Truth & Profanity

To the Slack-Jaw Art Critics of all political slants,

There seems to be two distinct categories of adverse political resistance to this provocative photo by Kathy Griffin: A) the political left argues that it is in poor taste and side-rails conduits of reasoned political discourse and B) the political right also argues that it is in poor taste, but also that it demeans and degrades the institution of the President of the United States.  The outcry of response forced Kathy Griffin to apologize and to claim ‘she went too far’ with this artistic work that I simply call, a work of art.   Continue reading “Truth & Profanity”

The Confederate Flag Waves in Utopia  

1.

Despite Stephen Hawking’s claim that philosophy is dead, every single human action made by every human in Western culture, is, first and foremost, an action with ethical implications and secondly they all contains metaphysical assumptions— alas, philosophy exists in everything we do. Something as simple as buying coffee in a consumable, non-recyclable cup from a national coffee chain like Starbucks is making the implicit ethical claim that the carbon footprint used by people of Western culture is not a problem, that supporting a large capitalist corporation is not a problem and that the exploitation of coffee farmers in foreign lands is not a problem. You may, on some level, find that you are in the ethical wrong but do it anyway, because you do not think your actions make a difference; but ethical indifference through diffused responsibility is still ethical indifference. In addition to making the implicit ethical claims, you are making metaphysical assumptions by implicitly assuming parts of our human reality are permanently rooted— unchangeable, or as John Searle’s calls them: “default positions”.[i]   To take the aforementioned ethical stances you would have to take the assumption that we have no ethical obligation to future generations, as to assert the metaphysical assumption that ethical claims are predicated on existing. If you do not exist, you have no ethical claim.   Additionally, to assume that the capitalist ideology takes precedence over the quality-of-life of coffee farmers in South America, is to implicitly reinforce that the ethos of the capitalist ideology must be maintained above all else and the allowance of ethically questionable activities can be tolerated in pursuance of maintaining the capitalist status quo; as to assume that all other ideological systems subordinate into capitalism.   However, as all action has metaphysical assumptions, even in my argument I am making the assumption that my life is of a higher quality than that of a coffee farmer. As to assume that things like coffee, this laptop, my condo and my Volkswagen automatically add to the quality of my life, to assert that purchasing power creates happiness. In this sense even my anti-capitalist critique is implicitly assuming that the values of capitalism are “default positions” of human flourishing. That is to say, I am implying what makes humans happy, what makes a good society and in essence I am assuming the ethos of Utopia.   It could be argued that our actions are implicitly suggesting what Utopia would look like. We are trying to redefine the world over as a constant reflection of our metaphysics and if we do this while thinking we are in some way working towards the promotion of the greater good, we are in some sense creating the contents of our vision of Utopia.

With that said, I would like to look at the recent debate over the confederate flag and ask the simple question of: Would the Confederate flag exist in Utopia?   If we ask questions such as, should we support racist symbols, or should the government promote racist symbols— we are in essence predicating our questions on implied value judgments about the flag (and symbols), the purpose of government, the intent of the flag-wavers and racism altogether.   I will table those questions and get straight to the meat of the argument:

 Utopia, defined as the concept of social perfection — the perfect society; and the                          Confederate flag, defined as a symbol with racist connotations.

And, hence I will rephrase my question as follows:

Does a perfectly conceived society contain symbols with racist connotations?

2.

Before delving into that question it would be best to assess and deconstruct the concept of a symbol first. The word “rock”, as a signifier, is the word used to symbolize the thing that is a rock (the signified) and the word rock is inclusive of the qualities of rockness: hard, solid, heavy, etc. The relation between the signifier (word rock) and signified (the rock thing) is completely arbitrary, as there is nothing inherent to the thing rock as to assume we inscribe it as the word ‘rock’.   Symbols, such as flags, on the other hand are rather different than a rock. If we were to ask a person what the signifier American Flag means, the explanation of its physical qualities (stars and stripes) will not really tell us anything at all. In some sense, you can say that flags, like the American flag, represent ideas and not physical attributes of the flag itself. Say we had to examine these three objects: a pillow, a rock and a coffee mug and without having any previous experience or knowledge of these objects, it would be reasonable to assert that from examining the meaning of these signified objects we could identify their proper signifiers.   Conversely, if we were to examine three flags: American flag, Nazi flag and Confederate flag without any previous experience or knowledge of these flags, it would be unreasonable to assert from examining an interpretation of the meaning that we’d be able to know which is which. In other words, the signified object of these flags do not contain the signifiers of freedom, anti-Semitism and racism. Ideas like freedom, equality, racism, nationalism, justice, liberty, pride and heritage are all master-signifiers, which is a term for explaining signifiers that cannot be signified. I can define rock, and see rock, and confirm rock.   But what does liberty look like?

