Transcending Our Hysterical Quixotic Age

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Žižek makes a link between the end of opera and the beginning of psychology. The voice of authentic opera had to evolve into an atonal Schoenbergian cacophony in order to capture the hysterical voice of our contemporary condition.[i]

But where does this hysteria come from?

We think that its roots are not in the birth of psychology, but that it appeared much earlier. That in fact it can be seen in the birth of the modern novel, in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. In order to talk about our hysteria therefore, we need to talk about our Quixotic condition, which summed up comes to: you must even though you cannot. Or: you must do the impossible.

Did our modern human condition evolve out of a striving for that? And, if the tragic 20th century was driven by a Quixotic force, what will the motor of the 21st century be?

Hysteria is bad, and the contemporary world’s quest for achieving the impossible was a psychological motor behind so much of the disastrous aspects of the 20th century, which was undoubtedly a very tragic hundred years. Nevertheless, that does not have to mean that the future has to become an apocalyptic development of that same hysteria – as many believe it is. What if the impossible actually does become possible? What if Don Quixote’s insanity suddenly becomes realistic?

Technological developments have put us on a very real threshold from where the impossible now looks feasible. If this is true, then the 21st century should be a transcending of hysteria, allowing our Quixotic side to lose its madness and be seen for what it always could have been – inspiration. Such an optimism suggests that the future will be driven by a realization that the impossible is really quite possible, and from this – we must do the impossible because it is not impossible at all.

And yet, although we have arrived at a technological threshold in which our Quixotic dreams of human progress are made possibilities, there is still a pragmatic, skeptical Sancho Panza element holding us back. If we think about the current energy debate and the need for the development of affordable, green technologies, we can see a clear example of how a new, contemporary dialectic has arisen between Quixote and Sancho. A Quixote who is inspired and knows that his dreams can become realities, whilst the skeptical Sancho Panza is forever arguing that cheap renewables are a fantasy and that the only practical solutions is to keep going with what we’ve got. The same dialectic seeps into philosophy and politics. Whilst Quixotic dreamers try to see beyond the borders of nations, races and religions, for the abolishing of guns, and the end of war, poverty and hunger, the new sarcastic Sancho keeps reminding them that they both tried that once and it failed, with disastrous consequences; and that it would be madness to ever try it again.

In theory, with scientific advances, Quixotic positivism should eventually diminish the dictatorship of the pragmatic and propel achievements once more into the sphere of the truly great. But, why is this not already the case?

Of course Sancho Panza has a great benefactor now. He no longer works for Don Quixote, he lost in faith in the Knight of the Sad Countenance and abandoned him centuries ago, embracing skepticism instead. Now, Sancho Panza represents the beliefs of the System itself. Sancho’s current benefactors are the members of a System which transforms possibility into an impossibility that we should strive for in order to become enslaved not by the realization of the possibility itself, but by the idea of it. While the object of desire is unrealized it can still be exploited, and what capitalism is striving for is exploitation. Turn dreams into dollars – that is the function behind our System, and it well knows that once the dream becomes a reality, the exploitive power is lost.

Pragmatism is, therefore, a term used to defend exploitation and convert the possible into the impossible dream. It is a barrier between us and possible achievements, and subsequently authentic progress. It is a wall between civilization and humanity. Only by pulling this barrier down will we ever liberate possibility, rendering the impossible as something possible.

Of course, this also means that while pragmatism exists as a constantly skeptical force against inspiration, the hysterical, Quixotic paradox will be perpetuated. And … the human condition will remain hysterical.

In order to transcend hysteria, we need to bring the System down. In order to do that, we must ask what is happening and compare it with what could be happening. Bob Dylan’s Mr Jones’ dilemma that something is happening but he doesn’t know what it is, is not enough. He, and all the other skeptical Sancho Panzas, must be shown the real possibilities ahead of us, and, by so doing, brought to understand and believe in all the variegated complexities of the possibilities of the impossible.

 

 

[i] Žižek, TARRYING IN THE NEGATIVE, Chapter V

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The Psychology of Capitalism (1) DEMAND – NEED = DESIRE

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This formula (Demand – Need = Desire) comes from Žižek, after Lacan’s Love – Appetite = Desire. But how does this work?

For Lacan, love is a demand, and he talks of the demand of love and the appetite for satisfaction. But not all demands are love and not all love is a demand. Is the appetite for satisfaction the same as need?

