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The unexamined life is not worth living: Socrates, philosophy, and women

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Posted (edited)

Hi all. Just posted this on my blog. Please let me know if you have any thoughts.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Widely circulated, the meaning of this quote is entirely empty. The meaning of the quote is empty because the meaning of the word unexamined is ambiguous. Is examination chastisement, and self-examination a kind of contrition for life’s sins—as some Christians would say? Or is it, perhaps, the discovery or clarification of personal desire, an attempt to release ourselves from the false desires that are imposed upon us by others—as a disciple of psychoanalysis might suggest? Maybe examination is simply an honest look at our behavior, so that it matches a certain set of political principles—in line with some attitudes that are self-consciously political?

The empty ambiguity of “examination,” and thus the quote, explains its popularity: it flatters the hearer by meaning whatever the hearer thinks it should mean. In this way, ironically, this quote of Socrates, the “gadfly of Greece,” achieves the opposite of examination. In a paradoxical turn, the quote reinforces bias and complacency. “Of course, I, as a thoughtful person, have an examined life. And Socrates says I’m doing life the right way. Socrates was truly a great man!”

This mistake is understandable. How is it possible for someone to know Socrates thought differently? A more contextualized quote: “The greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others. The life which is unexamined is not worth living.” “Virtue and all that concerning which Socrates examines himself and others” are concepts: the concepts of living life. Accordingly, if we know these concepts, we can live properly. So, Socratic examination is aimed at achieving proper living. When placed in context, we see the deeper, radically altered meaning of the original quotation: the improperly lived life is not worth living. This meaning is deeper and provocative. Not all kinds of examination are equal. Even if flattery was an argumentative technique of Socrates, this—criticism—is the true spirit of Socrates. One can find this in The Republic—the text that shows Socratic examination in action. Without this example, “the unexamined life” is a series of three lofty, ingratiating, and uninterpretable words.

And yet how much work was required to establish this interpretation, which is still so little progress, or to know and show that it had an interpretation to investigate at all. This is true. Philosophy is difficult and slow. It can be agonizing. Socrates never reached the point where he stopped examining. He examined to the point of his death at 70. An unswerving dedication to philosophy is what brought about Socrates’ death at 70.

Others have been even less fortunate—Peter Abelard, for example—and had his (its?) balls cut off for philosophy. Philosophy has on many occasions been compared to a woman. Its true that many men pursue philosophy in the same way. Boethius compared philosophy to a goddess. This is a misrepresentation. If philosophy is a woman, then philosophy is a bitch.

Accordingly, like Socrates, pursue philosophy patiently, without hurry, and seriously but not entirely seriously. Socrates had a wife who was, like his profession, notoriously and outrageously difficult to get along with. Philosophy brought him similar grief, yet he never grieved. He could not live without his wife, any less than he could live without philosophy. He was, in short, equipped for philosophy for the same reasons that he was equipped for his wife.

For the record, I realize that Abelard wasn't castrated for philosophy, but for putting Heloise in the convent to protect his philosophical career. So I wouldn't say my statement is wrong, it's just a more concise rendering. Also, I realize that Lady Philosophy isn't technically a goddess, but I think it's close. I'm not sure Boethius talks about the ontological status of Lady Philosophy.

Thanks

Edited by ephelotes

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Posted (edited)

In a modern context, the Socratic dictum is even more naive than what it criticizes:

The unexamined life is being naive. Naïveté is not worth living.

The examined life is superior to naïveté, because it exposes specious assumptions.

However, in this post enlightenment age, cynicism is triumphant.

Enlightenment brought about salient and trenchant critiques of various traditions such as the critique of revelation, of religious illusion, of metaphysical illusion, of idealistic superstructure, of moral illusion, of transparency, of natural illusion, of the illusion of privacy.

Naturally these critiques assumed that the result would be a rational, self-aware being no longer under the yoke of hegemonic power or tradition of prejudice.

Instead, the Enlightenment has left behind a mass of cynics, riddled with enlightened false consciousness (pace Sloterdijk), who no longer believe in what they do, yet they do it all the same.

Therefore the Enlightenment is actually more naive than what it criticizes. :doh:

It's not necessarily the case that the unexamined life isn't worth living. :shakehead:

Edited by The Heretic
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If we take Plato seriously, then of course Socrates proposed a society in which only a handful of people would be allowed to examine their lives... :whistle:

Dave

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I like to consider the book of Ecclesiastes something of a critique of the Socratic claim. To extend what The Heretic said, post-enlightenment thinkers may be cynics and they may even point to their rebellion in the face of the absurd, but all actions - enlightened or otherwise - seem futile in the final analysis. The value of the examined life thus depends on defeating this futility conclusion without begging the question.

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Posted (edited)

In a modern context, the Socratic dictum is even more naive than what it criticizes:

The unexamined life is being naive. Naïveté is not worth living.

The examined life is superior to naïveté, because it exposes specious assumptions.

However, in this post enlightenment age, cynicism is triumphant.

Enlightenment brought about salient and trenchant critiques of various traditions such as the critique of revelation, of religious illusion, of metaphysical illusion, of idealistic superstructure, of moral illusion, of transparency, of natural illusion, of the illusion of privacy.

