Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I put up the link and took it down. There was no reason to keep saying "here it is... almost." But I'm much further along now.


The purpose of this essay was to argue empirically for a positive philosophy of arts and language. I didn’t want to add to the pile of essays and books written mostly by melancholic ex-priests, of reason and the Church, who did no more than argue against an illusory certainty. I was always annoyed by the generic confusion of the conceptual half-literature of much continental philosophy. And conceptual literature itself of Borges and others leaves me cold: the literature of anarchist control freaks and the bureaucratization of dreams. And Borges, like Duchamp was a reactionary.

The art of criticism, of art as criticism, is always reactionary in the literal sense that it is reaction: following and dependent on what it tries to leave behind. And imitation in all cases, from drag queens to Theodor Adorno, is the sincerest form of flattery. That’s the danger of political art and the anger of niggers and faggots rather than of men and women of one social or ethnic minority or another. The same trap has made Israel what it is today. To Israelis Jews are the oppressed: it’s logically impossible for them to be the oppressor.

So the language of academic politics, radical and liberal, is modeled on the language of bureaucracy and the academic -intellectual- fine arts are modeled on advertising and replicate its forms, when we don’t look at the windows of Chartres because they once functioned as advertising but in spite of it. All of this marks the distinction between art and illustration, including the illustration of the self, between the awareness and craft of dual consciousness and of assumption and intent. It marks the distinction that is if you’re aware that one exists.

We live creating patterns out of facts. Patterns offer continuity and continuity offers comfort, which has the force of a sort of inertia: we follow old patterns even when the facts change or new ones are added. The difference between animals and machines -between biological machines and lifeless ones- is the pull of such conditioned response. Our minds are divided between rationality in the service of various goals, and reflex. But reflexes aren’t illogic, they’re the lessons learned through a biomechanical heuristic of experience.

Earlier this year I won and lost a beautiful girl by expressing need rather than discreet desire. We had mutual interests and wonderful conversations but while I focused on the exchange of information she was also judging behavior: manner, confidence, openness, or lack of it, my ability to express interest and keep my cool. 
 Going on she began to test me and I got nervous. I began to grasp. She pulled away, I briefly gave chase. But you can’t chase from weakness so I stopped and waved goodbye; she waved back and laughed, and kept going. All of this happened as various forms of reflex; I pieced it together just before I stopped and waved. Trust isn’t what you say it’s how you say it. There was a very solid logic to the girl’s half-conscious decision-making process. Mine was more shaky. Need is not respect, trust and intimacy are not ideas.

Reflex isn’t always healthy. And conditioning can be a downward spiral. In no other country would a novelist with the stature of Philip Roth not be under a barrage of requests for his opinion on the current state of the culture, on politics and race relations. What does it mean that our ruling technocracy remains so optimistic about its own capacity for reason when so much of the culture at large consists in coming to terms with – documenting, describing- the presence of unreason?

The logic of modern economic thought begins in an understanding of the human animal’s tendency towards self-interest. And this has led to an acceptance of it, which some on the left still find inappropriate. I’m perfectly willing to accept realism as an aspect of morality, but it’s more complex than that, since the academy is still founded on a collaborative ethic and an ideal of disinterested reason, and it’s this that is claimed as a foundation for the understanding of the pervasiveness of its opposite. So is disinterested reason still something we should teach the children?

And in fact technocracy is founded not on adversarialism but collaboration. The contemporary drive for the professionalization of every field of knowledge, and of the press, is founded on collaboration; as if it’s all for the best if we all serve one cause, whichever cause that may be. The principle of divided government is based on the realist assumption that each branch will defend it’s own prerogatives, its own self-interest, and that the result will be dynamic tension. But what if self-interest is founded in servility instead of pride? There’s a logic to that too. Is servility a model of behavior for citizens of a republic?

Even imagining that a naturalized epistemology generalized from the hard sciences is possible, the mechanical model of consciousness would say that a man-computer programmed with data only on automobiles would supply logical and therefore morally defensible answers on questions of transportation policy, notwithstanding the lack of any reference to public transportation. The moral logic of expertise rewards you for knowing only what you know. It’s the moral logic of geekdom: of the replacement of the world of experience by an inflexible model with the defense that after all someone else may have a contrary inflexible model and then we battle it out. If this is the desired relation of the military to the civilian population in this country, we have a problem.

The military philosophy of piety is in a contradictory relation to the ethic of democracy and free inquiry. That our now professional military does not teach their recruits to understand the full weight of their moral responsibility -of their having dual and conflicting obligations that each of them will have to negotiate on their own- is a danger. Military culture follows a blunt variant of the rule of non-contradiction, a rule foundational to naturalized epistemology, when contradiction is and needs to be first principle.

What holds the relationship together, the same thing that holds society itself together, is not law but trust; which is why a citizen army is preferable. Society is made not only of formal rules but informal overlapping obligations, and the latter are primary. Obligations are flexible and dynamic because they’re not unbreakable. It’s up to each individual to make choices, case by case. When rules are all you have it's over.

Formal logic in the world of experience is pedantry. Fascism is the rule in civic life of military pedantry. But history has shown in fact that pedantry will always become hypocrisy. Policemen enforcing law will always tend to identify themselves not with its enforcement but its embodiment. “I am the law” And by identifying themselves with law the laws’ perfection will become theirs. “To the pure all things are pure.” That’s the pull of the short circuit, of identification.

The counterforce to pedantry can not be another form of pedantry Scientists, technologists, and the new model of intellectual bureaucrats are now no more immune to this sort of identification than the military and police, because they are not taught to see themselves as having a divided consciousness, nor do that see its cultivation as morally necessary. To the modern bureaucrat, bureaucracy is a non-contradictory truth unto itself. The new intellectual class does not reflect enough to recognize that before their first experience of universal systems of computation there was a desire in them for a simplifying order, and that their primary interest in that order is not that it models the world but that it gives them comfort. Our new intellectuals are incapable of appreciating the maturity and irony of Horace Rumpole and his creator, a jobbing lawyer and an author of popular fiction.

1 comment:

N. Friedman said...

Has the possibility not occurred to you that there can be an oppressed oppressor?