A flag, if you take away the ideas it represents, is merely shapes and colors sewn from cloth— this is not meaningful in of itself. Hence, it could be said that a flag only gains meaning by the ideas it represents and not by its physical qualities. But since liberty is not signified, the ideas inscribed upon a flag are arbitrarily placed and not universal. That is to say the American flag could mean one idea to one person and another to someone else. These ideas could be positive, negative or neutral. Or, in other words, there is no objective idea behind any symbol and since flags, as a symbol, have no way of explicitly translating their meaning — it could be said that flags are completely subjective.

 

3.

I shall return to the question at-hand:

Does a perfectly conceived society contain symbols with racist connotations?

Since the ideas inscribed to flags are subjective then it is possible that somebody, somewhere inscribes racist ideas to all symbols. Meaning, all symbols may be perceived by somebody as having a racist connotation.   In that sense, we could say that utopia does not contain any flags whatsoever, or any symbol that are capable of having ideas projected upon them.   However, that seems like a rather absurd suggestion, so we will rephrase our question as follows:

Does a perfectly conceived society contain symbols that a majority perceives as                     containing a racist connotation?

 So, if a symbol is perceived by the majority of the population at representing ideas of racism — is this sufficient cause to censor the symbol?   Is this not rooted in the metaphysical assumption that the majority group has a higher claim to grant meaning to symbols than the minority group? Is this any different than assuming my quality of life — as actualized in my ability to buy Starbucks and expend massive amounts of carbon — takes precedence over the quality of life of people in South America?   I am not saying that one group is right and one group is wrong, but rather I am saying the projecting of ideas onto symbols is completely arbitrary and subjective and is almost akin to projecting aesthetic value onto art. At one point in time penises were removed from art, because it was considered to be profane, and now it could be argued that the mere idea of censoring art for religious sensibilities is an act of profanity itself.   Is censoring offensive flags the same thing?   Censoring and demonizing the symbols that the majority find offensive— as to assume they have a right to make such a claim? Why should we assume that one interpretation of a symbol carries more weight than another? If a middle-eastern country decided to outlaw the American flag would we condemn their blatant censorship of our symbol; while self-righteously wrapping ourselves in our Bill of Rights as to imply under the guise of our freedom of speech we would never lower ourselves to such barbarism? Or, in other words, we as Americans, as the purveyors of freedom can decide that censoring our symbol is an infringement of speech, but conversely, we can choose to censor the confederate flag or nazi flag. This is not a contradiction, because we are the purveyors of freedom and our subjective perception of what is sacred and profane is objectively right— because we dictate the dominant symbolic ideology.   Is this metaphysical assumption fair?

It is absurdity to assume that socially and politically ostracizing the minority who does not perceive a particular symbol as racist, classist, sexist or any other profane idea is the path to utopia. It is also absurd to assume that the perception of the majority regarding a particular symbol dictates the reality of that symbol and henceforth makes the minority embody the qualities of the symbol by association. To be clear: if person X projects the ideas of ‘racism’ on to the confederate flag and person Y projects the ideas of family on to the confederate flag; neither idea has more value than the other, and person X cannot make the leap as to assume that person Y is lying, or that person Y includes racism as being inclusive in their idea of family.   Person Y is capable of being fooled by their defense mechanisms just as much as person X is. Person Y may be harboring deep-seated racists views that it masks in the notion of family heritage, but, conversely, person X may be harboring deep-seated racist views that it feels guilty about and is therefore trying to hide all the evidence that reminds them of their deep-seated white guilt.   Neither view is more right than the other and neither view has a stronger claim to categorically defining the meaning of a symbol.