Naturally these critiques assumed that the result would be a rational, self-aware being no longer under the yoke of hegemonic power or tradition of prejudice.

Instead, the Enlightenment has left behind a mass of cynics, riddled with enlightened false consciousness (pace Sloterdijk), who no longer believe in what they do, yet they do it all the same.

Therefore the Enlightenment is actually more naive than what it criticizes. :doh:

It's not necessarily the case that the unexamined life isn't worth living. :shakehead:

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 like to consider the book of Ecclesiastes something of a critique of the Socratic claim. To extend what The Heretic said, post-enlightenment thinkers may be cynics and they may even point to their rebellion in the face of the absurd, but all actions - enlightened or otherwise - seem futile in the final analysis. The value of the examined life thus depends on defeating this futility conclusion without begging the question.

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.

Edited by ephelotes

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The critiques of enlightenment assumes man is a rational being, enchained by tradition and superstition. Once the critiques are completed then people will be freed of their burdens of the past, no longer alienated, and build a utopian society.

What happened?

Hence the naïveté. Hence the failure of Enlightenment.

More later.

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Posted (edited)

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.

Edited by ephelotes

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Apologies on the brief post earlier. It's hard to compose something substantial on a mobile device, even one as advanced as the iPhone.

I read in your post basically the received wisdom of the Enlightenment, or an uncritical acceptance of the Standard Interpretation. What I am talking about is somewhat more nuanced and more complicated, and less straightforward as the apologists of the Age of Reason would have you believe. As for the naivete of the Enlightenment, this observation comes at the hands of cynical reason that wonders what critique can do today in the age of skepticism of theory:

Fools, who complain about the demise of critique. For its time has long since run out. Critique is a matter of proper distance. It is at home in a world where perspectices & prospects are important & where it was still possible to assume a point of view. In the meantime, things have become much too close for comfort in human society. "Disinterestedness," the "unbiased perspective," have become lies, if not completely naive exp
ression of plain incompetence.
One Way Street
, by Benjamin, p. 95

In the age of multiple perspectives, the "grand perspective" of the whole are for the simple souls, no longer the educated or enlightened. There is no enlightenment without the destruction of mere thought from a certain point of view or without dissolving conventional morals. And this goes hand in hand with the dissemination of the ego, (both literarily and philosophically) with the end of critique.

"...no longer was anyone to be seen who stood behind everything. Everything turned continually about itself. Interests changed from hour to hour. Nowhere was there a goal anymore... The leaders lost their heads. They were drained to the dregs and calcified... Everyone in the land began to notice that things didn't work anymore... Postponing the collapse left one path open."
The Conquest of the Machines
, Jung, 1921

The discontent in modern culture became a universal and scattered cynicism, where traditional critique of ideology has been rendered impotent. There's no longer a button to jumpstart enlightenment anywhere within this cynically keen consciousness. The state of consciousness that results after naive ideologies and their enlightenment is modern cynicism. This is the ground of the obvious exhaustion of ideology critique. Thus critique has remained more naive than the consciousness it wanted to expose. Due to its well-mannered rationality, it could no longer keep up with the twists & turns of modern consciousness that operated by a cunning multiple realism.

Enlightenment thinkers proposed a formal sequence of false consciousness with lies, errors and ideology. This is incomplete, because the current mentality adds a fourth structure: cynicism. The old game of ideology critique has a new player. In the 300 years since Enlightenment demolished various certainties (theological, political, social, psychological) its promise of emancipation has not been realized, except as an ideal, a carrot on the proverbial stick. In various ways, liberalism, social democracy and communism has all failed us. The modern mind, if it doesn't resort to wilful idiocy or reactionary conservatism, will end in melancholia, i.e., cynicism. Against the awesome artifice of power & capital, we feel impotent and compromised by our own collusion within the system.

Revolution, supposedly the most effective remedy, only kills the patient. Reform is mere remedial care. :whatever:

In order to live, feed ourselves, we gotta buy products, in which production contributes to environmental destruction, and pay taxes that directly support weapons of mass destruction, and perform Kafkaesque duties which true function only generates surplus value for shareholders we never will meet.

Is critique still possible? After all, critique does retreat and retrench in order to maintain some distance from the reality we inhabit and the life we represent. Since we are all so compromised by our involvement in a deeply cynical society, critique has become more of a psychic self-defense than a true weapon of political change. We can pick apart the old bones of ideology, root out some piece of discourse, and revel in our cleverness and independence from illusion, but that is only empty cleverness and impotent freedom with no agency.

Practical critique is protest and dissent and resistance. It is worthwhile and necessary against injustice or the proclivities of the industrialized world to curtail liberties, commercialize public services, etc. But this is just reactive and uninspiring when people fail to rally en masse to the causes of justice. The 2008 Global financial crisis has exposed neoliberalism as utterly bankrupt morally, intellectually & economically. The Left merely cynically shrugged its shoulders.

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). We need more than critique to escape this duality of bad faith (we live as if we are happy to be consumers) and inner detachment, because critique only exaggerates the ironic distance between our minds and our lives.

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Posted (edited)

An interesting post, and an interesting topic….

Let us put things into perspective. The Heretic points out the present dysfunction of modern society.

