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Indwelling versus Entanglement: person or citizen, neighbor or censor?

Resoluteness, a concept at the heart of Heideggerean ethics, resolves to provide for itself no real resolution. It also solves nothing. What it does do is resolves to face down the nothingness by which Dasein imagines it is threatened, and in so doing, forgets itself. If this is bewildering for us, then it is due to the problem of life giving us the ability to live in the present. Too much history and we would not now how to think of even the day at hand. If on could not forget anything at all, one could never experience anything new or anew.

And yet because we have ourselves lived those past times and we were there, there is still a puzzle: “This bewilderment is based upon a forgetting.” (1962:392 [1927], italics mine). Yes, a specific kind of forgetting that in fact evades resoluteness, we are told. Dasein’s ‘potentiality’ is put on hold, and we ‘leap from the next to the next’ (ibid). This is how we leave what is still present; we are not ‘in’ the environment any more, we do not dwell within it, there is no such moment of indwelling that characterizes Dasein’s actual ownmost possibility and facticity. This is instead replaced by entanglement. In turn, this aids the very kind of forgetting that started the process: “The possibility of memory depends on the continued existence of the past; nothing in the actual present explains memory.” (Lampert 2012:142). It may not ‘explain’ it insofar as the present as it is never contains the source material for the memory content, but nevertheless allows it because having a memory is something that we have in the present. In this way one can agree with Husserl’s explicative statement regarding the character of memory in general where “…the antithesis of perception is primary remembrance, which appears here, and primary expectation (retention and protention [respectively]), whereby perception and non-perception continually pass over into one another.” (1964:62 [1905], italics the text’s). It is reasonable to state that neither memory nor anticipation are the same as perception per se, and yet both are still perceived in some manner, otherwise we would have no ability to recall anything at all nor would here be a sense of the future. Dasein would lose on of its ontological ‘faculties’, its being-able-to-be ‘ahead of itself’.

Indeed, we are told that Dasein does not possess this ability in the way we would something at hand or in hand, but rather simply is ahead of itself. So a memory must in some ways aid this being. It is self-evident that anticipation does, or at least, is its outcome, but memory? These may be relived as ‘peaks’ or linger as ‘sheets’ (cf. Lampert on Deleuze, op. cit:164), but whatever terminology we utilize, there must be a characteristic facility and indeed, faculty, that allows what we think of the as the past to not place us ‘behind ourselves’. Minkowski provides the first clue to this apparent puzzle, in which the lack of memory subverts and even outright sabotages the ability to think ahead: “…the form of mental life which we term memory deficiency is dominated, not by a momentary, instantaneous now, as one would expect, but on the contrary, in certain cases at least, by the principle of unfolding in time, functioning in a void.” (op. cit:381). What exactly is this ‘unfolding’, and what, in turn, is being unfolded? Clinging to something or other, clasping it to one’s anxious breast, clambering about, as we will see below, but not ascending, or yet climbing down with a view to lose the view one already had, folds us in on ourselves. This is uncomfortable no matter what kind of metaphor we employ, so one must back out. In doing so, in order to not regain either the perspective of the present or the ‘being-aheadedness’ of one’s ontological structure – though of course this doesn’t vanish just because we have vanished from whatever scene is at hand – we unfold ourselves only in time, but not in any kind of recognizable space. The void carries within it the simple and yet profound lack of perspective, by definition. At a personal level, unfolding in the manner about which Minkowski speaks is a debasement of Dasein, though it does follow a pattern: “This logical process of debasement and profanation is linked to another process that it must reinforce in order to eliminate it.” (Kristeva 1996:14 [1993]). Here the ‘sinner is turned into a saint’, even if Kristeva shortly thereafter describes this narrative trope as a mere cliché, which it is. Proust’s ‘woman-cake’ – such pastries are often called ‘madeleine’s in France, just so, the made-to-order ‘Marie-madeleine’ and thence the rest of its tired trope – is an example of the bracketing of actual ambiguity in order to objectify not the presence so much as a kind of presentation. This is theatre, surely, but it is also myth.

Whatever satisfaction we may have gotten from the mother, whatever threat we may have survived from the father or their surrogates, the church on the one hand, the state on the other perhaps, regression is itself based upon keeping close to us a certain flavor of both. But “Because these split-off aspects of the parent’s ego are governed by repetition compulsion, they are acted out repeatedly upon the child.” (Shabad 1989:106). In turn, we gradually construct a persona of personhood based upon these fragments that we have found to be ironically the most extreme, and therefore the most memorable, that later denudes the full Dasein of its potentiality-for-being’ in way different from that of the false forgetting. This is “…An identity perversely based on all those identifications and roles which, at critical stages of development, had been presented to the individual as most undesirable or dangerous, and yet, also the most real.” (Erikson 1960:61 [1956]). Here, memories such as these cannot be plainly and simply forgotten. They have to first be reinforced in order to be eliminated, in a manner uncannily like how they came to be present in the first place. Within this process lies the at-handedness of entanglement, for in reinforcing these memories, bringing them into a fuller presence, we risk becoming addicted to this stage alone, all the while rationalizing it as a first step ‘out’.