And besides, utopia is supposed to be perfect, and not just perfect for the ideological views of the majority. Meaning, if we wanted to respect the views of all people in utopia equally, we would remove all symbols that offend somebody in someway. Or, in short, we’d remove all symbols altogether. And it could even be argued that this would have to be extended to language as well. Maybe in utopia we can all just be isolated individuals floating around in tiny bubbles where we have no possibility whatsoever of ever being offended by anybody or anything.   Is this a perfect society?   Is this what we are striving for?   Is this the path to human flourishing?

I would posit that this is the antithesis of a perfect society. Maybe instead of allowing symbols be the wedge that divides us we can use them as the bridge that binds us.   If somebody perceives a symbol differently than you do, should we assume they are wrong? Or, should we assume we do not understand their perspective? Instead of casting judgment, is it not better to ask them why they see it differently and foster understanding in lieu of division — as opposed to assuming we are right and they are wrong. If we can move past the ambiguous meaning of symbols and realize that hiding behind the ideology I deem as perverse, is another human being. And this person is not different or better than me, nor am I better than them. Utopia is not a place where we hide away the things that offend and scare us, but rather it is a place where everything that is offensive and scary has lost all its power. Not because we forgot about its dark past, but because we have found a way to transcend our own symbols and not abstract and objectify demographic categories as being dictated by my own prejudices that we encapsulate into abstracted symbolism.

If we want to expel racism out of our culture, this cant be done by literally expelling symbols that we find to be racist. This is merely a smokescreen that gives the illusion that we are working towards the promotion of a racist free society. Does banishing symbols change the hearts and minds of people? Won’t a new symbol eventually replace the symbol you cast into the darkness for being racist?   Opponents to my views would argue that allowing the free usage of symbols that have racist connotations is akin to sanctioning and implicitly promoting the hateful ideas themselves. However, I am not arguing that we allow the spreading or promoting of hateful ideology in the name of freedom of speech; rather I am saying we should use this moral indifference about these symbols as an opportunity to talk openly and empathically talk about our collective problems. We should not abstract our hatred and negation-of-hatred into symbols, but rather lay our cards on the table and openly and honestly discuss the open-wounds of our society. The solution to racism is to talk about it, not hide it. And, moreover, the act of hiding it diminishes our willingness to think critically and perceive the other empathically.   If we want to transcend ourselves and transcend our society, we need to begin by owning up to our assumptions and all their ethical implications.   And regarding our question:

The confederate flag does wave in Utopia— but this fact has no meaning.  

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

[i] Searle, John R. Mind, Language, and Society: Philosophy in the Real World. New York, NY: Basic, 1998. Print.

 

Zombies & the Postmodern Human

You may have noticed in the past few years, there has been an increase in the popularity of Zombie’s and the subsequent apocalyptic disaster than generally ensues.   The Zombie folklore began increasing in popularity in the 1970’s and then dramatically increased in popularity again in the late 1990’s through present day, as exhibited in an examination of the word “Zombie” in English literature (see Fig. 1) as illustrated by a Google NGram data analysis. Continue reading “Zombies & the Postmodern Human”

A Theory of Violence

1— Introduction

If we wanted to successfully advance practices that serve the means of reducing violence, it would be prudent to first understand what violence is and, a fortiori, what causes it to be.  Continue reading “A Theory of Violence”

To Gluten, or to not Gluten— and Other Platonic Guilt

As I sat in a coffee shop reading the schizophrenic philosophical whims of Gilles Deleuze I became bombarded with a young couple, their parents and a baker who devoured my personal space to fuss over cake choices for the young couples to-be wedding.   The cake maker asks the groom to be, “so you do not eat gluten” and the groom replied promptly: “no”.   And, without skipping a beat, the cake maker responds to this anti-gluten proclamation with the follow up question: “is it by choice?” If you so desire to need to know the grooms response to this rather puzzling question then I will pacify your need for absolution by telling you he said “no [it’s not by choice]”. However, for the purpose of this essay, I will focus only on the bakers question: “is it by choice?” I have no wherewithal to know or care if the groom has a gluten sensitivity or gluten allergy, but I am curious as to understand how it is reasonable for somebody to ask the question “is it a choice?” — how could it not be a choice? However, I will persist to claim that the cause of his desire to avoid gluten and the cause of his lack of perceived freedom to gluten or to not gluten is simply: Plato.