Granted.

But what preceded the age of enlightenment? A Feudal structure in which only a few percent of the people could even read. Only a few percent of the people had access to to what even then, were basic necessities of life.

How then did this ground breaking period of history, "fail?"

Can we objectively say that the benefits of society have not slowly but steadily been extended to more and more people?

I believe we can. We are objectively more prosperous, more educated. more aware of the world around us. Can I refute that this steady progress has been interrupted by a troglodyte mentality? Of course not. The very fact that Fox News is a profitable enterprise shows that we are in a period of regression.

Unexamined life, in the time of Socrates and his spokes person was at best a hypocritical desire to return to an authoritarian system. The Republic was a blue print for a Nanny State of horrible proportions. We can safely dismiss this as pseudo intellectual claptrap.

Humanity goes through phases of cynicism and corruption. Energies are diminished, hopes that were predicted are unrealized, corruption, whether intellectual or monetary seem to dominate the picture. Is this something new?

I recommend Barbara Tuchman's, "A Distant Mirror," in which she analyzes the 14th century, and in a loose manner, shows the parallels with our present situation.

No, the tide has not turned. We are still in a society in denial. We still battle and struggle with ideas and positions which have been proven false on numerous occasions. But more and more members of human society are starting to reject the ideas of reactionaries. Even as we slowly trend toward Fascist, Authoritarian visions of the future, opposition is coalescing. Resistance to Corporate governance is growing.

The people of the world are less corrupted now then they were last year, and even if the tide has not changed, the signs of attitudes changing are visible all over the world.

Dave

Edited by Chato

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Posted (edited)

Apologies on the brief post earlier. It's hard to compose something substantial on a mobile device, even one as advanced as the iPhone.

I read in your post basically the received wisdom of the Enlightenment, or an uncritical acceptance of the Standard Interpretation. What I am talking about is somewhat more nuanced and more complicated, and less straightforward as the apologists of the Age of Reason would have you believe. As for the naivete of the Enlightenment, this observation comes at the hands of cynical reason that wonders what critique can do today in the age of skepticism of theory:

Fools, who complain about the demise of critique. For its time has long since run out. Critique is a matter of proper distance. It is at home in a world where perspectices & prospects are important & where it was still possible to assume a point of view. In the meantime, things have become much too close for comfort in human society. "Disinterestedness," the "unbiased perspective," have become lies, if not completely naive exp
ression of plain incompetence.
One Way Street
, by Benjamin, p. 95

In the age of multiple perspectives, the "grand perspective" of the whole are for the simple souls, no longer the educated or enlightened. There is no enlightenment without the destruction of mere thought from a certain point of view or without dissolving conventional morals. And this goes hand in hand with the dissemination of the ego, (both literarily and philosophically) with the end of critique.

"...no longer was anyone to be seen who stood behind everything. Everything turned continually about itself. Interests changed from hour to hour. Nowhere was there a goal anymore... The leaders lost their heads. They were drained to the dregs and calcified... Everyone in the land began to notice that things didn't work anymore... Postponing the collapse left one path open."
The Conquest of the Machines
, Jung, 1921

The discontent in modern culture became a universal and scattered cynicism, where traditional critique of ideology has been rendered impotent. There's no longer a button to jumpstart enlightenment anywhere within this cynically keen consciousness. The state of consciousness that results after naive ideologies and their enlightenment is modern cynicism. This is the ground of the obvious exhaustion of ideology critique. Thus critique has remained more naive than the consciousness it wanted to expose. Due to its well-mannered rationality, it could no longer keep up with the twists & turns of modern consciousness that operated by a cunning multiple realism.

Enlightenment thinkers proposed a formal sequence of false consciousness with lies, errors and ideology. This is incomplete, because the current mentality adds a fourth structure: cynicism. The old game of ideology critique has a new player. In the 300 years since Enlightenment demolished various certainties (theological, political, social, psychological) its promise of emancipation has not been realized, except as an ideal, a carrot on the proverbial stick. In various ways, liberalism, social democracy and communism has all failed us. The modern mind, if it doesn't resort to wilful idiocy or reactionary conservatism, will end in melancholia, i.e., cynicism. Against the awesome artifice of power & capital, we feel impotent and compromised by our own collusion within the system.

Revolution, supposedly the most effective remedy, only kills the patient. Reform is mere remedial care.

In order to live, feed ourselves, we gotta buy products, in which production contributes to environmental destruction, and pay taxes that directly support weapons of mass destruction, and perform Kafkaesque duties which true function only generates surplus value for shareholders we never will meet.

Is critique still possible? After all, critique does retreat and retrench in order to maintain some distance from the reality we inhabit and the life we represent. Since we are all so compromised by our involvement in a deeply cynical society, critique has become more of a psychic self-defense than a true weapon of political change. We can pick apart the old bones of ideology, root out some piece of discourse, and revel in our cleverness and independence from illusion, but that is only empty cleverness and impotent freedom with no agency.

Practical critique is protest and dissent and resistance. It is worthwhile and necessary against injustice or the proclivities of the industrialized world to curtail liberties, commercialize public services, etc. But this is just reactive and uninspiring when people fail to rally en masse to the causes of justice. The 2008 Global financial crisis has exposed neoliberalism as utterly bankrupt morally, intellectually & economically. The Left merely cynically shrugged its shoulders.