Regression is a too easy moment. Its moment is that of a momentum that appears to us as momentous. In a society wherein juvenile behavior and the viewpoint of adolescence is celebrated, is the main market target, and is lengthened perhaps decades after its primary purpose has been met, regression is, quite literally, everywhere: “But in any event, the permanent object concept is stabilized by the period of adolescence and therefore the inner concept of the actual parent is not given up.” (Pine 1989:162). We do not wish to give it up, because early on, the parent is perceived as being what we should be. Many parents, though fewer today than in the past, actively encourage their children to ape themselves, either in personality, vocation, or even ideologically. This only adds to the problem already present. It is debatable whether or not the analytic school has identified ‘deeper’ processes of such identifications in the sado-sexual or surrogate-sexual modes, but however that may be, it does not matter for a phenomenological argument. Ideology, for instance, can run quite deep in a person’s attitudinal matrix, and certainly the personality or ‘esteem’ by which we hold ourselves together on many fronts, public and private, is deeply held as well. Regression as a the chief perpetrator and phenomena of the externality of remorse desires this strangeness that has come over it. Unlike this or that stigmatized ethnic or linguistic group, we want to be a stranger to ourselves. We are patently evading the responsibility to confront our ownmost possibility, in death or some other major life-transfiguration, so we cannot in all conscience say that we are “… a stranger who does not wish to be a stranger.” (Antonovsky 1960:428). No, we are more akin to the ‘cat’ than the ‘Jew’: “Within in his own isolated social world, the cat attempts to give form and purpose to dispositions derived from but denied an outlet within the dominant social order.” (Finestone 1960:439 [1957]). This ‘denial’ in fact comes from within us. In the everyday realm of both the ontic and, perhaps over against Heidegger’s claims, the inauthentic as well, the spectrum between doing what one ‘has’ to do and one’s desires includes things like the ‘hobby’ and the perversion alike. ‘Cats’ in fact have day jobs, those who retire can do so with the calm assurance of being about to follow the call of a narrowed set of desires. The issue at hand is really more along the lines of youth having to confront the fullness of every human desire. Indeed, one could almost equally say that the innocent and the corrupt both are conjured by the dreamtime of youth alone.

Which is perhaps the more structural reason why sexual desire, for instance, often turns to regression and this regression needs not be kept secret at all. It is transparent that youth have these desires and are suppressed by the ‘dominant’ order generally due to our ressentiment regarding the loss of our own youth. Sexuality is repressed, yes, but not the regression by which it makes its self-remorse external. No, indeed, adults want to see the manifestation of this repression in young people. We celebrate it as our victory and ours alone: “This reveals nothing less than a desexualization of sex itself. Pleasure that is either kept cornered or accepted with smiling complaisance is no longer pleasure at all.” (Adorno, op. cit:73). We are now seeing the first foreshadowing of our third topic, that of nostalgia, for within all of this external suppression and thence internal repression, the process of remorseful regression takes refuge in fantasy. Sex is, after all, one thing. Any aspect of one’s youth – and recall just here how modernity is founded on both the advent of youth and its immediate alienation – including non-responsibility, some disposable income, and the much more serious experiences such as wonder and the newness of things, is lost along the way to adulthood. Adulthood too, it must also be recalled, is not at all the same thing as maturity. It is more or less a coincidence that maturity can only come within the period of life we call adulthood (or yet perhaps ‘old age’),  given our extended phases of life in contemporary technological society. But whenever ‘mature being’ provides for us authentic indwelling, it is also clear that we have lost a great deal both petty and profound, and this in turn provokes an unhealthy politics of ‘restoration’, not unlike the reaction that lashes back at any revolutionary period: “Mainly because man must surrender to the generalizing institution, he continually searches for his own individuality and the lost possibilities of childhood.” (Meerloo 1960:516 [1958]). It is somehow odd to speak of possibility being ‘lost’. Does not the very conception entail its indefinite open-endedness? What has been only possible surely remains possible no matter what. It retains, as against even the probable and self-evidently the certain, its choate temporal and existential structure. Yes, it too is part of the human imagination, so what is more likely actually being lost through the process of maturation – not maturity, mind you – is precisely imagination and all this implies. ‘Man’ too is already generalized, even institutional, but this is clearly not what Meerloo is getting at. One does after all not attempt to individualize ‘Man’ but rather oneself. So personhood must give way to persona.

Social role theory explicates this transition and dynamic so very well that we forget to examine or even take into account such losses. The presence of both role strain and role conflict obviates the need to do so, for we are assured by this analytic that the person is indeed a complex of roles and nothing more. But at the very least, the modern person, the ontic version of Dasein, adds to its role set not so much nothing more, but Nothing more. And it is this Nothing that is the source of both Anxiety and regret. Roles offer up the potential for regression, remorsefulness, and regretfulness, taking place, as we have seen, both internally and externally. There is a Nothing alongside the set of social roles. It is, on the lighter and more ethical side of things, also the source of the neighbor. The spontaneous and unthinking action of the non-role and even anti-socius neighbor figure  comes out of Nothing and retreats there once the deed is done. Whatever resonates is a function of memory and thus easily slides into nostalgia, as we will see in part three below. Unthinking, yes, but what about? About one’s set of roles. The neighbor in fact does think, but this is space of the uncooked thoughts of humankind and human kindred. It is an I who is suffering and not a you, or a we and not a them. The neighbor has allies in others’ ability to emerge from the Nothing that all of us share tacitly together.

So it is not society that Dasein shares but society that shares Dasein. It shares it with all of the others, rather against its will. But this will is itself transmogrified into desire and hope, fear and resentment because society as the ‘generalizing institution’ par excellence, does not cleave itself in the direction of the neighborly. Instead, as we mentioned at the very beginning of our dialogue, it is fences and neighbors that correspond to one another and indeed bring each other into ontical being. Since part of the unthinking of the neighbor which accesses the ontology of humanity and not its epistemology – role sets and their appurtenances tell us ‘how we know what we know’ – is the absence of a need for meaning in the moment – it does not ask ‘why am I doing this or for what purpose?’ – it can only be the ‘socius’ that engages itself in the work of interpretation. In extreme forms, this engagement, necessary to every human being to a point, becomes nothing other than entanglement: “…we can actually speak of a ‘compulsion to extract the meaning’. Things don’t function any longer according to their own ‘objective’ meaning, but exclusively to express a ‘higher’ meaning, one pregnant with fate.” (Binswanger 1963:329). Minkowska adds that such persons “…become emotionally attached to objects, which leads to a love of order.” (cf. in Minkowski, op. cit:208-9ff). Bleuler’s ‘syntony’, also used adeptly and often by Minkowski, and Minkowski’s own ‘synchronism’ represent the delusional presence fostered by a ‘lack of attunement’ with objective reality (cf. Binswanger op. cit:338). Certainly modernity’s apparent lack of immediate and singular meaningfulness presents to us an existential and ethical challenge at once. But it must not be lost sight of that our own regressive remorse coupled with our eroded imaginations thinks that in prior epochs such meaningfulness was readily available. This is simply not the case, as meaning was just as much derived from institutions representing that ‘higher’ as it is today. Perhaps what is more truly at stake is our inability to imagine anything ‘higher’ that what we objectively see. Perhaps the problem is, put simply, objectivity itself.

