OUR THYMOTIC PATHOLOGY – 1: Fukuyama and Sloterdijk

The ancient Greeks had a concept called thymus which, they believed, explained our unconscious impulses to act. In the Iliad, Achilles does not act consciously, but rather it is Apollo who inspires him to go to battle by stimulating his thymus.

Of course, as a subconscious driving force, thymus can be likened to will, or a physical, personal receiver and motivator of will. Julian Jaynes’, in his book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, argues that the meaning of the word evolved in its classical usage from an original concept of motion or agitation in the unconscious bicameral man, to eventually become something like our emotional soul. Perhaps in its original meaning we could sometimes associate it with energy – when a man grows tired of moving it is because his thymus leaves his limbs – but it must be given a spiritual or psychological quality as well which seems to come and go and even gives us directions. It speaks to us. The thymus can tell a man to eat and drink, or to fight. Diomedes in the Iliad says that Achilles will fight: “when the thymus in his chest tells him and a god rouses him.” Thymus then, is associated with passion.

Fukuyama introduces thymus to us through Plato. From the Republic, Fukuyama tells us that Plato envisaged the soul in three parts: desire, reason and thymus, which Fukuyama translates as spiritedness.

What Fukuyama is looking for constantly in his book is a handy definition of human nature. Definitions which can correspond to liberal-democratic intentions and thus prove Fukuyama’s thesis that liberal-democracy is the most perfect system because it reflects human nature far better than any other. Plato’s triumvirate-soul is perfect for Fukuyama and capitalism: a will to spirited desire that also has a sprinkle of reasonableness to it. Plato of course saw the triumvirate working in a different way. Its tri-nature being an explanation for the constant moral dilemma between our reasoning and our desires. Plato asks: shouldn’t we subject our desires to the judgement of reason against the danger of allowing it to be subjected to passion? Capitalism of course would argue NO. It’s better for the consumer to desire with a passion and consume with a frenzy. Capitalism wants a passionate element to reign in our souls. The kind of passion propounded by the Romantics, the kind advocated by Nietzsche.

To act with passion the consumer needs freedom, and so the liberal-plutocracy encourages it, or at least a hallucinatory version of that freedom. While you are allowed to consume with passion, you will be fully motivated to work in our system, the one, the only one that can provide the drugs one needs to feed one’s consumer-addiction – which is making the few who are pulling the strings get richer whilst the rest sink deeper and deeper into their addiction. Welcome to Huxley’s Brave New World.

For Fukuyama: “Desire and reason are together sufficient to explain the process of industrialisation and a large part of economic life more generally.”[i] But what room is there for reason in a soul that is driven by a spirited, passionate desire? How much reason can we see in an industrialisation which has scarred the planet? How much reason behind those ideas that created a slave-class of factory workers that are now abandoned to unemployment as the system mechanises the same industries? Instead of the noble concept of reason, we see only egotistical ambition. Only selfish reasons based on greed and desire.

Fukuyama perverts Plato’s idea of the soul by associating it with a singularity that is human nature. Plato himself, however, does not make this association, and in the dialogue Socrates is searching for the best individual natures to fit certain positions (e.g. what would be the right soul for an ideal guardian of the city). Plato’s argument is that the appetitive part of the soul that is desire needs to be controlled, not unleashed as capitalism does.

Fukuyama seems quite liberal (no pun intended) with Plato’s thymus. In Republic IV, 436a ff., Socrates asks: “Do we do things with the same part of ourselves or do we do them with three different parts? Do we learn with one part, get angry with another, and with some third part desire the pleasures of food drink, sex, and the others that are closely akin to them? Or when we set out after something, do we act with the whole of our soul in each case?” Or in other words the three parts that Fukuyama refers to are: that with which we learn (reason), that which gets us angry (thymus), and that which fills us with desire. Here Fukuyama’s translation of thymus, spiritedness, would probably be better rendered as passion, for thymus here is the faculty for arousing anger. Drawing this same line of argument Socrates says that he prefers the term appetite to desire, for appetite implies both desire and non-desire. Non-will is just as an important concept for Plato as will. My revulsion at the idea of eating shit is stronger than my love of eating shell-fish. My will for wanting one thing is often measured alongside a will for not wanting something else. It is between will and non-will that choices are made, and preferences. Only a monster will desire everything, and there is another perversion: the culture that wants everything is a monstrous abomination. The natural thing (and this was Plato’s point), the authentically natural thing is that desire should be moderated by a courageous will to not-want, or want-less.