At the immediate level of needing to satisfy our physical appetites, the answer would be yes – I am hungry → I have an appetite for food = I need to eat something. A plate of spinach is given the hungry individual. He or she doesn’t particularly like spinach but the hunger is dominant and he or she devours the insipid dish to satisfy that hunger. After the hunger has abated, what is left over? Nothing. There might still be spinach on the plate, but the hunger has gone and the hunger was everything so there is no need to finish the spinach. If it is eaten it will certainly not be with any gusto, for after the hunger is satiated there is no desire left. On the other hand, give the individual a plate of his or her favourite food. The ration is ample enough to satisfy the appetite, the need for food and the hunger is quelled. Nevertheless, the individual is left wanting more. And … this is desire.

In this way we see that desire is a going-beyond need. In its essence it is a demand for more than one need.

Now, by understanding desire this way, we reveal how capitalism works in the realm of desire and needs.

In a mechanical sense, capitalism is a motor for desire which is a transcendence of the relationship between demands and needs that pulls us into a yearning for the unnecessary.

I love pizza. I am hungry. The pizzeria offers three sizes: individual, medium or family size. The family size is enormous; the individual ration is small but sufficient. Desire, however, entices me to buy the middle-size pizza. It will leave me stuffed, feeling unwell even, but … such is desire. The pizza lover after me buys the family sizer. He is alone and won’t be able to finish it, but … he also likes cold pizza. Or he’ll reheat it for breakfast tomorrow.

In this case, the equation is not Demand – Need = Desire but (demanded)Supply – Need = Desire. For capitalism to work, supply must create demand. It is not enough for a business to estimate what people want, it has to create that want. It has to create the market for itself. The realism of consumerism is not that we can have what we would like, but only that which is there. The illusion is that we can get whatever we want in the market place or the department store. Reality, on the other hand, is that we want what we imagine we can get there. What we really want is very often not to be found. One just has to look for a certain style that is no longer in fashion, or a replacement for a broken part of an old machine, or even a pair of shoe-laces for an old pair of shoes or a tooth brush that will slip into one’s old toothbrush-holder, or … a lightbulb that won’t have to be replaced every year, or a medicine to cure one’s arthritis, or a tomato that tastes like the tomatoes we had when we were kids …

For the capitalist market to exist there needs to be obsolescence. The shorter the life-span of a product the better. In the equation Supply = Need + Desire, it does not matter what the values of Need and Desire are as long as both of them have some degree of positive value. The real value for the capitalist is determined by the value in Supply itself, which is really the factor of availability. The greater the availability value is, the more likely it is to generate the Need and Desire necessary to make it a successful business proposition. The main aim is to fill the shelves with your products and leave no room for competition. This is why companies create their own competition – they are filling the space of Supply which determines our Desires and Needs.

HABITUS

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Pierre Bordieu argues[i] that control is created and maintained through habitus. Habitus is a cultural unconsciousness through which social activity can be regulated and harmonised, but it is also an enslaving force. Through habitus we act without being conscious of actually obeying any rules. Capitalist habitus has to be flexible and allow dynamism, but it must also rule out alternatives.

But, how can this be? How can anything be dogmatic and dynamic at the same time?

Bordieu says that this paradox is resolved by inducing aspirations and actions that are compatible with its dogma. In this way you can have individual desires and act according to the fulfilment of those desires without upsetting the status quo. Do whatever you want. Become your dreams. These are the messages that capitalism inculcates in us. Subjective aspirations are therefore defined by objective structures that represent capitalism. What matters is that which is determined by tradition: things are wrong because they are not the proper thing. They are simply wrong because we all know it, because our sense of decency tells us so, because it is common sense – because it’s always been like that.

But Habitus is really the Big Brother. He is watching, criticising, making sure our individuality doesn’t get out of control, making sure we work for the System without being conscious of working for it. Habitus creates the Matrix.

[i] See Pierre Bordieu’s dialogue with Terry Eagleton “Doxa and Common Life: An Interview” in MAPPING IDEOLOGY, edited by Slavoj Žižek.

SAPIENS IN THE IRON MASK – IDENTITY AS IDEOLOGY (1)

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Althusser revealed the meaningful link between ideology and identity[i]. Not only meaningful but also a potentially liberating discovery if we first accept identity as a mask, more precisely an iron mask. But even the iron mask can be removed, and so can all ideologies. Once we recognise our identity for what it is we can submit it to necessity: a process which will firstly require a stripping away of masks and make up in order to establish the true essence of what one is, and recreate our masks, more honestly, according to that essence.