As we will explore later, it is only a regressive nostalgia that sees in the past a truth that is no longer present. We are still what we are, Dasein and humanity more widely. Finite objective beings and individually, finitudinal being. Regression has its radically exemplary physical illness in epileptic-like events, and such an individual’s ‘saccharin personality’  – though we may wonder at such a framing – suggest the viscousness that gave rise to Minkowska’s idea of ‘glischroidy’, a conception that allows us to examine the ‘mystical’ character of the epileptic fit (cf. Minkowski op. cit:201ff). Shamanism had already explored this in a primordial manner, though ironically, as one of the first social roles. Epileptoid disturbances bear a similar family resemblance to those of schizoidism (ibid:204), but precisely in the manner that the neighbor bears some relationship to the socius. The first would not be distinguishable unless the second were ‘dominant’. The neighbor and the epileptic are spontaneous, the socius and the schizoid calculated. Within these last two, “…affectivity becomes fixed in an almost mechanical way on that to which it most closely corresponds: objects, groups, general ideas, etc.” (ibid:211, italics the text’s). Such phenomena, Minkowski notes, seem to operate ‘outside of themselves’ (ibid:212). And it is not only objects that come under the intense if obsessional scrutiny of the pathological role-oriented persona. The schizophrenic or the schizo-affective is also a socially constructed role, whereas the epileptoid in its encounter with the mystical – at least, according to previous modes of production and their cosmology – cannot be fully comprehended, let alone understood, by the wider ambit of mundane social relations. It is as if the role-geared persona of the they breaks down, its mechanism falters. This occurs no more than in those whose plurivocity of anxieties have utterly overtaken the Nothing and its resource of Anxiety proper: “With so many practical anxieties dogging him [ ] it is not strange that young research scientists dream unattainable dreams, live unrealistic lives, overwork desperately, and develop a monastic absorption which strains every human tie.” (Kubie 1960:265 [1957]). What is shared by both kinds of entanglement is the focus on the picayune and even the picaresque. One the one hand, we observe that much research, unless funded specifically toward a goal, usually and sadly a military or commodity goal, is so abstruse and arcane, or yet so mundane and even trivial that it carries the Dasein away into the margins of existence. It is curiosity cornered, focus fettered. No one is fully exempt from such charges of irrelevancy as scholarship demands a certain level of detail that other pursuits might eschew. But the tree tends to overtake the forest. With the ‘mystic’, on the other hand, we as well see this entrenchment which in turn “…reveals the basic features of all superstition: fixation upon the most inconspicuous, unimportant, and innocent details, and their elevation into the sphere of the decisive majesty of fate.” (Binswanger, op. cit:293).

Given that a significant portion of the North American population attends to at least some of this enshrinement of the picayune, it is no wonder that the archetypical detective of Conan-Doyle retains his immense popularity as a salient character in entertainment fictions; he is the ultimate master of taking the insignificant and making it utterly crucial to his investigations. But Sherlock Holmes stops short of sacralizing any of these details, indeed, of anything at all, and so he cuts the perfect figure, appealing to both our modern sensibility that nothing is in fact sacred as well as the older custom and sensibility that there is more going on than meets the mere eye. The scientist calculates this into her own inductive investigations – making bricks from the clay available – and the mystic simply knows when to look and what to look of ‘ahead of time, as it were. This latter tends toward deduction, however unscientific it may be in the end. Anything that elevates mere detail or coincidence into the profound may be said to be a regression: conspiracy theories, remaining superstitions enacted out of custom or habit, unwarranted suspicions, cynicism, even stoicism as a manner of keeping oneself aloof to others, and the like combine to give us the impression that modern life is more than it is. It isn’t.

To be sure, power corrupts still, but it does so in ways that anyone with or without power can understand. Behind the Masonic masks and Machiavellian masquerades lie simple intents and means. These both can be comprehended comprehensively under the rubric of maintaining control, authority, and the wielding of power to do so in any manner necessary to accomplish finite goals. Absolute values are part of the charade, and nothing more. The epileptoidal personality does not understand this simple relationship, and so we see these people scurrying into cliques, sects, even cults, who pretend to have the means to expose the truth of things if they do not already possess it themselves. This process is not, as many social scientists who study religion and social movements have claimed, a desperate ‘search for meaning’ or a meaningful existence. It is rather an escape from the meaning that already and always presents itself to Dasein. It is not a quest for vision but rather an effort at entanglement. It is a drive to replace indwelling with a theyness that is not as anonymous as is the everyday. It seeks to combine the old and the new – and thus is also an effort in nostalgia – given that such groups and societies, organizations and institutions function as if they were like the rest of us – the creationist drives a vehicle, for instance – while at the same time cradling an inner knowing that speaks of secret truths unavailable to the wider they. ‘Man’s escape from meaning’ might have been a worthy sibling to one of our most famous post-war essays.

