth, that systematically, and in practice, tie together all of the sciences (and the practices that they entail) into a overarching and total structure that we call modernity.

    For Aristotle, a set of overarching concepts were systematically worked out and theoretically deployed to produce all of the individual sciences within the Aristotelian corpus; whereas, for modernity, it is the opposite: all of the individual sciences are worked out individually and practically deployed to produce the overarching principle of modern life. But even the development of this principle seems to have a telos, if we look at things from the point of view of French Revolution as origin. Modernity is a uniform state toward which all modernizing societies move. This would perhaps, even, call into question the notion that it is the individual sciences that, when cumulated, develop the principle of life--rather than some other principle cumulating in the changes in the individual sciences. In this sense, there may be 0 difference between philosophy and the sciences in terms of way of developing. This is particularly true in the Hegelian sense of philosophy, which sees philosophy as a collective and historic endeavor.

    This actually goes back to our previous discussion, where, although you denied systematicity, in your very denunciation, I gleaned a latent pristine philosophical structure that typifies the contemporary, instrumentalist and amoral new philosophy. Nihilism isn't mere absence; this apparent absence creates a new system that pretends it is not a system.
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  9. ephelotes added a post in a topic The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates, philosophy, and women   

    Here's the follow-up section to the one posted on the web.

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  10. ephelotes added a post in a topic The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates, philosophy, and women
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  11. ephelotes added a post in a topic The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates, philosophy, and women   

    It was impossible to abide by the best of our tradition, when so much of our tradition was Christian.

    You are right to reference Diogenes; Diogenes is the other model of the philosopher, as I had come to realize after writing my post.

    Real philosophy is hated because it remains powerful. That it is no longer considered disembodied truth does not rob it of that strength.

    One shouldn't dig bunkers unless one must. History isn't finished yet.
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  12. ephelotes added a post in a topic The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates, philosophy, and women   

    Thanks davidm. I hope some of it makes sense.
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  13. ephelotes added a post in a topic The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates, philosophy, and women   

    A famous quote of Deleuze reads as follows:

    I'd like to think that I've crept up on you and done something similar in the following post.

    Here goes.

    How is this cynicism of yours really different from critique? I claim that, in your post, this is not so clear.

    You maintain a pessimistic view throughout your post: Enlightenment and what might be taken as its central tool, critique (in its many senses), have failed to empower human beings.

    Indeed, critique seems only to disempower us further. It re-entrenches the Logic of Capital, which is a Logic understandable but alien to human beings. As we develop the power of our collective understanding, we further entangle ourselves.

    Perhaps the failure of communism wasn’t simply the failure of a dream, but the consolidation of a nightmare. Mao’s revolution in China seems to have not only knocked down the barriers of tradition stifling the unfolding of Capital in China; it centralized power and put into the political conditions which may have been crucial to the almost unprecedented explosion of Chinese capitalism. So has not the radical revolution in China, in the historical long term, proven to be just another collusion with capitalism?

    Similar sorts of arguments can be put forward for social democracy.

    As the possibility of an alternative evaporated, either degenerating into barbarism or collaborating with capitalism (or both), the possibility of a grand narrative also disintegrates. No grand narrative holds up; therefore, no grand narrative is legitimate. Only individual perspectives hold legitimacy. Thus, we are left with perspectivism: reality is only a set of perspectives, and the assertion of grand narrative a kind of psychological compensation, monstrous in proportion to the degree of the person’s conviction.

    When we are not looking upon a freakshow, we are watching a game. Cynicism, apparently perspectivism’s twin brother, would demand that those who seem not to be freaks are operating out of a cunning duplicity, pushing the agenda of just one version of those, in your words, “cunning multiple realisms.” We are observing players in a game, each playing according to their own rules, whether these are those of politics or of the machinations in one’s personal life. The game, a game whose overarching motif is cynicism and multiple perspectives, is everywhere played on the board of Capital. This is itself the postmodern grand narrative; it is extremely coherent, even as we disavow its coherence. It finds its lifebreath through the essence of the lives we live, even as our humanity deplores that it threatens to invade the core of what is left of our authenticity.

    You say "We know the system is breaking down, and it is driving us towards destruction, yet we pretend we don't know this, as we are willing participants in the system (working, shopping)." But is this not the monolithic critical stance? Is this not the stance that allows us, on the one hand, to fulfill our role as consumers in the big shopping centers, then, in our high-scale bourgeois clothing, to attend anticonsumerist art festivals--which are packed with those dressed the same way? With professors in turtlenecks, middle class people with Lacoste shirts and Prada bags? Is there anything more disgusting? And is there anything worse than finding that you are one of these disgusting people? I find myself in this horrible and awkward position all the time.