If the essence of our species is sapiens, then our identity will have to be anchored in our ability to think and know things. This is a continual process. Our first honest mask is therefore a fluid thing, a painting on, a face make-up rather than the fixed appendage that is the iron mask that so many of us wear now.

If the nature of Sapiens is the flowing continuity implied by knowing things then ideological identities are dangerously anti-sapiens, and anti-human. Societies and cultures give us masks that inhibit the progressive nature of the sapiens’ thought-unto-knowing flow. The socio-cultural mask says: “This is it,” and allows for no further reflection. An identity made up of these elements on its own, or the identity of the tribe, the team or the club, is a perversion for Sapiens, who needs the capacity for continuity of thought. Society traps the sapiens nature in a rigid mask forged in the metals of ideologies.

The only healthy ideology for Sapiens therefore is the ephemeral face that is painted on us and can be easily rubbed off. In the same way that we can paint our face to be a clown tomorrow, a beautiful woman the next day or an absolute ghoul if need be – the identity of the continually thinking Sapiens must be a morphing one.

At first the idea must seem repulsive for it is anti-natural to our iron-mask ideologies and it could be accused of being an apology for superficiality. In the ideology-identity society there is a blind faith in the values of one’s identity that gives each one of us our own character. In this way we confuse strength with an anti-sapiens quality of firm, unbreakable convictions. In the system’s fiction the mainstream narrative can make a hero even out of an ethical cripple as long as he or she remains faithful to his or her convictions. And yet this is the most dangerous fiction of all and has led to all of humanity’s most tragic debacles. The debacle of fascism and Nazism, the human debacle of the communist state and the religious empires with their Inquisitors and fundamentalists.

Of course it is true that humanity has always been a mask-inspired species, and identity probably arose with consciousness itself. This is why we make the distinction between the mask as make-up that can be wiped away, on the one hand, and the solid iron mask that we are imprisoned in, like the king’s unfortunate twin brother in Dumas’ novel, on the other. A dual potential arises in humanity: the one allowing us to paint our own identity or, the submission to the mask that we are locked into. But only the former has the flexibility to allow Sapiens to properly evolve.

[i] Althusser’s Ideology Interpellates Individuals as Subjects – in Slavoj Zizek, MAPPING IDEOLOGIES, p. 82)

ECOLOGY AS IDEOLOGY AND THE UROBORIC DRIVE

ImageIs ecology a science or an ideology? It seems to be both, but can it be both? What does ecology as a science gain or lose through its ideological processing? How is the ideology of ecology strengthened or weakened by the science?

Žižek, in his work on ideologies, disassembles ecology into a minimum of six ideological streams: conservative; etatist; socialist; liberal-capitalist; feminist; and anarchic self-management[i]. But he argues that none of these categories is itself “true”, which is not to say that the ecological concern is not a real one, rather that the methodological angle proposed is “not true”. Or, in other words, the ideological process falsifies the attempt at establishing truth that is carried out by the science. Does this perhaps explain why ecology as a political movement, despite all the concern for climate change and the prophecies of an eco-collapse apocalypse, has had only negligible results in the polls?

Žižek is right to point out the fractal nature of the ecological movement, but its stratification also points to a political need of veiling its own nature. By painting itself in different colours, the ecological propagandists are attempting to divert our attention from the inevitably most frightening side of ecology as an ideology: its unavoidable totalitarianism. No matter where we stand, if we accept the ecological discourse we are also accepting its absolute necessity, and it is that absolutism which scares voters away, for any truly Green government would have to be a totalitarian one.

But what is a totalitarianism based on absolute necessity? Is it any different to any other totalitarianism?

How would it differ to the totalitarian regime of the globalised liberal-democracies we currently have? Well, it would not be based on an illusion, like the lie of democracy and the illusion of freedom that our capitalist system offers. The basic ecological-ideology premise is that of the need for a partnership between humanity and the world that ultimately must sustain humanity. This creates a shift of human priorities away from the fantasies of economies and the money grabbing game toward  the most obvious and irrefutable necessities of survival in a world we have become hostile to and which is becoming increasingly hostile towards us. In a sense a return to that which is so obvious that it was forgotten.

Of course the success of capitalism has always been its great inner dialectic, and in this way the stratification of ecological ideology could also be a positive thing: a government of shades of green within the great forest of the world and humanity. But capitalism has always used its dialectic and creative potential unwisely and egotistically, creating an absurdly internecine ideology out of the fantasy of perpetual growth. Ecology, on the other hand, encourages diversity within the “truthful” confines of a holistic world-view, geared toward the maintenance of a human partnership with the world.