It is of the greatest importance to recognize that most things are not important. We do this in our mundane lives, unreflectively, but as Heidegger notes, “Even when I do nothing and merely doze and so tarry in the world, I have this specific being of concerned being-in-the-world – it includes every lingering with and letting oneself be affected.” (1992:159 [1925]). Much of our day is taken up with things that only require a modicum of focus and intellect. This is not the problem. Our problem is rather the amount of time that such activities take to accomplish. Given that Dasein is historical being, and that we are, more basically, temporal creatures and organisms, this factor is decisive in any undertaking that seeks to make meaningful existence out of everyday life. Billy Joel encapsulates this tension in the lyric ‘I start a revolution but I don’t have time’. Most of us have been there in some nominal way. It may have been an aspiring vocation, a budding relationship, even an adulterous affair. New friends for adults are rare because of lack of time, child raising is a tenuous business because of the same. It is a stock phrase, used to ‘get out’ of anything at all: ‘I don’t have time’. It is almost universally accepted, almost as if the very invocation of time’s absence has an odd kind of sacredness to it. To lose time is to regress, so we think. We are being irresponsible in taking time ‘for ourselves’, as if we ourselves are somehow also absent when we do not take that time referred to. Dasein is always already present, in the world, just as is the world. They are co-authors of existence and anything taken away from either lessens their force while not vanquishing them. Nevertheless the trend is to avoid this elemental constitution of Dasein’s isness as much as we can. Speaking of Mounier’s work, Ricoeur notes that this “…‘type’ would rather express the exterior outline of a limitation, the failure of the personality rather than the idea of an internal plastic force: ‘We are typical only in the measure that we fail to be fully personal’.” (1965:152 [1955]). Such an exteriority is, as we have seen, both the home and the goal of regression, since it desires to move remorse into the social world, to make of it a role or an aspect of the socius rather than an irruptive injunction of the neighbor. The  mundane epileptoid seeks an insularity wherein she cannot be confronted by her conscience. In this, she is moved in the same direction as is the schizoidal person, but is, perhaps ironically, less calculating about it. The social epileptoid thereby is accepted with much more willingness into a sectarian environment, for instance, because she has demonstrated that her ‘condition’ is a sign of mystical movement in the affairs of men. Kristeva notes how such intentions fill up a space with contrivances and an ‘external presence’: “Its sensations fill Being with subjective information, whereas the impact of Being depersonalizes and derealizes  everything in its path, including the dizziness of sensations that for a brief moment we mistakenly believe are ‘ours’.” (1996:257 [1993]). Contrary to the view that suggests we are seeking meaning in our flight from meaningfulness, it is more correct to say that organizations specifically geared to create instant community function as ‘ours’ in this manner, whether or not they enjoin some other imagined realm, mystical, spiritual, or yet conspiratorial. At the end of the day, however, it matters little whether or not these contents be separated, for all groups of persons who claim to ‘know’ better are engaging in conspiracy themselves.

This shared solipsism sheds the social without doing the same to sociality. Any human group must still interact, but just here, populated by ‘misfits’ and even some rogues who desire to take advantage – the evangelical father who assaults his children in the name of ‘godly correction’ falls squarely into this category, for instance – there is a concerted effort to retreat from any wider meaning, as well as a great deal of energy put into taking umbrage when such a person is accosted from without. Binswanger links this reactionary and regressive subjectivity – which nonetheless seeks to hang its hat up on an archaic hook that in actual human history either never existed or was the province of a few antique villains who happened to be highly literate – to despair and even the thanatic drive: “A complete despair about the meaning of life has the same significance as man’s losing himself in pure subjectivity;, indeed, the one is the reverse side of the other, for the meaning of life is ever something trans-subjective, something universal, ‘objective’ and impersonal.” (op. cit:234). At the same time, the roots of existential psychology have it that we only find ourselves within the ambit of this wider meaning by ‘fleeing’ from ourselves and not ‘directly seeking’ ourselves out (cf. Heidegger 1962:174 [1927]). This is our ‘state-of-mind’, and thus must be linked to a disclosure and an encounter rather than a ‘discovery’ per se, as if Dasein was all about the hunt from the start. It is the relative ‘chanciness’ of how one finds oneself, as in a ‘mood’, that lends an abbreviated argument to the sense that fleeing isn’t such a bad thing after all.

But like anything else, all is well as long as there is moderation. The headlong flight from meaningfulness into perverse privacy is immoderate. In literature, this trope begins with Stendhal, wherein the hero’s identity  “…has withdrawn to an area not only different from, but hostile to public behavior. It is the area of interiority…” (Moretti 1987:85, italics the text’s). This figure represents internally the ‘social contradictions’ and non-linear histories that dominate modernity (cf. Adorno, op. cit:212). Yet one has to regress externally well before one puts up the curtains that block any observation of this new privacy. Ironically, it is mass man, the theyness of that exact public that turns away in this manner, flees from itself but not with a view to stand before itself once again. Moretti tells us that ‘equality in culture’ might destroy the old dogmatic authorities – and how many believed in these authorities in the way they demanded prior to the eighteenth century is perennially debatable, once again, due to the tiny amount of literates during these epochs – but it did not give rise to new elites (op. cit:102). Quite the contrary, as many an intellectual has since bemoaned, including a number of our key sources in this text. Even those who do arise may cheapen their instrumentation, blunt their critiques, by engaging in popularity contests: “Ideology rules by the mere fact of its having been brought into existence. In Rousseau, moral censorship is nationalized; the public censor becomes the chief ideologue.” (Koselleck 1988:166 [1959]). Certainly we see this today and not only due to the advent of mass digital media wherein one can be instantly ‘shamed’ or subject to other grotesque judgments. Such things appear more objective, and they are surly more external. Fittingly, if also ironically, they are one of the major variables in explicating the flight into the ‘interior’ by way of external regression. Sincere remorse seeks internal solace for the shame of it all, for not being able to face what one in fact desires to face: that very public and the wider world. We wish to return to our social place, for it is only from this jumping off point that our own ‘neighborliness’ can appear. The recluse cannot become the Samaritan, good or no.

In headlong flight, the longing to be ahead of others replaces Dasein’s innate being-ahead-of-itself. We enjoin a race to the bottom, as it were, shunning not merely our social role duties but more profoundly, the others by and through which we live at all. The disjuncture between living and existence allows for this, for though we no longer have a life to live, yet we remain. Dasein as the existing being does not vanish just because we will it to be so. Or do we? Perhaps it is rather thus: that we would prefer to live a life that enacts itself from itself alone. Perhaps we would prefer the absolute congruence between Dasein and personhood, something which contradicts the entirety of being-in-the-world for it loses all existential perspective on what I myself am facing and facing down; mine ownmost finitude and all that this implies.