    So that we, on the one hand, fulfill our desire for the things of status, and on the other, fulfill our spiritual selves by denouncing the mere symbols of status--and reap the pleasure of knowing that we are spiritual while wearing the mask of the material, while the others that we see again in the shopping centers are just mindless idiots who buy into the system without seeing the futility? This distinction of status, again, collapses the spiritual back into the material: the spirituality of my liberation takes upon itself a distinctly material quality through the self-assertion of worldly rank as superior over the moron (the same in every other way as myself except for my spiritual superiority) shopping next to me. Even I, as I unmask the dialectic of condescension, condescend to those condescending, and now, condescend even to myself, bringing myself to a higher and higher spiritual level; the pain of my self-chastisement mixes with the pleasure of seeing myself higher and higher as a spiritual being, even as I indulge myself basely by consuming; the stimulation need never end, nor the hypocrisy that underlies it, as the material reinforces the spiritual, and the spiritual the material. Consumption does not result in the wiping out of spirituality, but its never-ending heightening; the spiritual ecstasy is in proportion, not opposition, to my consuming, as my consuming only reminds me of my superiority to it, even as it simultaneously pleases me on the basest level. Here we do not get a duality of bad faith, but an infinity of it. It feels so good and so bad.

    We can’t be comfortable with our own critique, nor even with our critique of critique. Is this cynicism? But still, cynicism itself is self-serving in a never-ending cycle; it never surpasses critique, nor does it surpass itself, as it operates psychologically in the same way; it is simply an even more acute self-awareness of hypocrisy.

    Can we not escape from this bad faith by a supreme detachment from it? This solves nothing, as, even if it does not result in the assertion of ourselves over others, it never ceases to affirm our material situation when it denies it spiritually. Slavoj Zizek describes:


    Apparently this explains all the white people doing yoga classes, getting into Zen, CEOs who are Buddhists, like Steve Jobs in Isaacson’s biography:


    From Isaacson’s article:

    Everyone knows that the 60s were a wild time, a time for a kind of radical individualism and questioning. In short, as far as Enlightenment utopianism is concerned, an almost perfect time. Yet it is this very same critique that, when recuperated, provided more motive force to capitalism. Instead of top-down hierarchies, today we have a network of autonomous workers. Instead of being told what to do, we are made to figure it out for ourselves, and in a way, be our own boss. Instead of meaningless work, we today identify with our work; it becomes a part of who we are. We think about it outside of work.

    Maurizio Lazzarato explains the transformation of the post-industrial worker that occurred in the 60s and 70s:


    One historian Dominick Cavallo, in a text called A Fiction of the Past, celebrates the authenticity of 1960s rock musicians (and many others), how they, unlike the previous corporate rock musicians like Elvis, created their own music, and followed their own standards:

    Not seeing how this is the very ethos that becomes necessary in production in the post-Fordist economy—an identification of the self with the job—Cavallo nonetheless claims to see no real remnant, no real effect of 1960s culture on contemporary society!

    What seems clear. First, although it is claimed that what is needed is a reclaiming of the spirit of the 1960s—which seemed a time when all utopias, all rational schemes, all liberation of the human as human would finally be fulfilled, the result of a centuries-long struggle inaugurated by the Reformation or the Enlightenment—this may in fact be pure illusion, that the exhortation to reclaim the 1960s (and the Enlightenment) is merely the re-entrenchment of ideology. That: the 1960s, the Enlightenment, and so forth do not come about from opposite ontological stratum as capitalism but the same source.

    (But see the opposing view here:

    An interesting bit more. It has long been argued: was it capitalism that brought about the French revolution, or the French revolution that brought about capitalism? If it was the French revolution, again, then it is the Enlightenment at play in pressing the advance of capitalism. Through the revision of the legal system, this is precisely what happened. Although the direction of causality seems extremely complicated, as the Enlightenment itself wasn't produced de novo either, the following is very interesting:

    Second, on cynicism and critique. Cynicism seems merely a response to the failure of critique, as if critique were the only thing possible to have any authority. But it still assumes the authority of critique, even as it asserts its failure. Is your cynicism really anything different than disenchantment? Critique and cynicism in this sense seem structurally and necessarily related. Cynicism in the face of the failure of the Enlightenment isn’t a return to pre-Enlightenment naivete; rather, it is a kind of post-Enlightenment disenchantment that wishes for the impossible conquest of Enlightenment. But I claim that we should go further. To go beyond the Enlightenment means to reject the Enlightenment, knowing its failures. It means to take the Enlightenment seriously as one failed way among many, not as the failed way that necessarily leads to disenchantment. If this is true, then you have not broken free of the Enlightenment—you still cling to it.

    Your final exhortation to action provokes a couple questions. First, is this exhortation not so similar to the kind as those of the 1960s? Second and more importantly, if cynicism, which you seem to nearly equate with the psychological state of melancholia, is really the result of feeling impotent and compromised, how is action possible? Is your melancholia not simply a refusal to act—everything else being, as it were, in place and ready? Does action abrogate, or is it the opposite of cynicism? Last, is cynicism a final call for hope—but without a structure of thought to support its direction?

    To address the last question, is your call to action not to say: “Don’t think, just do something”? Or, to quote Marx’s famous eleventh thesis:


    But does change not itself require the concept of a new world?

