Thursday, March 02, 2006

I Want My MTV . . .

If someone says, "I like my Muzak and my McDonald's and my comfortable life, and what's wrong with that, and why are you so hateful and cynical, and why can't you just leave me alone?", a critical theorist should be able to say something more persuasive and less patronizing than "well, you're obviously a victim of false consciousness."

For the first generation of critical theorists -- the Frankfurt School of Social Research -- the badness or wrongness of late capitalism was so evident that it needn't even need any argument. They were interested primarily in the precise mechanisms whereby capitalist society is reproduced in everyday affect and cognition.

Later critical theorists, such as Habermas, developed the epistemological foundations of critical theory, but by reformulating critical theory in linguistic terms, the problematic of embodiment and affect and desire is left out of the framework.

So today critical theory remains in a serious muddle, and while there's some very interesting and useful work being done on it -- esp. by analytically trained philosophers who are now looking at Adorno and Marcuse -- a lot more work remains to be done.

The critical-theoretic question is: why do people desire their own oppression?

How do we show people that what they desire is oppressing them? Can this be shown? What epistemic perspective is presupposed in the very move of saying this to someone -- isn't it tantamount to saying, "I know you better than you know yourself." How is that possible? What are the implications of this for the problems of first-person authority?

In order to make good on this sort of claim, would critical theory have to be scientific? What sort of science would it be? Could there even be a science of human happiness, of flourishing, and of autonomy?

All of the problems that Adorno raised as he attempted to situate himself against both Heidegger on the one hand and against Popper on the other remain problems for any critical theory worth the name.

11 Comments:

Anonymous David Daratony said...

You pose an interesting question Dr. You might want to reconsider your question as one of free will within the constraints of popular culture. This way desire arises from the something tangible--you know, something you can criticize.

Or,

Is there free will in a society that is dominated by product placement, spectacle, and the Enlightenment entitlement to happiness? Well, let me rephrase, there is no entitlement to happiness in the constitutionality of the Enlightenment, only the pursuit of...

yrs,
bybye

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Asabiyah said...

"In order to make good on this sort of claim, would critical theory have to be scientific? What sort of science would it be? Could there even be a science of human happiness, of flourishing, and of autonomy?"

I think that in order to make that sort of claim, there need to be some points of agreement about what is important and what is not.

Maybe underlying any points of agreement would be the basic agreement that life was worth living, or could be made to be worth living.

If people were found to be in broad agreement about what was important, there might still be significant controversy about which modes of social organization would be best for obtaining and distributing these important things. Scientific investigation would definitely be important in settling controversies of this nature.

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Yusef Asabiyah said...

"I like my Muzak and my McDonald's and my comfortable life, and what's wrong with that, and why are you so hateful and cynical, and why can't you just leave me alone?", a critical theorist should be able to say something more persuasive and less patronizing than "well, you're obviously a victim of false consciousness."

If I can't show you anything better than your Muzak and your McDonald's, maybe I had better leave you alone and say nothing at all.

But also,

If I can't show you anything better than Muzak and McDonald's, I'm a pretty pathetic mess myself, because doing better than Muzak and McDonald's isn't setting the bar very high, at all.

I'm saying: the only way that people can think that Muzak and McDonald's are okay is if they have never been exposed to much of anything else.

It is in this sense that the homogenization of all social space by the processes of globalization seem so very sinister:

"IT's A MIRACLE

Micaculous you call it babe
You ain't seen nothing yet
They've got Pepsi in the Andes
McDonalds in Tibet
Yosemite's been turned into
A golf course for the Japs
The Dead Sea is alive with rap
Between the Tigris and Euphrates
There's a leisure centre now
They've got all kinds of sports
They've got Bermuda shorts
They had sex in Pennsylvania
A Brazilian grew a tree
A doctor in Manhattan
Saved a dying man for free
It's a miracle..."
-Rober Waters

8:58 PM  
Anonymous David Daratony said...