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). We need more than critique to escape this duality of bad faith (we live as if we are happy to be consumers) and inner detachment, because critique only exaggerates the ironic distance between our minds and our lives.

A famous quote of Deleuze reads as follows:

“But, above all, my way of coping at that time was, I am inclined to believe, to conceive of the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery or, which amounts to the same thing, a sort of immaculate conception. I imagined myself as arriving in the back of an author and giving him a child, which would be his and which nevertheless would be monstruous. That it really be his is very important, because the author had to really say everything that I made him say. But it was also necessary that the child be monstruous, because it was necessary to go through all sorts of decenterings, slippage, breakage, secret emissions that gave me a lot of pleasure.”

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:

“So, when we are bombarded by claims that in our post-ideological cynical era nobody believes in the proclaimed ideals, when we encounter a person who claims he is cured of any beliefs and accepts social reality the way it really is, one should always counter such claims with the question "OK, but where is the fetish that enables you to (pretend to) accept reality 'the way it is'?" "Western Buddhism" is such a fetish. It enables you to fully participate in the frantic pace of the capitalist game while sustaining the perception that you are not really in it; that you are well aware of how worthless this spectacle is; and that what really matters to you is the peace of the inner Self to which you know you can always with-draw.”

http://www.cabinetma...s/2/western.php

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

“Isaacson harps on Jobs’s long hair and his aversion to taking baths, a sure sign of his being “hip”, I suppose. But it was his trip to India, his Zen Buddhism, and most of all his use of LSD that made him atypical of the Silicon Valley world.

He goes on to explain that if you dig a little deeper, it was exactly those things that made Apple the big success that it was and is. The Zen Buddhism supposedly made him attuned to a kind of elegant minimalism that characterized all of his products, to the point of making him averse to on-off power switches.

The LSD was the big thing, however. It “opened his mind” in a way that he never thought possible. While not quite a prophet of the drug as Timothy Leary, Jobs is on record as stating that Bill Gates would have been much more successful if he had dropped acid himself.”

http://louisproyect....ddhism-and-lsd/

From Isaacson’s article:

“Focus was ingrained in Jobs’s personality and had been honed by his Zen training.

Steve Jobs was a product of the two great social movements that emanated from the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s. The first was the counterculture of hippies and antiwar activists, which was marked by psychedelic drugs, rock music, and antiauthoritarianism. The second was the high-tech and hacker culture of Silicon Valley, filled with engineers, geeks, wireheads, phreakers, cyberpunks, hobbyists, and garage entrepreneurs. Overlying both were various paths to personal enlightenment—Zen and Hinduism, meditation and yoga, primal scream therapy and sensory deprivation, Esalen and est.”

http://hbr.org/2012/...steve-jobs/ar/1

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:

“Twenty years of restructuring of the big factories has led to a curious paradox. The various different post-Fordist models have been constructed both on the defeat of the Fordist worker and on the recognition of the centrality of (an ever increasingly intellectualized) living labor within production. In today's large restructured company, a worker's work increasingly involves, at various levels, an ability to choose among different alternatives and thus a degree of responsibility regarding decision-making. The concept of "interface" used by communications sociologists provides a fair definition of the activities of this kind of worker—as an interface between different functions, between different work teams, between different levels of the hierarchy, and so forth. What modern management techniques are looking for is for "the worker's soul to become part of the factory." The worker's personality and subjectivity have to be made susceptible to organization and command. It is around immateriality that the quality and quantity of labor are organized. This transformation of working-class labor into a labor of control, of handling information, into a decision-making capacity that involves the investment of subjectivity, affects workers in varying ways according to their positions within the factory hierarchy, but it is nevertheless present as an irreversible process. Work can thus be defined as the capacity to activate and manage productive cooperation. In this phase, workers are expected to become "active subjects" in the coordination of the various functions of production, instead of being subjected to it as simple command. …

Thus the slogan "become subjects," far from eliminating the antagonism between hierarchy and cooperation, between autonomy and command, actually re-poses the antagonism at a higher level, because it both mobilizes and clashes with the very personality of the individual worker. First and foremost, we have here a discourse that is authoritarian: one has to express oneself, one has to speak, communicate, cooperate, and so forth.”

http://www.generatio...riallabour3.htm

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:

“”We want people to hear us,” said [The Grateful Dead’s manager] Rock Scully, but “we won’t do what the system says—make single hits, take big [impersonal] gigs, do the success number. …We won’t make bad music for bread.””

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:

http://inthesetimes.com/article/3751/)

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:

http://www.wcfia.harvard.edu/node/2788

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:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

http://www.marxists....eses/theses.htm

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

Heidegger, in an interview, says:

“The question of the demand for world change is listed in the often quoted sentence of Karl Marx in the Theses on Feuerbach. … By citation of this sentence and by following this sentence one overlooks the fact that a world change presupposes a change of the world’s conception, and that a conception of the world can be won only by the fact that one interprets the world sufficiently. That is, Marx bases his demand for change on a completely certain world interpretation.”