And we think this desire to be wholly rational. Once again, it is immoderate, kindred with the notion to exhibit remorse instead of confronting it in an internality which is not merely an interior to itself. Externalized remorse, regretfulness, is not only a regression it is also a vanity. It seeks to value one’s self-pity as a meritorious endeavor, and perhaps also to commoditize it; witness the plethora of self-help books based on the autobiographical mishaps of this or that addict, sex worker, even murderer. One might include any partial or momentary homiletic also to be found in less excessive tracts of this genre, something this author has also imposed upon the reading public. ‘I was once this but now I am otherwise’; an archetypically Augustinian parabola that is nevertheless implied in Marcus Aurelius and perhaps even earlier texts. It represents a personalization of the Pauline doctrine of worldly transfiguration. The City of God can be read as merely the objective side of the transfigurational coin with the Confessions being that subjective. One also could be forgiven, to use a word advisedly, if one also wonders if the problem of subject/object also begins with these texts, or begins anew.

Immoderation, something that Augustine’s classical sources warn against, includes not only the externalization of properly internal dialogues – why indeed would anyone else care about my self-inflicted wounds, unless it would be taken for a trip to the circus? – but as well the vainglory of stating one’s case before an audience which is itself addicted to rationalization, simply because every member therein has also performed this sleight of in-handedness at one time or another: “Convulsively, deliberately, one ignores the fact that the excess of rationality, abut which the educated class especially complains and which it registers in concepts like mechanization, atomization, indeed even de-individualization, is a lack of rationality” (Adorno, op. cit:138). Surely it would be better if we kept ourselves to ourselves in this way instead? Not becoming a complete recluse, but never letting on that one’s own irrationality has taken such a monstrously public form that only that same anonymous and anonymized public can once again allow it access to the world. As if we were the benign version of the masterful criminal whom no one suspects is such, the truly rational person maintains his sociality whilst engaging in a self reflection that takes place in an internal dialogue.

This is what the interiority of Dasein is suited for. Such a comportment is benign insofar as it registers the needs of the wider body not wholly as its own, but as an important factor. We can be, according to the existentialist ethic, both public and private without taking the latter for an ontology. Indeed, if we do not engage thusly, we are “…left with a dreamy nobility, the memory of an unattainable presence, familiar thought forbidden, familial though lofty.” (Kristeva, op. cit:11). If the dream is an insight about our inner character and its lensed Anxiety, dreaminess is cheaper than the phantasm. It may even be serially orgiastic, amphetaminic, manic or depressive, it does not matter. Imagine being touched and only feeling the memory of touch previous. Such a delay would be tantamount to psychosis and would rapidly become unbearable so that one would prefer, in the end, not to have been touched at all: “…his dream of omnipotence comes true in the form of perfect impotence.”(Adorno, op. cit:57). Here, the utopia, always in the end utterly private and thus also a privation, forces the other into a thralldom of ‘fatefulness’. Noble in fantasy only, such a ‘dreaminess’ never awakens to the fact that other’s beings are never fully present, if at all present. Familial because most of our fantasies have indeed to do with family relations. There are few among us who have not wished for a ‘happier’ or more compassionate family, even if many of us do eventually overcome these deficits without entirely smothering them in lugubriously affective families of our own. But if our family of birth cannot attain the utopian desire and if we cannot force our current family to do so – once again, those who claim religion as their mantra attempt this petty imperialism more often than any other and have been perversely successful at willing it across the generations mainly due to the chance of repetition in the children the authoritarian personality engenders; that is, nothing to do with religion per se – we can at least retreat into the ‘personal life’ of the singular but also the highly alienated ‘me’. Our consciousness has been desacralized from the only thing modernity has to offer it; a position of banal ‘being as part of the world’. So we tell ourselves. But this too is, in the end, a mere rationalization of a hyper-rationality that suffuses into our souls. We have internalized mass politics along with everything else. The much vaunted ‘interiority’ of the romantic period bears a disconcerting resemblance to the external world after all, and was this not Stendhal’s point? At a time when the new capital was ‘in the saddle’, with the birth of the bourgeois class, with the citizenry, the professional military, and the public service of the kind of government we today would recognize as our direct forebear, what then of the equally new person, the individual?

Speaking of a sleight of what is supposedly already and always in-hand. Dasein manifestly does not exist for the sake of the state or yet its place in statehood. Dasein faces a state only inasmuch that my death is mine ownmost possibility. The state as the successor to the church, the two ‘evils of evil’, does not face death. We have seen in our own time not only the afterlife of god, but also, in a rather more pedestrian manner, that of the church. This has appeared to answer the call of the alienated individual. But one cannot truly know a ghost: “Thus for the secularized consciousness the political myth has become one answer to the problem of our epoch’s relationship to death – an answer arising from the distorted relation to the meaning of life of a consciousness at one and the same time deprived of faith but intensified in its sense of individuality by its position with the atomized mass.” (Plessner 1957:244 [1950]). Given the apparatus of technologized media and communication, the awareness of – but not the knowledge about – diverse others and their assumed desires, and the opportunism of those whose own inner alienation drives the quest for public power, the myth of modernity is in reality far more dangerous than any myth the church ever was able to put forward. In addition, the residue of the state’s predecessor lingers in some regions, used now as a rationalization to bond disparate persons together as if one could still hear the calling to a divinely sanctioned crusade. As Goodman puts it, “It is the great power of history to keep alive lost causes, and even to revivify them.” (1960:360 1956]). In a Weberian note, Ricoeur adds, “…it is no longer the institution which justifies violence, it is violence which engenders the institution by redistributing power among States and classes.” (op. cit:241). And those who seek to possess and thence wield this new power are deluded on both fronts, even as they delude the rest of us. Power cannot truly be possessed; one cannot keep it to oneself, as if the dynamic of politics were like the engine of a high performance automobile that one foreswears engaging at the green light. As well, one does not in reality wield power as if it were an actual sword. One makes decisions in the light of other variables. One can possess authority, but not power. One can wield force, but not power. The modern nation-state, which seeks above all to provide a benign-looking cover for the continuation of public inequity without involving itself in private iniquity – and without losing its grip on the mindset that it is the most advanced human political organization known; sophisticated, yes, but advanced? – advances itself as the total institution that can ameliorate the ‘iron cage’ of contemporary life. Retirement pensions respond to wage-slavery. Health care responds to critical illness, counseling to sorrow, welfare to suffering, and as far as the enduring problem of spontaneous joy goes, well, that’s to each her own.