Nevertheless, in Fukuyama’s perverted misreading of Plato, thymus becomes a perfectly positive drive and one necessary for human satisfaction, in fact it is related by Fukuyama to human dignity.

 

Peter Sloterdijk sees thymus, and capitalism, from another angle. After locating the origin of the word thymus in a kind of receptacle through which the gods activated mankind, Sloterdijk suggests that we are still subject to thymotic power. But now it is via the State or the system that thymus returns to its receptacle like function. Instead of being activated by gods it is now programmed by the system. He says: “Current consumerism achieves, in a significant way, the same elimination of pride in favour of the erotic without holistic, altruistic and elegant excuses, by buying from man his interest in dignity, offering material favours in exchange.” The system now functions not as a body-snatcher, but as a dignity-snatcher: “In this way, the construct of the Homo-economicus, at first totally incredible, arrives at his goal of becoming the post-modern consumer. A simple consumer is he or she that doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know different appetites that… proceed from the erotic or demanding part of the soul.”[ii]

For Sloterdijk the rediscovery of the neo-thymotic human image in the Renaissance played an important role in the rise of the Nation State in terms of that which referred to its output. He lists Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Adam Smith, Hamilton and Hegel as they who considered men’s passions as their most important qualities: their lust for fame, vanity, self-love, ambition and the desire to be recognised. All of them saw the dangers in their passions but most of them still dared to sell these vices as positive, productive aspects for society.

The thymotic drive is a creative, productive one, but it is also an angry, jealous, violent one. The will-to-want-more (Nietzschean) thymus coupled to the will-to-be-recognised (Hegelian) thymus is a pyrotechnic combination, an act of madness, throwing gunpowder into the fire. But it is what our system has always advocated. Sloterdijk makes a connection between Thymus and the Hippocratic temperament of Choleric. Both the will-to-want-more and the desire for recognition are areas in the thymotic field of psychology. They are questions of appetite and pride, of longing for success and fortune. Dreams: American Disneyland Dreams, fomented by the surplus-consumer society, our dynamic civilisation creating dynamic individuals from thymotic fantasies.

The greatest effect of the French Revolution, and the American War of Independence that preceded it, was not freedom, brotherhood and equality, but the creation of a dynamic civilisation based on the power of competitiveness, constantly fuelled by personal pride, needs for recognition, greedy ambition and motivating envy. It is these drives, applied to politics, which forces us to question our civilisation’s greatest apparent virtue – our liberal democracy.

“For the people, by the people”: by – to a certain, virtual extent; for – hardly.

Our party system is a reflection of our System, which is made of the essentially thymotic so necessary for making the market work in a dynamic way. Thus our parties are passionately competitive, power-hungry machines made up of power-hungry individuals. The parties themselves are divided into hungry factions, and each faction in ambitious individuals. How could we ever expect these vain-glorious competitors to even really care about those who voted for them except when it is useful? For the party to win it needs succulent policies and needs to sell those ideas seductively. It also needs the competitive, power hungry individuals to appear unified, and to seem to believe in the party principles. Principles that even the most utopian democrats will sacrifice to pragmatism. Over and over again the democratic politicians surprise us by their lack of vision, lack of principles and constant bowing to pragmatism.

Pragmatism is really the emergency exit out of all radical ideologies. In the great global liberal-free-market civilisation, political parties function very much like corporate groups. Voters are like customers for Coca-Cola or Pepsi: once they have been won to one side they will be more or less loyal forever. A loyal Coca-Cola consumer will rather have a Fanta than resort to Pepsi if there is no Coke. But more importantly than the loyalties it can create, modern politics is corporate through its internal competitiveness.

If Fukuyama would have been right and the triumph of liberalism had created a politically perfect system, there would no longer be any need for politics. But this is an absurd paradox. The liberal economic system needs competition. It is no surprise that the fall of communism left liberalism euphoric, but also momentarily crippled, and it was actually spiritually wavering until the Twin Towers came crashing down and the War on Terror began. It sounds like a conspiracy theory but for a system based on competition, struggle and ambition, war seems a logical necessity. And since the collapse of the Berlin Wall we have seen the liberal-democracies rushing headlong into almost any conflict that half-rears its head.