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.

Edited by ephelotes

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Massive and complex post, ephelotes, give the Galileans time to read and consider before responding. The wheels or response sometimes turn slowly here, but turn they do. :deal:

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Thanks davidm. I hope some of it makes sense.

Edited by ephelotes

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It indeed does make sense, but not for the reasons you think. :deal:

Response forthcoming :nod:

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....[snipped].... Humanity goes through phases of cynicism and corruption. ...

Not quite. :hand:

The ancient or classical cynics were nothing like the modern cynics. There is a historical relation, but that pales before the significant behavioral and conceptual differences.

The main difference between the classical and the modern lies in the fact that the former were spokesmen of an impudent but honest reaction against a decadent set of ethical & social conventions, while the latter represents a "falling-out" of consciousness, or an immersion into self-deception. That explains why cynicism emerges in the cloak of stupefying political & cultural ideologies that establish a false sense of purpose in their adherents, while hiding their false consciousness with the illusion of meaningfulness.

The ancient Cynics, no matter their apparent 'cynical' stance towards everything, they remained honest: they practiced the art of truth-telling, & were parrhesiast, because for them philosophy flourishes on the basis of the freedom and commitment to always and only speak the truth. This insolence & impudence of classical cynics may be a manifestation of their incontrovertible decision to use language in the most truthful way. Thus their conscience was independent of the speciousness & inauthenticity that infects the conscience of modern cynicism.

The historical relation between the classical and the modern is mostly a peculiarity of language, in which the same word has undergone a total reversal in meaning. therefore, to be cynical is to be the opposite of being a Cynic, and being a Cynic has zero relationship to being cynical.

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Ephilotes is right that I did not offer an alternative. But he is wrong to think I exhausted my point, my disagreement in a single post, even one as mighty as this. :brow:

As posted above, there is more to cynicism than the failure of the Enlightenment.

We think we know cynicism only because we've interiorized it, just like we think we know the ironic, the parodic, the tragic and the comic.

This expose of cynicism comes in the following aspects:

  • the lamentations over the failure of contemporary philosophy. In antiquity, knowledge was love of truth, or Wahrheitsliebe, and truth in love, or Liebeswahrheit. Knowledge contained an erotic dimension. However, the Enlightenment altered the relation to knowledge to one of power. Knowledge as power and power as knowledge, thus, thought becomes political. No longer do understanding lead to ecstasy, or do ideas stimulate. Today, our relation to truth is one of suspicion and interrogation, making all thought strategy in a reality always at war.

The self-understanding of the Enlightenment was a step towards a better understanding, and a step away from an inadequate one, and this step was based on voluntary consensus determined by dialogue. But this self-understanding is misleading - it was less of a step and more of a leap, and this leap contained ambivalence - pleasure at finding a superior way of seeing, and pain at abandoning a comfortable way of seeing.

The Enlightenment was a 3 pronged polemic against authority, tradition, and prejudice; thus it became a battle with competing interests that had to fight change and consequently refused to carry on the dialogue. the critique of ideology in the 19th century is the continuation of this interrupted dialogue by other means. Since the Enlightenment cannot give up its assertion to superior insight, it had to work behind the scenes, behind the consciousness of the opposition.

Where knowledge was power, the intelligentsia were natural favorites. They did develop and produce the weapons of critique. But they ended up using those weapons against themselves! Their only line of defense? Cynicism. Sloterdijk calls this enlightened false consciousness - a schizophrenia that became reflective.

During the classical era of the Greeks, there was a tension between the desire of individuals to remain themselves and the distorting pressures & half-truths of society. Sloterdijk credits the roots of Enlightenment with "kynicism" or low culture that was inarticulate and ready to brawl. This was preserved by philosophical historians, but buried by Christian theology as mere pagan inheritance. Nowadays, cynicism is the reply of the dominant culture to the present kynical provocations. Kynicism is opposition, whereas cynicism is repression, or the embodiment of the self in opposition and the division of the self in repression. During crises, they get physical. They are constants in western history as polemical consciousness.

Both kynicism and cynicism are concepts we communicate through body language on top of verbal and written languages. The Enlightenment attempted to silence the physical, but it failed to kill it off. Tits, ass, shit, balls & pussy are all fields for the expression of the cynical-kynical inspiration.

The source of kynicism is Diogenes who embodied low theory. He opposed Socratic discussion by using the body's gestures as arguments: fart, shit, jerking off in public. Diogenes poked fun at his all-too-serious colleagues, the anti-theoretical, anti-dogmatic, and anti-scholastic.

Once Lucian of Samasota published his works, critique switched teams, and became opportunism that targeted the unintellectual - fools and philistines. By modernity, cynicism became represented by great characters in literature: Mephistopheles from Faust and Grand Inquisitor from Brothers Karamazov. In Mephistopheles, cynicism graduated to anti-metaphysics as empirical positivist. In the Grand Inquisitor, cynicism successfully gave up good & evil for knowledge and power, for utopian ideals.

The ultimate cynic is Heidegger's "anybody." Anybody exists, but does not have substance. Anybody is a construct, decentered, and dissipated. The 18th century's dream of individuality has declined to this death of the self.