Ecology is certainly very different to the capitalist machine we have today, but does that mean it could fall into the same traps as the anti-capitalist, communist totalitarian regimes? How would an ecological holistic differ from a communist one? What would the difference between ecological totalitarianism and communist totalitarianism be? Would the power-hungry forces not also adapt to any such total ideology of truth and take control of it for their own profit as soon as ecology was seen to be the most likely survivor in the political maelstrom? Surely a system driven by the concept of “necessity” would be easy prey for those who would like to legitimise absolute control.

A vicious circle is already unravelling itself, only to take hold of its own tail again in order to swallow itself. But perhaps this most ancient image of the Uroboros, the tail-swallowing serpent, is the final revelation: that our drives are magnetic ones, folding us back toward the Uroboric state of an autarchic relationship with the world which is the perpetual result, if only in a perverted way, of any attempts to revaluate or reinvent our circumstances. Capitalism’s final end is to become a Uroboros, even if this is not its conscious eschatology. the System, whatever form it has, is manipulated subconsciously towards the Uroboric, autarchic paradise which we lost so long ago. But while for capitalism the Uroboric autarchy is a Utopian dream that can only end in a complete annihilation of the tail swallowing serpent, the ecological Uroboros has to be imagined perfectly intact and healthy.

The Uroboric drive is in Eros as much as in Thanatos. It is the ultimate unity, representing where we have come from – the autarchy of the foetus in the womb – and where we are going – our final conversion into dust or gas. At either end of the unity the condition is an ecological one. A return to the Uroboric state of being is the Being of the Great Mother, the planet Earth. As an Eros-driven force, our will to freedom is an autarchic will, as is our will for love; our sex drive; our will for community and our desire for isolation; our will to communicate; our creative drives; our willingness to share; and also our need to be protective and cautious. The essence of all of this is in autarchy.

To use Lacan’s terms, we have an “unredeemed symbolic debt” with the Uroboric. The Uroboros acts on the constant within our reality. It is the unchangeable, ever-real force that drives the unconscious of all human will. To take the lie out of ideology would be to bring the Uroboric drive to the forefront. If art is a recalling and an uncovering then what has to be rediscovered is this Uroboric will. It is a will to necessity and will to potentiality. A will to return (Thanatos) and at the same time a will to moving forward (Eros), but above all it is a desire for the preservation through eternity in the autarchy that lies between the two conflicting drives.

The Uroboros has to be seen as that which encircles humanity. The human is within the autarchy of the world and must respect the autarchy. Alchemical symbology comes to mind: of the macrocosm and microcosm, a visual image of the Uroboric serpent encircling the Vitruvian  Man. These are our constants:

Firstly, the Uroboric system is the system of all systems; the autarchic state that all macro-psychologies aspire to.

Secondly, the human, which stands above all races and nationalities, beyond all gods and God, and all machismos and feminisms. In this simple harmonic duality, which is a singular image that could be portrayed as infinite regression[1], lies the truth within the complex lies and fantasies of all ideologies.

Ideology can only be correct, therefore, if it is geared towards the constant of Uroboric autarchy in a way that can acknowledge the human above sub-groups of humanity. Ideologies that don’t take the Uroboric into consideration are therefore perverted and Utopic, impossible fantasies that have no logical, ultimate future. The consumer ideology and that of perpetual growth (albeit in its cycles of crises) are non-Uroboric by nature. Any ideology which divides humanity is perverse: all nationalism are non-humanist because they value national interests above human ones. Freedom is likewise a perversion and a Utopic ideology of illusion unless it anchors its liberty in autarchy, for the only true freedom can be an autarchic one.

The only correct ideology as such can be one that can envisage a paradigm of anthropocentric-ecology of a humanity in the Universe-world that encloses it. Green ideology is therefore correct if it is anchored in autarchy and the Uroboros. Or, in other words, to act according to the guidelines of a science rooted in uncovering real necessity. A science dedicated to a belief in humanity, human knowledge, discovery and technology as vital forces rather than negative ones within the world that encloses us and keeps us alive.


[1] This infinite regression could be created in order to show the real partnership between humanity and the world: that the world itself exists in the intelligence of the human mind that the world created, an intelligence that the world depends on for its own Being.