Since men in their endeavors behave, on the whole, not just instinctively, like the brutes, nor yet like rational citizens of the world according to some agreed-on plan, no history of man conceived according to a plan seems to be possible, as it might be possible to have such a history of bees or beavers. One cannot suppress a certain indignation when one sees men’s actions on the great world-stage and finds, beside the wisdom that appears here and there among individuals, everything in the large woven together from folly, childish vanity, even from childish malice and destructiveness. In the end, one does not know what to think of the human race, so conceited in its gifts. Since the philosopher cannot presuppose any [conscious] individual purpose among men in their great drama, there is no other expedient for him except to try to see if he can discover a natural purpose in this idiotic course of things human. In keeping with this purpose, it might be possible to have a history with a definite natural plan for creatures who have no plan of their own.

Immanuel Kant
"Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective"

By the way, "the homogenization of all social space by the processes of globalization" seems sinister to me as well. I believe (as did Kant) that it is the obligation of academia to speak out against the corruption(s) of those in real political power. The question then turns from theory to one of practice.

3:23 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

But after Darwin, we know that bees and beavers are as unfinished and incomplete as humanity. So there cannot be a history of them, either.

Nice quote from Kant as a response to Hegelian teleological absolutism avant la lettre.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous David Daratony said...

lol...

This is true about bees and beavers, even before Darwin wrote _The Origin of Species_.

How does Darwin's thought affect the human sciences?

Hopefully, we all have the wisdom to put evolution and reason on equal footing, so as not to leave humanity vulnerable to social Darwinists. Should I substitute "humanity" for "society"?

More on the human sciences: I don't think we want to verify the human sciences. Here I differentiate "human sciences" from the biological genome research project; though still, there is a social obligation to know the ecology of the human for economic and social justice and happiness.

Then I think: even Marx needed a liberal democracy in order to study and write. He had to flee the Continent and move to England where a Parliamentary government had set civil liberties far enough that he could make his advances in his science of conflict.

John Stuart Mill said, 'Ask yourself if you are happy and you cease to be so.' But he also equated happiness with pleasures.

There's so much more I'd like to say here. I apologize for being so discursive.

6:43 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"More on the human sciences: I don't think we want to verify the human sciences."

What do you mean by that?

1:11 PM  
Anonymous David Daratony said...

First, I take the human sciences as an umbrella term for the humanities and social sciences (the faculties in academia that do not belong to the hard sciences). To expect rigor in these faculties is one thing; to verify the method each faculty employs excludes the possibility of change and modification within each faculty. This openness in each faculty will allow one to borrow from the other.

A thorough discussion of race and class in an English class should make caveats in the beginning.

"Though we are about to talk about race in Ralph Ellison's _The Invisible Man_, we should mention that new findings in the human genome project has verified that 99.9% of my DNA is related to an anonymous man dying of AIDS somewhere in Africa."

This doesn't subordinate the humanities. The humanities are necessary ethical checks on the dreams of a foundation paying geneticists to find the "smart gene". What does Aldous Huxley warn us about?

So, to verify (or make into a science) any aspect of the human sciences will close-up valuable exchanges between faculties.

Kant wrote a brave essay during the Prussian Years called "The Conflict of the Faculties", in which he argued for the importance of the "open argument". Today, there is an importance to open the argument by letting the faculties conflict.

What scares me? - One faculty taking precedence over an other because of private funding.

2:08 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

Dave,

I haven't read Kant's essay on the "Conflict," but I've often wondered if he was deliberately punning on "faculty" (Vermoegen, I think?) -- faculty in the sense of different departments of the university, and in the sense of different capacities in the mind.

Kant argues that the mind is composed of different sub-systems: sensibility, imagination (or judgment), understanding, and reason. Do these correspond in any way to the division between the human sciences (Geisteswissenschaften) and the natural sciences (Naturwissenschaften)?

12:38 PM  
Anonymous David Daratony said...

If I'm not mistaken Vermögen is also "cognition" or "ability."

But, yes, I think it makes sense that Kant plays off the word faculty. Just as the mind has different "ways" of grasping (I use this word reluctantly) the world, so does the faculties of a university. So I believe you're observation is correct.

Kant occupied himself with both Geisteswissenschaften and Naturwissenschaften ... But, I can only guess as to how the faculties break down in relation to the forementioned in Kant's theory.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

If I recall correctly, Vermoegen means faculty or capacity. Cognition is usually Erkenntnis or a related word.

9:09 PM  

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