Conclusion: there's a narrow brick road between Diogenes' kynical erasure of philosophy to cynical self-denial. Philosophy today has fallen into the twilight of an alienated life that takes life more seriously than the seriousness of life takes it.

From our positions we ridicule the Enlightenment, take delight in the sophisticated puncturing of humanist ideals, recognize the superiority of ironic insight.

But to make a revolution or overthrow the Enlightenment with words or deeds, who can be sure of going about dealing with the banality of revolution? Is this ridicule of cynicism a therapy that leads to rebirth and redemption through relaxation? Does this satiric stance give us all the indifference we need to put an authoritative distance between us and the fools of the day? Some distance between us and the recent past, and help us see the direction where we're headed?

The death of Enlightenment is underscored by a shabby appeal to a nostalgia for the mythical womb of the Cynics of classical Greece, glorifying its values as a contrast to the tyranny of our day, and show us hope and desire to feed on. It is a romantic quest that may deliver us from the anxieties of modernity. Some slick rhetoric.

Even Socrates used it when he was facing down a bunch of people who couldn't be convinced by appropriate methods of dialogue. Whoever takes a critical attitude towards what most take for granted, or demand on some conceptual discipline and respect arguments of logical potency are going to be insulted. They will claim that there's nothing in this post to distinguish it from flattery or seduction or threats. i.e, the subtlest forms of violence.

Since the Enlightenment was a form of discursive aggression, it can be parodied and left like it is in order to seek a new adventure to set up ancient values. Perhaps this attempt is too much for our post-modern world to countenance. If this is successfully proven, that we did not abide by the best in our tradition, that we would have a different civilization, and be totally different from where we are, then the tradition has lost its credibility.

If we haven't been able to abide to the best of our tradition till now, then there's zero evidence we can do it in the future.

:troll:

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Nice post, but shouldn't that have concluded with :trollfro: ?

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Ephilotes is right that I did not offer an alternative. But he is wrong to think I exhausted my point, my disagreement in a single post, even one as mighty as this. :brow:

As posted above, there is more to cynicism than the failure of the Enlightenment.

We think we know cynicism only because we've interiorized it, just like we think we know the ironic, the parodic, the tragic and the comic.

This expose of cynicism comes in the following aspects:

  • the lamentations over the failure of contemporary philosophy. In antiquity, knowledge was love of truth, or Wahrheitsliebe, and truth in love, or Liebeswahrheit. Knowledge contained an erotic dimension. However, the Enlightenment altered the relation to knowledge to one of power. Knowledge as power and power as knowledge, thus, thought becomes political. No longer do understanding lead to ecstasy, or do ideas stimulate. Today, our relation to truth is one of suspicion and interrogation, making all thought strategy in a reality always at war.

The self-understanding of the Enlightenment was a step towards a better understanding, and a step away from an inadequate one, and this step was based on voluntary consensus determined by dialogue. But this self-understanding is misleading - it was less of a step and more of a leap, and this leap contained ambivalence - pleasure at finding a superior way of seeing, and pain at abandoning a comfortable way of seeing.

The Enlightenment was a 3 pronged polemic against authority, tradition, and prejudice; thus it became a battle with competing interests that had to fight change and consequently refused to carry on the dialogue. the critique of ideology in the 19th century is the continuation of this interrupted dialogue by other means. Since the Enlightenment cannot give up its assertion to superior insight, it had to work behind the scenes, behind the consciousness of the opposition.

Where knowledge was power, the intelligentsia were natural favorites. They did develop and produce the weapons of critique. But they ended up using those weapons against themselves! Their only line of defense? Cynicism. Sloterdijk calls this enlightened false consciousness - a schizophrenia that became reflective.

During the classical era of the Greeks, there was a tension between the desire of individuals to remain themselves and the distorting pressures & half-truths of society. Sloterdijk credits the roots of Enlightenment with "kynicism" or low culture that was inarticulate and ready to brawl. This was preserved by philosophical historians, but buried by Christian theology as mere pagan inheritance. Nowadays, cynicism is the reply of the dominant culture to the present kynical provocations. Kynicism is opposition, whereas cynicism is repression, or the embodiment of the self in opposition and the division of the self in repression. During crises, they get physical. They are constants in western history as polemical consciousness.

Both kynicism and cynicism are concepts we communicate through body language on top of verbal and written languages. The Enlightenment attempted to silence the physical, but it failed to kill it off. Tits, ass, shit, balls & pussy are all fields for the expression of the cynical-kynical inspiration.

The source of kynicism is Diogenes who embodied low theory. He opposed Socratic discussion by using the body's gestures as arguments: fart, shit, jerking off in public. Diogenes poked fun at his all-too-serious colleagues, the anti-theoretical, anti-dogmatic, and anti-scholastic.

Once Lucian of Samasota published his works, critique switched teams, and became opportunism that targeted the unintellectual - fools and philistines. By modernity, cynicism became represented by great characters in literature: Mephistopheles from Faust and Grand Inquisitor from Brothers Karamazov. In Mephistopheles, cynicism graduated to anti-metaphysics as empirical positivist. In the Grand Inquisitor, cynicism successfully gave up good & evil for knowledge and power, for utopian ideals.