    Heidegger, in an interview, says:

    Yet, haven’t we seen such a structure emerge in your post? So apparently alien to the Western tradition of final salvation, whether through Faith or through History, yet nonetheless, in spite of, because of, your claim to cunning multiple realisms, cynicism, impending catastrophe, etc., you have given a structure. And, regard your “cunning multiple realisms” as you will, you share it with many people, perhaps everyone, possibly without fully knowing it, or possibly without allowing yourself to. The foundation of this realism is Capital itself—which you seem to regard as a Something that resists the negations of perspectives enough for you to confidently assert its existence.

    This is not a grand narrative in the sense of Enlightenment, or even in any sense of the Western tradition. It’s no story of the fulfillment of any destiny, but rather the ossification into depravity. But it is a story.

    And I believe it says this. That the world is a cynical place, decentered from ideology--this is itself the ideology of the modern world, as I’ve already said in other words. To give a call to action within this framework is merely to affirm action within this world, and within the prevailing ideology. It is not even a call to change it in the Marxian sense.

    In this way, although disavowing reactionaries, it seems that is your point of view that is truly conservative. It seems that the model for action that you offer precisely the model of action in capitalism is one that everyone already has, and acts on to reproduce capitalism--from the CEO to the gangster. There seems to be only one problem. Although you see modern ideology clearly, more clearly than the vast majority, you simply can’t accept it. So you don't act. But I don't believe that you have offered any alternative.
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  14. ephelotes added a post in a topic The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates, philosophy, and women   

    Maybe the Enlightenment can be looked at in a much more cynical but also hopeful way? If we take modernity as inevitable, maybe the Enlightenment provided the tools to come to terms with it--not as a rational system but as an irrational one. Maybe the Enlightenment was itself a response to that irrationality--and an attempt to bring rationality to that irrationality. Maybe that project failed, but maybe that failure clarifies what reality really is? The critics of the Enlightenment owe the tools they forged to critique it from the Enlightenment itself. Can we really, in this sense, say that the Enlightenment ever ended? In that sense, the notion that the Enlightenment was a failure is a product of the actual progress made by the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment project came to fruition; it didn't achieve what it set out to; and that fact has important philosophical implications, which are positive in the sense that they tell us something about the world and ourselves.

    If we consider the Enlightenment as a dialogue, as open-ended, as the testing of a position rather than the adherence to a position itself, can't we say that the failure of the Enlightenment says something positive--in the sense that, in the end, we get a proposition or set of propositions out of the whole affair?

    Moreover, although I haven't come to grips with modernity through Enlightenment or post-Enlightenment thinkers (but, rather, by a thoroughgoing interrogation of the Christian tradition via Eastern rationalism), still, the Enlightenment posed important problems that had to be posed. If the most important of these questions were answered in the negative, how can we say that the Enlightenment failed, if it DID give us answers?

    I hope I do not come across as too ignorant. I've read a little Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, Mill, Nietzsche, & Heidegger. I've only read these, and I'm an expert on none. I've read my Foucault, quite a bit actually, and I know something about Freud and Lacan--with a focus on their social theories. So I'm not a completely uneducated wretch. But my focus is mostly on pre-Enlightenment history of philosophy.

    From the point of view of my meager level of knowledge: Sure the Enlightenment may have failed to create a rational society envisioned by any of its thinkers. But it did have an enormous impact on modernity, and interrogating it does shed light on modern life. So it may have been naive for having been so radical, but so what? Does that mean it was fruitless? I think not at all. One just has to take it for what it was worth.

    Does it fail most human beings? Yes, but only in the sense that a lot of people are still naive enough to believe in its promises. In this sense, it may be said that the Enlightenment fails all of us--by providing a chimera to the lowly. That may be unfortunate, but that's also the fault of intellectuals for keeping that false hope alive--even as they know better. In other words, the promises of the Enlightenment are not the same as its content; the promises are just the irrational spectral presence that most people, at least in the West, are incapable of discarding. It seems to me that this is the result of the Christian legacy and the idea of the promise of the heavenly world beyond. I am starting to believe that the problems of modernity--for me, at least--really originate in Protestantism and the Reformation, and that the Enlightenment was really a continuation of a process set in motion by this moment in history.

    Christianity is basically the problem, not the Enlightenment. That such dark views tend to be found in the Bible, and not among the pagan literature, would show that this sense of failure may not be entirely modern, but may rather trace back to the beginning of the civilization--and the ways that its concepts of divinity conditioned the ways that philosophical problems were posed and answered--including at the Enlightenment.
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  15. ephelotes added a post in a topic The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates, philosophy, and women   

    How is it that the Enlightenment more naive than what it criticizes? Is it that pre-Enlightenment thought never strove for the rationality of the aspects of existence that Enlightenment philosophy did?

    I think it would be interesting to ask what the difference between Greek philosophy and that of Ecclesiastes? Does it boil down to this: that the Greek notion involves a progress through cultivation (like its pagan counterpart in the East, Confucianism), whereas the Jewish view assumes the original and indelible Fall--and consequent meaninglessness of life detached from divinity?

    It is interesting that in the former case, the pagan, godliness is of the world (or at least the world reflects it in some manner), whereas in the latter, God is transcendent. Is this relevant to the respective views?

    I just read again about Ecclesiastes, and I was under the impression that Job was the 'classic' existentialist text of the Bible. But I am struck by Ecclesiastes in this way as well.
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