Thursday, March 02, 2006

An Announcement

What I want to do here is start thinking much more carefully and responsibly about what it is that I'm doing when I say of someone that he is desiring his own oppression.


Anonymous Yusef Asabiyah said...


I want to get a better grasp on where controversy arises in these matters.

Is it controversial to say that it is better to have enough to eat than to go hungry; to have sufficient clean air and water rather than for these to be scarce, or to be contaminated; that it is better to be able to read, write, and calculate, or use tools,( or any other skill,) than to be unable to do these, to be ignorant and to be left out.

How many people argue that it is better to be sick than healthy?

If we could show that someone's thinking led them, somehow, to chose sickness over health, might we be responsible in saying that this person had desired repression?

8:02 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

My worry here lies in how we can show that what someone wants is making them sick.

One way of doing this -- which I find very promising -- is something like "the capabilities approach" developed by Amartya Sen (economist) and Martha Nussbaum (philosopher). They emphasize that there are specific capabilities that (a) all humans have and (b) that should be cultivated in all. I can post the list from Nussbaum's latest book, Frontiers of Justice.

I do think that something like this is badly needed if critical theory is going to be anything other than a list of personal complaints.

If one could show that what someone wants or desires -- what someone is libidinally invested in -- is an institution or system which inhibits the further cultivation of his or her capacities, then we'd have the resources needed to show that this person desires his or her own repression.

I suppose that I like the capabilties approach because it takes seriously the idea of human flourishing, what the Greeks called eudaimonia. I want to re-activate the strand of critical theory that takes human flourishing seriously. This means that Marcuse must be taken seriously -- at least as seriously as I take Adorno.

10:14 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Asabiyah said...

"My worry here lies in how we can show that what someone wants is making them sick."

If we can't show that what someone wants is making them sick, then I think we really need to shut up.

But again: is it truly controversial, truly difficult to show, that the end results of what people want is/has led to sickness on a very massive scale?

Sickness,starvation,spread of disease, environmental deterioration...

The world's oceans are so incredibly harmed at this point that I wonder if it might be the case that the planet is already terminally ill.

Surely it didn't have to be this way - we had the information that this was happening, and some pretty good ideas about how to stop it forty years ago when our actions could have prevented much of the catastrophic change which has happened in the meantime.

2:08 AM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

That it's led to environmental sickness isn't too hard. But that it's led to psychological sickness?

That's harder to show, and partly because of the myth of interiority or of privacy. The myth of "don't tell me what I want, or should want!"

One would think that after Freud or Heidegger, this myth would have taken a few nasty blows. But no: in a pathologically narcisstic culture, the myth of interiority has become all the stronger.

The reason why I want to know on what basis a critical theorist can assert that someone is desiring his or her oppression is that I want to be able to combat the myth of interiority.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Rain Birde said...

Who desires their own repression?
A few, most folks, everybody?

Is this desire ever consciously held?

Are these "desires" impressed upon people unconsciously, witout their will or consent?

Are we talking about people who are invaded by "desires" foisted upon them because the person isn't intimately aware of his desiring in a critical sort of way? Unexamined desires that live because unexamined?

11:43 AM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

I think that the vast majority of people -- and I am not excluding myself -- are libidinally invested in institutions which inhibit the cultivation of their capacities. In that sense, I think that most people "desire their own oppression."

Whether it's the Southern farmers who vote for corporation-friendly Republicans, or the cosmopolitan urbanites who vote for corporation-friendly Democrats . . .

The desires I'm interested in talking about here are "prior" to the formation of will and consent. They are constitutive of identity and the investment in identity.

Autonomy, on the other hand, requires (among many other things) a constant deconstruction of identity. It was in that spirit that Foucault wrote some of his most powerful and affirmative words:

"Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same. Leave it to the police and the bureaucrats to make sure our papers are in order."

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey guys. It's Hess. Fascinating place. What I don't see mentioned here is the other side of the problem. It's not just that people desire their own repression, it's that they desire the repression of others as well. And that even if you were succesful in showing these people how they desire their own repression, they wouldn't be able or know how to go about realizing their desire. Faced with that prospect, they may just choose to continue to support their own repression if it meant that they were also supporting the repression of others. Akin to the triumph of N's slave morality.

Carl, I'd like to see that list from Frontiers of Justice. I tried to make such a list and came up with only one item: the rational pursuit of desire.

11:58 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

I think that you are exposing an assumption ( possibly a very naive one,) I have been making, Hess: that at some level and in some way, people will no longer choose to desire their own repression and will take up the difficult task of realizing their desire.

As a matter of fact, I don't know that this is the case. I am not even 100% sure where I stand in this, either.

I don't think we have, or ever will have, blue prints for realizing our desire. That means that to do so will always be a dangerous task. (Yes, dangerous.)

Most lines of flight will become lines of abolition, and most revolutions will be ugly affairs that ultimately fail anyway.

Against this dismal backdrop, is the alternative of desiring one's own repression, with the safety and security and stability that route appears to offer, really so horrible?

To a weary world, not so horrible at all... and that means that my assumption is very flawed. I do plan to continue as if it is not.

6:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Yusef. That helps a bit to clarify why, in other places, you have proceeded against me with bewildering antagonism.

An attempt at clarification: the state of desiring one's repression is repugnant. It is noble to demand that things be otherwise. I think we are very much agreed on this.

But I don't think that catalyzing struggle against this state is only just a matter of showing people how what they desire is making them sick. It isn't that simple. If some ACTUALLY desire repression, for others as well as for themselves, than that desire IS realized in what Deleuze calls "a disinterested love for the oppressive machine." It is deeper than a problem of false consciousness, or ideology understood in its simpilest sense.

I do agree with you that the struggle must be "dangerous," necessarily involving acts of abolition and destruction (but--if I am catching the reference correctly--it is dangerous in a very different way than some have called television dangerous: television cannot be dangerous in this way; it is pathetic).

My point is that throttling to revolutionary velocity is not done by sensationalizing the danger of things that, to a world-weary audience, can potentially be seen as not so bad. Even hyperbole is of no use. What calibre of response should one expect to the demand that one avoid being sodomized by broomsticks? My guess is something just enough to avoid being sodomized by broomsticks, and not much more. This falls well short...

10:57 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

Thanks, Hess.

Your point is well taken.

I didn't mean to direct any antagonism towards you earlier today. I guess I was in some sort of extreme state this morning.

This is somewhat unrelated, but I wanted to say it to you anyway....I really appreciate the critical force you bring to bear in a conversation.

1:38 AM  

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