The ultimate cynic is Heidegger's "anybody." Anybody exists, but does not have substance. Anybody is a construct, decentered, and dissipated. The 18th century's dream of individuality has declined to this death of the self.

Conclusion: there's a narrow brick road between Diogenes' kynical erasure of philosophy to cynical self-denial. Philosophy today has fallen into the twilight of an alienated life that takes life more seriously than the seriousness of life takes it.

From our positions we ridicule the Enlightenment, take delight in the sophisticated puncturing of humanist ideals, recognize the superiority of ironic insight.

But to make a revolution or overthrow the Enlightenment with words or deeds, who can be sure of going about dealing with the banality of revolution? Is this ridicule of cynicism a therapy that leads to rebirth and redemption through relaxation? Does this satiric stance give us all the indifference we need to put an authoritative distance between us and the fools of the day? Some distance between us and the recent past, and help us see the direction where we're headed?

The death of Enlightenment is underscored by a shabby appeal to a nostalgia for the mythical womb of the Cynics of classical Greece, glorifying its values as a contrast to the tyranny of our day, and show us hope and desire to feed on. It is a romantic quest that may deliver us from the anxieties of modernity. Some slick rhetoric.

Even Socrates used it when he was facing down a bunch of people who couldn't be convinced by appropriate methods of dialogue. Whoever takes a critical attitude towards what most take for granted, or demand on some conceptual discipline and respect arguments of logical potency are going to be insulted. They will claim that there's nothing in this post to distinguish it from flattery or seduction or threats. i.e, the subtlest forms of violence.

Since the Enlightenment was a form of discursive aggression, it can be parodied and left like it is in order to seek a new adventure to set up ancient values. Perhaps this attempt is too much for our post-modern world to countenance. If this is successfully proven, that we did not abide by the best in our tradition, that we would have a different civilization, and be totally different from where we are, then the tradition has lost its credibility.

If we haven't been able to abide to the best of our tradition till now, then there's zero evidence we can do it in the future.

:troll:

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.

Edited by ephelotes

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Aye, I've read that.

Both Zizek and Sloterdijk (the writer of Critique of Cynical Reason) see cynicism the same way: how ideology is consolidated, since it is quite subtle as the Enlightenment that opposes itself. Initially, modern consciousness was determined to be inconsistent in essence, thus Sloterdijk and Zizek argue (though differently) that the critique of ideology (Enlightenment technique) must now be the critique of cynicism, which will revive the enlightenment dream.

But Zizek won't go as far as Sloterdijk and admit that ideological critique is inert, that we are all living in a post-ideological age, where there's no distinction between ideology and reality. Why? Because he's a dogmatic Marxist who goes back to the old Marx definition of consciousness. :lol:

Edited by The Heretic

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

It is here, at this point, that the distinction between symptom and fantasy must be introduced in order to show how the idea that we live in a post-ideological society proceeds a little too quickly: cynical reason, with all its ironic detachment, leaves untouched the fundamental level of ideological fantasy, the level on which ideology structures the social reality itself

Ideological fantasy

If we want to grasp this dimension of fantasy, we must return to the Marxian formula 'they do not know it, but they are doing it', and pose ourselves a very simple question: where is the place of ideological illusion, in the 'knowing or in the 'doing’ in the reality itself? At first sight, the answer seems obvious: ideological illusion lies in the 'knowing'. It is a matter of a discordance between what people are effectively doing and what they think they are doing - ideology consists in the very fact that the people 'do not know what they are really doing', that they have a false representation of the social reality to which they belong (the distortion produced, of course, by the same reality). Let us take again the classic Marxian example of so-called commodity fetishism: money is in reality just an embodiment, a condensation, a materialization of a network of social relations - the fact that it functions as a universal equivalent of all commodities is conditioned by its position in the texture of social relations. But to the individuals themselves, this function of money - to be the embodiment of wealth - appears as an immediate, natural property of a thing called 'money', as if money is already in itself, in its immediate material reality, the embodiment of wealth. Here, we have touched upon the classic Marxist motive of'reification': behind the things, the relation between things, we must detect the social relations, the relations between human subjects.

But such a reading of the Marxian formula leaves out an illusion, an error, a distortion which is already at work in the social reality itself, at the level of what the individuals are doing, and not only what they think or know they are doing. When individuals use money, they kno w very well that there is nothing magical about it - that money, in its materiality, is simply an expression of social relations. The everyday spontaneous ideology reduces money to a simple sign giving the individual possessing it a right to a certain part of the social p roduct. So, on an everyday level, the individuals know very well that there are relations between people behind the relations between things. The problem is that in their social activity itself, in what they are doing, they are acting as if money, in its material reality, is the immediate embodiment of wealth as such. They are fetishists in practice, not in theory. What they ' do not know', what they misrecognize, is the fact that in their social reality itself, in their social activity - in the act of commodity exchange - they are guided by the fetishistic illusion.