On any given day, as I transverse through the market there is an entire aisle dedicated to bread and the choices we have for bread seem to be endless— our bread freedom is not infringed upon. Our choices are aplenty. But our groom has no choice— so he says.   Even if gluten makes him sick he still has the choice to be sick or not to be sick. But, however, it may be true that he has no choices at all— perhaps his casual response is more insightful than we first thought. The irony of his request to not have gluten, notwithstanding his allergies, is that the party of five was sipping coffee made in South America that has a substantial carbon footprint, milk from cows that lived off corn drenched in pesticides and processed/refined sugar; and more specifically for the bride to-be: “milk” from the pesticide drenched soy bean and, in avoidance of sugar, the neurotoxin aspartame is substituted as her method to sweeten up her coffee. And, the icing on the cake, (not to take away from their sugar laced literal icing on their cake samples), is their coffee is served in paper cups that will live out their days in a landfill— even though they completely consumed their beverage in the coffee shop and there is a full shelf of beautifully branded ceramic mugs awaiting to be actualized. If, he does not have the choices to choose to eat with gluten or not, then it is reasonable to assert that the decision to consume all of their coffee/cake accouterment is also not a choice at all.   

This young couple, of maybe 25 at best, is getting married, having a wedding cake, testing cake with their parents and is under the polite consultation of the cake maker— where is the evidence of their free choice? What are choices anyway? Our desires? Our whims? Are conditioned response to the thing that triggers our pleasure principle? Are we, as Freud posits, merely desiring machines that perpetually operate in pursuance of acquiescing to the desires of our Id, Ego and Superego? But, if we are mere machine of desire— then it’d be reasonable to suggest that we as part of the social machine too. As, we do not exist as autonomous bubbles of desire — as much as we want to be.   So do my desires and whims become the product of the social machine, or are my whims and desires the product of the social machine?   Meaning, more specifically, does our couple do what they do because the social machine dictates their reality, or are they autonomously choosing to do as they do and are actualizing their true desires and, as it so happens, their desires are then reflected back into the social strata as the norm. In reduction, are they mere cause or mere effect?  

So I will first abstract our subjects into the objective reality of, what Kierkegaard would call, the crowd and asses the casual relationship of desire. If I was to create a business plan to sell, say for example cakes, my potential investors would be avid to claim I need to specify my demographic and explicitly tell them who I am creating my goods/services for, who I am marketing to and who I am, hopefully, selling to.   But, how do I know that my potential buyer exists, before the thing they want to buy exists?   Is it, as marketing departments state, that the aggregate crowd of desiring people exist prior to the thing of which they desire?   Or, does the thing of which they desire create the people desiring?   Nietzsche would argue that “selection does not presuppose a primary gregariousness; gregariousness presupposes the selection and is born of it. ‘Culture’ as a selective process of marking or inscription invents the large number in whose favor it is exerted.”[i] In other words, “culture” as the creator of the thing that we desire— objet petit a in Lacanian — is mere cause and the mere effect is the desire. This would imply that our subjects desire to drink what they drink, eat what they eat, marry and all desire and choice in whole is mere effect of the social-machine as cause, viz. “culture”.   However, it would be obtuse to suggest that all desire is mere effect, as the cause from social strata of “culture” cannot be causa sui. In other words, in order for a gregarious line of dominoes to fall in line, there needs to be a casual agent— a mere cause to tip the first domino, the creator of desire.

It may be intuited from the previous paragraph that there was a desire creator that dictates what things come into existence and from the creation of that the thingdesire grows.   As to conjure and suggest that the cycle of production is a cycle of the repetition of creating, as Badiou would call it, an Event that becomes situated in the void to which it non-existed prior to its existence.[ii]   In other words, prior to the invention of soymilk, there was a negated soymilk void to which the soymilk became situated within, and subsequently, the desire to select soymilk was thrusted into existence as the desiring subjects actualize their fidelity to the Event of soymilk. And this is all part of the cycle of production.  But, even in the Badiou argument we run into the dilemma of not knowing who pushed the first domino. All that we have reasoned from Badiou is that each string of dominoes became from its own negated being and that it is only knowable by a process that can be reduced to a philosophical game of three-card Monte — as we try to discover the queen that hides between Aristotelian logic and axiomatic set theory. Is this merely just codifying the rules of ideology? Before we start to unpack ideology, let’s return to Deleuze for a moment:

Deleuze would argue, as Marx would, that capitalism divides — as a “repressive machine” — it’s own essence into two categories: “abstract labor” and “abstract desire”— notwithstanding its process to alienate, re-alienate,[iii] ad infinitum.   This puts people into two categories: “political economy and psychoanalysis, political economy and libidinal economy.”[iv]   The first category, as political economy is the desire cause and as psychoanalysis is the facilitator of desire negation and secondly, as political economy is the desire cause and as libidinal economy is the actualization (effect) of said desire.   Meaning, all people are the cause and effect of desire, and the psychoanalysis is, as Deleuze argues, the facilitator of desire negation (in both form and content). Psychoanalysis does not discover repression, it, conversely, creates repression. What that said, I will go back to ideology for a bit:

Althusser would argue that ideology is created for the subject and by the subject and it has no history.[v]   This notion that ideology is created for the subject and by the subject is arguing that an agent, as subject, objectively (as they perceive) projects their desire upon the Other and, in exchange as does the Other. Creating a feedback loop of self-validation that vacillates from subject to subject (rationalized in the illusion of objectivity).   And although the content of ideology always changes, the form of ideology “has no history”— meaning it never changes or alters.   It could be reasoned that Deleuze’s notion that all people are both abstract desire and abstract labor (as desire creating social-machine) is, merely arguing as Althusser does, but with different terminology.   Inferring: desire is the ideology of capitalism. And the Event (or ideology) of psychoanalysis is the rational strong arm of desire repression; reduced to merely the scientifically validated repackaging of religious guilt.

So in returning to our married couple to-be we could suggest that their desires are the product of capitalist ideology and capitalist ideology is the product of their desire. They are both the cause and effect of their own desires— however, their autonomous choices to select their desire does not exist.   As argued, their perception of objective ideology will create the illusion that the rationality behind their decision is objectively validated and henceforth it’s reasonable to acquiesce to the crowd— even though they are the crowd. This is, perhaps, a reasonable argument in our investigation of our gluten-fearing cake eating friend — he is not desire cause, or desire effect, but, in actu, is the Hegelian synthesis of cause (thesis) and effect (antithesis).

Although I could settle with concluding that our anti-glutenite was wrong to assert that he has no choices, but that also does not mean he has a choice. His act of actualizing his notion of non-choice is the act that removed his capacity to have choice. He negated his freedom by actualizing his freedom towards non-freedom.   However, as stated earlier, I am going to blame Plato for this problem, so we shall continue.   Marx and Deleuze would persist on arguing that this is the product of capitalism (division of labor) and does this have a history, a beginning—when did capitalism begin? Who kicked the first domino?   Rancière would argue that the first domino was kicked over by Plato by the act of casting the shoemaker into the role of proletariat[vi] — Plato implicitly decided the division of labor.   If it is true, as Althusser reasons, that both ideology and philosophy are not possible without society[vii], then I could posit the following: Plato is the father of western philosophy, the father of western ideology, the father of capitalism and, as he casted away our reality into his idealistic world, he inscribed the void within the human psyche to forever desire the real as we forever perpetuate the imaginary.   As Badiou perceives all that is as coming to be in the void of all that is-not it is Plato, I posit, who created the void, the hole, the desire, the dread, the nothing, the lack— the negative void of existence that all western civilization has been damned to contend with. This is our Platonic guilt.

 

SOURCES:

[i] Deleuze, Gilles, and Fe Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1983. Print. Page 343

[ii] Badiou, Alain. Theory of the Subject. London: Continuum, 2009. Print.

[iii] Deleuze, Gilles, and Fe Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1983. Print. Page 303

[iv] Ibid. 304

[v] Althusser, Louis. On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Print.

[vi] Rancière, Jacques, and Andrew Parker. The Philosopher and His Poor. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2004. Print.

[vii] Althusser, Louis. On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Print.