Beyond all of this, however, is the sense that the state can confer upon each individual a singular statehood in citizenship without making everyone into exactly the same thing. Thus “…total institutions do not look for cultural victory. They effectively create and sustain a particular kind of tension between the home world and the institutional world and use this persistent tension as strategic leverage in the management of men.” (Goffman 1960:454 [1959]). The paternalistic state, of late made more casual and distant as the ‘nanny state’ – a further decoy as to its actual character; as if one could hire and fire it at will and the most egregious thing of which it is guilty is some form of backseat driving – seeks another kind of victory; that of Dasein’s insistence on its flight from itself. This is not about culture per se, but it does involve the kind of existence that has been known to create culture over against institutions like the church and state. In its striving to make persons into citizens, the state exposes its true needs. At its authentically most egregious, the state attempts to regress mature being into an undeveloped form of itself. In doing so it uses “…the logic of sadomasochism. It is the love of hate, the hatred of love, persecution, humiliation, and delectable sorrow. There is no specific social means for escaping this logic, for the whole of social life is contained within it.” (Kristeva 1996:157 [1993]). The Reich is held up to account as the recent archetype of this extremity, but is it not telling that in every victorious post-war state, the ‘management skills’ of the Reich were adopted to some degree? If it is correct to say that culture does not engender the neighbor, it is also just as correct to note that within the space of culture, acts, events, artifacts and objects do appear as signs of the neighbor’s continued existence, furtive perhaps, but insistent. The aesthetic object is well known to provide that same spontaneous and irruptive force that rends social life and its ‘means’ away from state management. Hence the need for censorship from time to time, speaks the state, even in the realm of art. These days, it is galleries and other venues themselves that practice a form of self-censorship, and no doubt certain kinds of writers do as well. All of this in ‘liberal’ democracies. Would it then be illiberal to suggest that along with the scandalously ignorant evaluation of each younger generation as the safe harbor for ‘anything goes’ – Cole Porter’s jest is lost to our overly and overtly sensitive hearing in our day – that our response is yet more scandalous? That we scurry to cover our thoughts over with the fashion for the absolutely inoffensive? Could it be that the absolute authority of the benign corrupts absolutely? “And if any sceptic of the kind who denies the truth, factically is, he does not even need to be refuted. In so far as he is, and has understood himself in this Being, he has obliterated Dasein in the desperation of suicide; and in doing so, he has also obliterated truth.” (Heidegger 1962:271 [1927], italics the text’s).

An excerpt from Blind Spots: the altered perceptions of Anxiety, Remorse and Nostalgia. forthcoming in 2019.

To Still a Talking Turd? (maybe not); Peel School District and Harper Lee

I  was recently placed in the unenviable position of agreeing with an interpretation that was subsequently enforced by Draconian and anti-democratic measures. When Peel School District in greater Toronto announced that from here on in, the official manner of teaching Lee’s famous novel To Kill a Mocking Bird would be lensed through an ‘anti-oppression’ rubric, I was both disconcerted and delighted. That the text appears to be some kind of ‘white man’s burden’ propaganda, dear to all liberal hearts who imagine that heroism comes from taking up a cause due to irrevocable deficits on the part of those so benighted  – from the cognitively disabled black defendant to the obsequiously slatternly and slavish servant; are these characters not metaphors for how white persons imagined blacks at the time and beyond? – that they require their very oppressor to free them from their bondage, and on his terms, presents a problem. The bravado masculinity of the lawyer and the cliché naivety of his daughter round out most of the narrative stage. In a word, the book stinks. And yet it still speaks to us. It is, if you will, a ‘talking turd’.

But to still its voices, to narrow the interpretive lens to such a degree that other things that just might be in this book somewhere, or any book, is to step uncomfortably close to the very social frameworks that are sourced in the attitudes the book seems to represent. One correct way, one lens. Beyond this, to attempt to enforce this through official suasion within a set of institutions dedicated to learning, consciousness, knowledge, and ultimately, human freedom, is ironic at best. Teachers who were interviewed fear that this is but the opening salvo in a war against the written word, cannons versus canons. I think this at least is premature. There is no evidence Peel SD is out for the lifeblood of the Western literary world. But their actions still presented a puzzle. Why not simply issue a statement regarding the text itself? It could contain what I think is a strong argument that the book is a piece of internecine colonialism and a decoy against structural change. That it was recently voted as the best American novel of all time is not, as one journalist had it, an indirect indictment against Peel SD, but rather is suggestive of the plausibility that racism in the USA has not altered much since c. 1960 as well as of a general illiteracy throughout the American public.

It is the scandal of art that evidences its relevance and its radicality. But popular art can play at scandal while in fact defending social institutions as they currently are. Much popular music charts this duplicitous course, its apparent critiques commoditized and glamorized in a way that serious art eschews. Not that we do not try to assuage the world in the face of thought and art. The art market, especially for paintings, has never been more lucrative. Even so, the effect of art, the aesthetic object, is to provide a consistent and even constant objection to the way things are. In short, it is its own lens. Very often, the content of such lenses are in themselves vulgar – Lolita comes immediately to mind – or they are sentimental – Romeo and Juliet – or are yet updates on ancient parables – East of Eden. Lee’s content is secondary to its quality as a cultural artifact, like these other works. But just here, we have to confront the bad conscience that the book avoids so scrupulously, just as Lolita, for instance, avoids the wider issue of age-related lust simply by having the protagonist, if he can be labelled such, a criminal.

The thoughtful response to any sign of the halting process of species maturity is to open these questions up as radically as possible. Works of would-be art that provide rationalizations for wider iniquities and disquiet can serve such a purpose, perhaps at most. Nevertheless, it is a noble purpose. This or that work can always be reduced to a precise if narrow editorial, popular or serious. Harry Potter? Arthurian romance meets the tuck shop. CS Lewis? Not-so-cunning soteriological sop. Or yet my own Kristen-Seraphim; X-Rated Enid Blyton. Surely there is more to it, and it is up to educators to discover that more, just as we charge our scientists to discover more of that cosmic truth in which all of us remain enveloped. So as with other discourses, the duty of educational administrators is to radically encourage their pedagogic colleagues to open up the texts at hand and to never shy away from scandal, even evil, for within the realm of the arts, both of these effects are salutary to an enduring human freedom.