On a superficial level Fukuyama’s general thesis that liberal-democracy has triumphed as the only really viable and desirable political system is correct. Even those who don’t vote in the liberal-democrat systems would, if offered a choice, opt for the choice to vote. The grand majority of humankind want the voting option and therefore we can say that we want democracy. We also want all or some of the liberal ideas of freedom, although here we seem to split if we take the ballot-results as a fair measure between market-freedom and human-rights. The bi-partisan system of democracy is liberalism’s finest invention. By possessing its own inner competition it provides itself with its own self-criticism and its own renewal. Apart from the major options of right or left, the liberal-democratic system can offer a multitude of options for more socially complex societies: liberal-nationalism or liberal-catholicism, as well as free-market extremists and soft-core neo-fascisms.

On the surface it seems like a perfectly desirable system. Perfectly?: no, nothing is perfect. Triumphantly waiting it is, for the few last dictatorships to collapse and drop into liberal-democracy mode as well. When that happens it will be able to pronounce, with absolute conviction, that it is the perfect, and now the also the only system. But, ironically Fukuyama himself points to the liberal-democracies’ most dangerous foe. As the political systems to have fallen in the last half century have collapsed so suddenly, often without any pre-warning, taking us all by surprise, could the same happen to liberal-democracy?

[i] Francis Fukuyama, THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN, p. xviii

[ii] Peter Sloterdijk, ZORN UND SEIT, author’s own translation from the Spanish edition, p.27

PART TWO:

https://wordpress.com/post/pauladkin.wordpress.com/2485

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GETTING HUMANITY OUT OF ITS DEPRESSION

If we are with someone who is depressed we might tell them that only they themselves can pull themselves back on track, and the reason for giving this advice is simple – the purposes and grounds that determine and support our lives are individual, personal ones. Perhaps they include a family and they are no doubt embellished with certain other marking factors – stamps of identity, memberships, beliefs and ideologies. In fact, the mesh is so complex that if our friend tells us that he or she is feeling down and lacks the motivation to go on and we ask why? our friend will probably reply that he or she doesn’t know. Perhaps there are clear reasons for the break down, perhaps not, the point is that whether there are or not, when we ask why, they don’t know the answer. They don’t know because the reasons for the purposes and grounds that we stand on are themselves flimsy ones, without any more than a superficial substance based on a measuring of our lives against the lives of others.

This measuring of ourselves is void of any meaningful placement of ourselves within the entirety of things. As soon as we let our thoughts stray toward this entirety we are doomed.  Pascal’s nightmare of “the eternal silence of these empty spaces,” terrifies us all, and, like Pascal, we could drop into the religious for comfort, but even so, the day to day flimsiness still whirls around us and even the churches seem full of this flimsiness.

The temples feed us with man-made dogmas that supposedly come from our omnipotent creator only to make us more guilt-ridden than happy with our place in the world. In theory the monotheistic religions should draw us into the universal and allow us to embrace humanity, but they fail to do this because their dogmas are separating ones, buried in a narrative of good versus evil; of accomplishment versus failure; of our message against theirs.

Decentred, an individual needs to be centred again within the ecumenical whole, and the real community for the individual human being must be humanity itself. Only by positing ourselves with humanity itself can we start to find concrete answers to the why question.

Not only is the damage done by the devaluating of the human a psychological or spiritual problem, it has also pushed us to the brink of existential disaster in our persistent ecological damage to the biosphere that maintains us and all life forms on this planet. The lack of humanity as the measure of all human values and internecine promotion of sectarianism and separations will only keep us on a knife-edge over an annihilating abyss.

Nevertheless, this pessimistic condition has an optimistic side. As Nietzsche believed, the devaluing will lead to a revaluing. The nihilism embedded in our anti-humanity civilisation will become clearer and clearer to the individuals who suffer the consequences of that nihilism, a clarity that will create necessary revaluations and new purposes and grounds for existence, based, hopefully on unifying rather than separating elements. A will to be human, or to be Sapiens. But, in order for human power to be liberated we must accept that nihilism reigns in the world and understand that our nihilistic civilisation is working against humanity rather in its favour.

At the moment we stand at a crucial crossroads between a great revaluation of civilisation or a nihilistic slide into nightmarish dystopias or even internecine destruction and annihilation. Fukuyama preached we had reached the end of history[i]. Quite the contrary, we stand at the doorstep of its beginning – what we call the historical process so far has been an anti-human historical process that needs to be shut down in order to allow for a truly human history to take shape.