[i] Slatoj Žižek, MAPPING IDEOLOGIES, Verso, London-New York, Introduction

WISDOM vs. ENJOYMENT or HOW TO START THE REVOLUTION (PART ONE)

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In his book “Tarrying with the Negative” Slavoj Žižek makes a very lucid association between enjoyment and national identification. The binding force of the State lies in its perception that the subjects of each nation have a particular way of enjoying themselves. Of course this ties democracy to a hedonistic rock: it is not the good that matters in politics, but the enjoyment that it ensures – or the good is defined by the enjoyment. Capitalism exploits this national inclination to enjoy, unleashing the full power of it by motorising it with it via consumerism’s will-to-want-more.

Of course this unleashing itself is an inherently dangerous act, for under its tenets, in order to have what we want we must have whatever we want – and in order to have whatever we want we need to have the freedom of the Master, and the Master’s freedom is derived through his/her power. This power is sustained by its power over slaves, which is absurd for, in theory, there can be no slaves in our modern concept of democracy, or at least no slaves who are conscious of being slaves. Or perhaps the resolution of the paradox lies in that very unconsciousness: if there were such slaves they must be unconscious ones, likewise driven by the will to want more enjoyment. Each of the System’s unconscious slaves vainly misinterprets him/herself as a master, with a master’s dignity, jealous of the enjoyment of the others.

The driving force of the consumer-will is a breaking apart dynamic with a negative chaos tendency that is undesirable and must be resisted. The consumer-will needs to be controlled, and so we arrive at State Capitalism, which is one step toward a more total control. Žižek was right to associate fascism with capitalism: “the fascist dream is simply to have capitalism without its excess, without the antagonism that causes its structural imbalance.”[1] In a slaveless society of Masters, the norm is that of Frazer’s myth of the King in the Wood.

That story which Frazer used as his starting point for his anthropological study in the Golden Bough is supposedly mainly an invention of Frazer himself. Nevertheless, factual or not, as a metaphor of power it itself is a brilliant piece of unveiling mythology. Its image of the priest-king, sword in hand, stalking the woodlands and lake of Nemi, anxiously anticipating the arrival of a rival who will come and slay him is an extension of the Oedipal myth that dominates the subliminal structure of our civilisation. But, what is the way out of this forest?

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Lacan called knowledge “the enjoyment of the Other”. According to him the very function of knowledge is motivated by its dialectic with enjoyment. [2]  We want to know things because we want enjoy things. The hysteric intertwines knowledge and enjoyment and makes it his/her own because the hysteric wants to make him or herself to be known, which they can only do by being desired as something which can be enjoyed.

But if knowledge and enjoyment are entwined, what is consumerism’s relationship with knowledge? Capitalism vulgarises knowledge, reducing it to the simple – if you know it exists you will want to buy it. Knowing is propagated superficially and misleadingly through the medium of advertising.

Yet, what if we were to modify or reinvent the relationship by seeing knowledge itself as the predominant factor in enjoyment. The pleasure comes from truly knowing something, not just knowing of it. Enjoyment now becomes a Sapiens’, [3] authentically human concept. To love it is to know it. And to know it as it really is, rather than to know it in the way we are told to know it. To see it as it really is rather than in the way it is shown us. In Lacanian terms, knowledge is a slave to the Master Discourse of the system, so, in the same terms, what is needed is a liberation of knowledge from the slavery to this Master’s Discourse. In order to do this Lacan gives three suggestions: objectify it; analyse it in a subversive way; or “hystericise” it.

If the Master Discourse which is geared toward maintaining the Master-system’s own power to enjoy whatever, utilises a seduction motorised by a vulgar desire to enjoy, then any analyses geared toward knowing before enjoyment and focusing on the idea that authentic pleasure is found precisely through knowledge, will be essentially subversive. For example, Stoicism, if practised today, would have to be seen as an absolutely subversive philosophy.

What the global, capitalist civilization wants its subjects to know is that language is not enough to tackle the breadth of what she as a system can offer as enjoyment. What is really important to capitalism is that she can be seen as the system of all systems. Through her discourse the whole world should come to know what a precious, invaluable object she is.

Capitalism regards the information age as its own invention. Information, therefore, is regarded by the System as the System’s slave, and, in the most part it is. The revolution, any revolution against the information manipulating Master, must be geared toward turning information into knowledge again. This can only be achieved by making information the Master itself, instead of the slave to the Other Master. Revolution then, as we see it, is a liberation of knowledge.

Once knowledge has been liberated from the shackles of the global capitalist system, it will be able to renew its discourse with enjoyment again. A discourse which can be authentic now, for without the self-interested manipulation of consumerism, it will be free to be deontological and ontological again. Knowledge can be knowledge again, allowing the human to be truly Sapiens for the first time.