Friday, August 22, 2008

The Shadows of Totalization, Part VIII

In a recent comment, Orla said,

“We like to engage in philosophical explorations because we enjoy it. It's healthy and inspiring.

It's not about competition or one-up-manship. It is about intellectual exploration - where ever this might lead us.”

I agree with Orla. Philosophical explorations can be healthy, enjoyable and inspiring. They can lead us to new places. Often, however, they do not. Philosophical discussions are often toxic, frustrating, and deadening. They can lead us to frightening intensifications of silliness and stupidity—almost as if “philosophical discussion” were a specific means of inducing and cultivating the most harmful foolishness. Even in the best cases—by which I mean with all of the participants intelligent enough, well-enough informed, and well-enough intentioned—they can flounder, derail, and descend into boring mudslinging or equally boring, stagnant, and foolish displays of “erudition.”

Somehow this dynamic is very much at the heart of what I am discussing here at The Enlightenment Underground. The dynamic has to do with Totalization and its shadows. It has to do with an offered prospect (the historical Enlightenment?) of exploration, inquiry, inspiration, and liberation, which, without the involvement or intention of “bad actors” becomes something entirely different—an entrapment in the same old thing, in vicious circles, in one’s own solipsistic stupidities, in one’s own “undaring reliance on one’s own tried-and-untrue psychopathological symptoms parading as one’s own reason (or experience),” going nowhere.

We each allow ourselves to "do our own thing" and that's fine. But after each has "done our own thing," we need to be able to criticize. We need to respond and react to each other's ideas. On top of “do your own thing” we need to apply an attitude of "do your own criticism" to everyone else's ideas and our own...recursively being able to freely criticize the criticisms we've received. Or move on, if we so choose. And so on. The question is: how?

The prescription contained in “be free, then freely criticize,then freely evaluate the criticism, then be free, ” doesn't work. It doesn't facilitate conversation or exploration. It doesn't facilitate mutuality. (Since 2001, I've sunk a lot of time into internet discussions which have terminated unhappily, and it is on this basis I say so.) How does one know when to criticize and when to not? How does one even know one is criticizing and not “acting out”? How would one track one’s own redundancy when one’s own redundancy is precisely outside of one’s own consciousness—the very result of the unconscious? How does one know when to accept criticism and when to not? How does one know when an objection is warranted? How does one know one’s objection to an objection is not objectionable?

Without recourse to some authoritative stance, (either from experience or reason, validated or unvalidated), how does one know whether one’s own objection will be harmful (stifling inquiry, preempting questions which could be asked), or helpful (preventing old questions from being asked again as if they were new, preventing failed solutions from being offered and treated as if they were new, etc.)? I don’t accept “good will” as the answer to this.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Yusef, for your reflections on this. They are much appreciated!

Just as we have an "image of thought" we also suffer (!) from an "image of philosophical discussion" - as in your (and mine, too) "prescription contained in “be free, then freely criticize, then freely evaluate the criticism, then be free” which you think "doesn't work". I WANT to disagree, but unfortunately you may be right.

As you wrote in another recent comment about the power of metaphor,

We find we cannot uninhabit what we inhabit. So true. But still...

I think the only way to approach this is from "outside" the concept. I will have more to say about this in the coming days, I hope.

One last thought: Only when a post, comment, observation, or insight ignites NEW ideas in the reader or listener, does it produce a conversation and discussion.

Yours did.


6:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great site for intellectuals:

1:04 AM  

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