Both science and philosophy have led us beyond the magical relationship with the suprasensory. Sacrifices are no longer intelligible acts of bonding with the universal. What really binds us is the fact that we all possess rational minds that need to understand and articulate the reality around us. The real purposes and groundwork for our lives lies in our thoughts and imaginations and our capacity to perceive and dream a Universe that finds itself fulfilled. A Universe in which its own Being is authenticated in the representation of itself in our collective minds.

[i] See Francis Fukuyama THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN

THE CHEATING GAME

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It is obvious that the triumph of Western liberal democracy[i] and its subsequent process of Globalisation has done very little toward bringing humanity more closely together. Quite the opposite is true: we all seem to be drifting further and further apart. But, if it has failed with humanity, what has two centuries of liberal democracy achieved with the individual? How successful has it been in its attempts to forge a society of strong-selves? If we have failed with the whole, then surely we must have succeeded with the individuals who are the antithesis of the whole?

But again it is obvious that we haven’t? In Nietzsche’s terms, we have achieved neither the Human nor the Superman, just the Last Man. The pathetic Last Man, bumbling through a cheating-game world of relativity and conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories because, whether we accept them or not, they point an accusing finger at the basic fabric of the system, undermining all responsibilities and moralities with scepticism. How can one be morally responsible in a system which is inherently corrupt? The individual, rather than standing strong and finding a good position in the competitive world, finds him or herself immersed in a society of cheats. The system has now become a cheating-game and the strong-self has to be identified in such an environment as a morally irresponsible subject.

One can only be a strong, successful player in the cheating-game by being a good cheat. This of course makes all success seem suspicious. Eventually decisions need to be made in which “honesty” is needed, but… who can we trust anymore? A strong leader is obviously a good liar and a very good cheat. This kind of leader is useful at convincing us that we are happy in a world that in reality offers us very little… Useful that is until we start to understand the truth. And the simple truth is that we are being cheated.

The first great lie is freedom as individuality and its idea of the unfettered individual along with the creation of a passion for strong individuals. Freedom is now a term used to propagate the unfettering of power: freedom to dominate; freedom to manipulate. The second great lie is democracy itself. The lie of free choice. The lie of majority rule. The lie of the individual’s capacity for achievement in the system.

The only way to combat the lie is by establishing positive, human objectives. We must look beyond the individual and the tyranny of egos in order to establish goals that are out of the cheating game. Goals without any other reward except progress towards human fulfilment. Goals that would pull us out of the cheating-game into another game with real rules that we know will really protect us and protect the world we depend on for our survival. All the rest is petty bickering, which is inevitable when you’re playing the cheating-game.

[i] See Francis Fukuyama’s thesis THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_End_of_History_and_the_Last_Man

The Oceans of Ideologies

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Our opinions melt into ideologies. Philosophy is sucked up by religious dogma that also seeps into and mixes with ideologies. Our political leanings, our worldviews, our moral and religious convictions are part of the great oceans of the contemporary dialectic. Oceans that distinguish themselves from one another by their peculiar currents, though all of them are in fact running counter clockwise into each other. The oceans of Right and Left are themselves composed of seas of classes: Lower, Midder and Upper[i], and these seas are also cut by powerful currents separating the Intellectuals from the Non-Intellectuals.

The End of History is an oceanic triumph, and by seeing it this way we also see how much of a human fantasy it is: the global triumph can be named, and its victory can be established through its pronouncement.

But likewise an even newer name could just as easily be imposed, all that needs to be done is publicise in order to shape opinions that can see the unsatisfactory nature of the name we have  – for let us not forget that these oceans and seas are composed entirely of opinions.

And yet something has gone wrong with the shaping. Already the End of History and the world-encompassing system of Liberal-Democracy is inappropriate because it is disrespectful, even damaging to that which it encompasses. The great publicity machine is faltering. Opinion feels indignant now about the pomposity of those who proclaimed the New World Order and used the false legitimacy based on their assumed triumph to abuse the World they were supposed to command.

Post-world-order opinions leak into a new oceanic flooding through an awareness that we are not over the world but in it and that we must operate for it rather than it suck it dry in an attempt to make it a slave for us. The ideological oceans have now themselves become a question of cleanliness: the all-encompassing New World Order has made the seas murky and brown, but Opinion wants to see blue seas again.

 


[i] .Returning to the whole we find that even the Right and Left are now immersed in an even greater world-encompassing body called Liberal-Democracy or State Capitalism.