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty books and is one of Canada’s leading contemporary thinkers. 

Writing and Thinking for the Human Spirit; retreat at Gabriola Island, May 2019

I am delighted to invite one and all to the first installment of the writing retreat at The Haven, a resort for transformational learning located on beautiful Gabriola Island, BC, Canada.

https://www.haven.ca/program/session/writing-and-thinking-may-17-19-2019

You will find all of the necessary information to register at their site through this link.

warmest regards, Greg

 

Forgetting the Dreamtime: book signing Vancouver October 13 2018

At Indigo-Spirit, downtown Vancouver, Saturday, October 13th 2-5 pm.

https://www.bing.com/search?q=indigo+spirit+granville+robson&form=EDGEAR&qs=AS&cvid=1f5f3879558d456c8bd116b88bf1ae4f&cc=CA&setlang=en-US&PC=ACTS

Here is the publisher’s page.

https://www.austinmacauley.com/book/forgetting-dreamtime

See the other references to this novel around my web-site.

 

Becoming Attached to History (confronting youth with our own youthfulness, good and bad)

Becoming Attached to History

Science, along with rationalism, are the twin adulthoods of discourse. They are never free of their self-doubts, their experiential insecurities, but they must often appear to be thus free. Not only for and against youth, but all the more so against the aged. Indeed, in an ironic movement, adulthood adopts the old to protect itself against becoming aged. The era that invented youth also invented nostalgia. The two walk hand in hand, the first unaware of its effects on those older than itself, the second only too aware that it has not only objectified youth, often leeringly so, but sabotaged its own self-understanding. In other words, by desiring and aping youth, it has traded in maturity for adulthood. This may not be its intent, but it is its effect. Because the emotions are tender just at this point – loss, and the realization that in our experience of history, most especially one’s own, what is lost is lost for good – they are driven into action, called to action. For the most part, youth remain blithely ignorant of our prurient interest in them – the advent of the internet has only further insulated adults against potential obloquy in this regard – and when they become aware there is almost always some kind of blatantly criminal act occurring. Too late for both parties, as it were. Thus nostalgia, answering the call to action spurred on by a lack of experience – this is still different from the will to actually repeat something that has occurred in the past; we can and do fall in love again as adults, for example – shows itself to be in league with a kind of gentrified pedophilia. It is less barbaric than the euphemisms surrounding the physical assault of children, for instance, but it is nonetheless a veneer. Like science divorced from human intent, rationalism devoid of romance, adulthood without maturity – youthfulness is yet different from youth, as everyone knows even if they have forgotten how to speak it – nostalgia could be accurately defined as time without history: “The example brings to mind the remark of Claude Bernard that feeling always takes the initiative in thought. If so, it is a methodological error in the study of thought to disconnect it from feeling. It is an error characteristic of the obsessive mind which, by ignoring the affective sources of thought, renders its study an impossible task.” (Cohen 1960:548 [1954]). Our desire for youth, shrouded in the sense that we only desire ‘to be young again’ and not at anyone’s expense – yet what should we be doing if we were once again to find ourselves incarnate as a past self? – is as callow as was our own youth, now distanciated from us and not merely distant. No, the qualitative distinction of adulthood – a social fact quality rather than a phenomenological essence, of course – is what provokes anxiety. It is real absence, and not just distance. One’s lover is not merely away for work but is truly gone, that sort of thing. So distanciation is a quality that is a phenomenological marker, just as is intentionality. Like the latter, it only begins the work at hand. The Wesenschau, or intuition of essence, is an idealized result of intentionality and categorical intuition etc., but it cannot be attained unless one is willing to replace one’s being with something other, something that one cannot be for it already was: “Dasein can never be past, not because Dasein is non-transient, but because it essentially can never be present-at-hand. Rather if it is, it exists.” (Heidegger 1962:432 [1927], italics the text’s). Even death does not alter this existential circumstance. Objects, however, can represent what is past because that world itself no longer exists, it ‘had-been-there’, and in a manner quite different from how an ancient object’s presence illumines our own day (ibid). So Goethe’s formulation, his cry directed back into time and back into his narrator’s own biographical history, resonates not in the realm of objects but in that of the memorialization of memory:

Nothing I had, and yet profusion

The lust for truth, the pleasure in illusion

Give back the passions unabated,

That deepest joy, alive with pain,

Love’s power and the strength of hatred,

Give back my youth to me again.

Youth says: ‘no one loves as I do’, and this is true insofar as it also must say to itself that no one can hate as fully. But mature being knows that compassion is more authentic, if not more ardent, than mere passion, and that love and hate can become virtually interchangeable, as anyone who has lost love can duly if wryly attest. And the ‘nothing’ of which Goethe speaks is of course the very opposite of that which invokes in us the existential anxiety the onset of which is dread and angst combined. For youth, nothing really is to be taken literally; one has not yet done anything or become anyone. There are no accomplishments of note, and there has not been time to understand the world around one, stretching out ahead and beyond, giving one the best and to a certain extent, lasting, impression that in fact the existential horizon does not approach us. Even our current cosmology reflects quite poignantly our sense of horizontal shifting that occurs to living human beings sometime in middle-age. The expanding universe of youth, a moment where gravity overcomes mass and pulls back on it, and then the universe contracts once again into itself in preparation for the next big bang. The fact that there is some debate regarding this aspect of contemporary cosmology suggests that we now have an inkling about indefinite human life. And we, of course, do have just that. The combination of stem cells, artificial prosthesis, the so-called AI and even, more outlandishly, contact with the very extraterrestrials we presume, somewhat romantically, to have themselves overcome human tribulations, point in this direction. But all of this is, so to speak, nostalgia in reverse. Unlike Binswanger, whom Needleman suggests is not analyzing in merely an ontic manner because “…his analyses refer to that which makes possible the experience of the particular individual.” (1962:125), Adorno’s concern for the eroding of praxis caused by the feelings we bring to it not only are generalizable on the positive side, but may also be implicitly fatalistic. There is, in mourning the loss of a critical and radical praxis – of late turned to an extension of hexis, once again – a kind of latent nostalgia. ‘Give back to me my praxis again!’, one might cry. And perhaps this sensibility is also there in Goethe’s verse. After all, both love and hate can fuel the action of getting action and carry it forward.