To make this clear, let us again take the classic Marxian motive of the speculative inversion of the relationship between the Universal and the Particular. The Universal is just a property of particular objects which really exist, but when we are victims of commodity fetishism it appears as if the concrete content of a commodity (its use-value) is an expression of its abstract universality (its exchange-value) - the abstract Universal, the Value, appears as a real Substance which successively incarnates itself in a series of concrete objects. That is the basic Marxian thesis: it is already the effective world of commodities which behaves like a Hegelian subjectsubstance, like a Universal going through a series o f particular embodiments. Marx speaks about 'commodity metaphysics', about the 'religion of everyday life'. The roots of philosophical speculative idealism are in the social reality of the world of commodities; it is this world which behaves 'idealistically' - or, as Marx puts it in the first chapter of the first edition of Capital:

This inversion through which what is sensible and concrete counts only a phenomenal form of what is abstract and universal, contrary to the real state of things where the abstract and the universal count only as a property of the concrete - such an inversion is characteristic of the expression of value, and it is this inversion which, at the same time, makes the understanding of this expression so difficult. If I say: Roman law and German law are both laws, it is something which goes by itsel£ But if, on the contrary, I say: THE Law, this abstract thing, realizes itself in Roman law and in German law, i.e. in these concrete laws, the interconnection becomes mystical.20

The question to ask again is: where is the illusion here? We must not forget that the bourgeois individual, in his everyday ideology, is definitely not a speculative Hegelian: he does not conceive the particular content as resulting from an autonomous movement of the universal Idea. He is, on the contrary, a good Anglo-Saxon nominalist, thinking that the Universal is a property of the Particular - that is, of really existing things. Value in itself does not exist, there are just individual things which, among other properties, have value. The problem is that in his practice, in his real activity, he acts as if the particular things (the commodities) were just so many embodiments of universal Value. To rephrase Marx: He knows ve!J' well that Roman law and German law are just two kinds of law, but in his practice, he acts as (the Law itself, this abstract end!)!, realizes itseff in Roman law and in German law.

So now we have made a decisive step forward; we have established a new way to read the Marxian formula 'they do not know it, but they are doing it': the illusion is not on the side of knowledge, it is already on the side of reality itself, of what the people are doing. What they do not know is that their social reality itself, their activity, is guided by an illusion, by a fetishistic invers ion. What they overlook, what they misrecognize, is not the reality but the illusion which is structuring their reality, their real social activity. They know very well how things really are, but still they are doing it as if they did not know. The illusion is therefore double: it consists in overlooking the illusion which is structuring our real, effective relationship to reality. And this overlooked, unconscious illusion is what may be called the ideolo8ica1fantasy.

If our concept of ideology remains the classic one in which the illusion is located in knowledge, then today's society must appear post-ideological: the prevailing ideology is that of cynicism; people no longer believe in ideological truth; they do not take ideological propositions seriously. The fundamental level of ideology , however, is not that of an illusion masking the real state of things but that of an (unconscious) fantasy structuring our social reality itsel£ And at this level, we are of course far from being a post-ideological society. Cynical distance is just one way - one of many ways - to blind ourselves to the structuring power of ideological fantasy: even if we do not take things seriously, even if we keep an ironical distance, we are still doing them.

It is from this standpoint that we can account for the formula of cynical reason proposed by Sloterdijk: 'they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it'. If the illusion were on the side of knowledge, then the cynical position would really be a post-ideological position, simply a position without illusions: 'they know what they are doing, and they are doing it'. But if the place of the illusion is in the reality of doing itself, then this formula can be read in quite another way: 'they know that, in their activity, they are following an illusion, but still, they are doing it'. For example, they know that their idea of Freedom is masking a particular form of exploitation, but they still continue to follow this idea of Freedom.

Edited by ephelotes

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Indeed, as I understand Zizek, he is saying that ideology consists in the act, not in the head.

His argument is pretty simple, despite the verbiage you posted above. Ideology is more than what one thinks about a situation for it is built into the situation itself. It matters not in the slightest that you're opposed to sweat shop workers as you buy clothes from the GAP or Banana Republic or iPhone smartphones. The very act of wearing clothes or gadgets assembled by exploited laborers in third world countries you're supporting and perpetuating exploitative ideology. Therefore, the ideology is in your action, not in your thoughts.

Then again, cynicism as enlightened false consciousness is pretty much this - the self-ironizing or lucid bad faith of a people that see past its phony rationalizations. Such as the example above. :deal:

The disparity is pretty obvious in between what our society does and what it claims. Then this performative contradiction is rationalized and this rationalization is made ironically self-conscious. Ergo this self-ironization reinforces ideological ends. As the cynical subject we're no victim of false consciousness like Marx thought or Zizek wants us to believe, because we know exactly what we're doing. We just keep on doing it. Moreover, it seems the case that we're actually conveniently armored against ideology critique, which claims that we are agents not in complete possessions of our own motivations.

The reason I don't give Zizek much credit is because his critique of cynicism as ideological fantasy is traditional ideology critique with lipstick. His rebuttal of Sloterdijk is actually a recast of his thesis (we know but we do it anyway) in different terms. Then again, perhaps cynicism is what we need. Sloterdijk beat Zizek to the punch. Plus Zizek actually agrees that the traditional critique of ideology no longer works. Plus if you look at Zizek as a person, he is the fucking kynick Sloterdijk used to contrast the average cynic.

:troll:

Edited by The Heretic

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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

Edited by ephelotes

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