Nostalgia is also, in this sense, a fatal error with regard not only to history – it ‘laicizes’ it in the worst way – but also to memory and yet more: “Our entire theology will, by an unconscious and fatal complicity, itself have had to prepare the laicization of which it is the victim. The meaning of history: no longer need a God be born in the flesh to reveal it.” (Corbin 1957:xviii [1951]). If the death of god no longer provokes a conscious anxiety – after all, the idea of judgement, perhaps first understood to be the key to the afterlife in Egyptian mythology, must have had some anxiety attached to it, though our record of this is, as need be, a record of those with the most to be anxious over – and rationally speaking, death itself cannot be by itself anxiety producing – one either dies or something of one carries on; either way what is to be anxious about? – we are left with the possibility of having to mourn or having to lose in the first place. What is to be lost? Why history, of course. And not merely history but, as Corbin stated, its meaning. And this meaning is new, in the light of the ‘deincarnation’ of deity, and more than this, ever new. Thus “For Heidegger, as for Nietzsche, the past supplies the ways in which we understand ourselves, and it is in the light of these ‘possibilities of being’ that we project the future. It is this necessary historicality that makes possible the thematic study of history.” (Wood 1989:154, italics the text’s). Note immediately that history needs now to be studied. This is precisely because it cannot now be ‘revealed’. Learning something through patient study is the very opposite of revelation, where the all in all is suddenly and radically laid open before us. Its very suddenness, to borrow from Kierkegaard, has an evil about it, mainly because we are suspicious of rapid change. The radicality of revealed meaning disavows the human need to make something meaningful. Either way, it is clear we are much more comfortable with the study of history as long as it does not get in the way of making our own history in our own time. Yes, to a point. For history is also a reminder of one’s own humanity seen over eons, and we would like to also believe in our freedom from precisely that: “Above all, they believe that America constitutes an exception in the course of human history and will always be exempt from the usual limitations and calamities that shape the destinies of other countries.” (Sontag 2007:115). Any state at its zenith willed itself to believe this, from Athens and Rome to Venice, France, Britain and the Third Reich. Any revolution proclaims this new destiny made ‘manifest’ much in the same way that a God used to be made incarnate. At this level alone the state replaces the church but avails itself of its narratives. Our entire auto-cosmology has this sensibility: history is a burden from which we must free ourselves. Psychotherapy says the same thing to us at the individual level that the new state – a newly elected government assuming power by means quite gentle compared to revolution will speak this language as well, though we are, for the most part, wise to it – and at its most base, even baser than politics itself, the shameless shill of the advertisers heralds the ‘revolutionary’ change brought into your household by this or that improved product. Such a sham cannot be imagined by any ethical being, and yet it is a daily occurrence. And yet perhaps this is not the most base after all. What of the parents and teachers who tell the failing young person that they must ‘clean up’ their lives? What of the ‘boot camps’ for teenagers whose parents simply do not wish to work with them or have semi-consciously admitted their incompetence for doing so? What of the abusers who, under the guise of a ministry now decayed beyond mortal recognition, decoy souls into their lurid embrace? A ‘new teenager by Friday’, one popular book assures its would-be audience. This very Friday? In the time of a blink of an eye, the thief in the night, and all of that. No, suffer the ‘little’ children might be a more apt expression for all of this utter nonsense and worse. Why expect such changes in such a short time? And why would one want this for one’s own children in any case? What is so bad, so evil about our charges that we, as presumably mature beings, imagine that they are destined for a place that also no longer exists? Speaking of projected anxieties.

All of this is so commonplace that a noble philosophy might wash its hands thereof. Even so we must also question, in leading ourselves to confront the structure of anxiety, how we could turn away from these iniquities and speak in an airy manner of ethics and nobility itself. Surely these projections are only the observable aspect of a larger whole. As Binswanger suggests, this is not a matter for either organism or instinct. There can be no ‘partial’ reaction from either or both, to such a ‘falling’ (cf. 1962:198). This ‘giving way’ – and Needleman notes that in English the metaphoric sky is reserved for those with phantasmagorical dreams while in German it is usually a place for those with hopes ‘deeply felt’, though the expression ‘cloud cuckoo land’ tempers this sensibility somewhat (ibid: 222) – is something that is experienced as reality: “The nature of the poetic similes lies in the deepest roots of our existence where the vital forms and contents of our mind are still bound together. When, in a bitter disappointment, ‘we fall from the clouds’, then we fall – we actually fall.” (ibid:223, italics the text’s). The ‘Fall of Man’ is but one sequence of this anxious longing, its cycle pronouncing upon us a judgement in kind. Not necessarily from ‘on high’, but precisely at the point at which we are now. The judgement may be stentorian, encouraging, gentle, heraldic, but it appears before us and thence within us at the moment of self-realization that says, ‘I am now here’. I may be where I wanted to be or not, where I thought I would be or not, but in any case, I must confront myself as I am and not as I would be. This is the more humane and existential meaning of psychotherapy, apart from its more dubious exhortation to transfigure oneself as if one were a God in the making. Depth analysis most specifically recognizes both the immediacy and the profundity of language to this regard, and “…that language of itself, in this simile, grasps hold of a particular element lying deep within man’s ontological structure – namely, the ability to be directed from above or below – and then designates this element as falling.” (ibid:224). So history’s meaning, shorn of any revelatory source but not necessarily bereft of revelatory qualities, becomes that of the day at hand first, and only after which a matter of record and objective discourse. Its own judgement arcs with the living. To be ‘effectively historically conscious’, to borrow from Gadamer, is to be aware of the relationship between one’s own existence, furtive yet fulsome, fretful but also flying – and yes, also falling – and thus is also to attain a certain distance from the sway and swell of the historical tide: “…a neutral sympathy becomes attached to history; engagement and the risk of being mistaken becomes associated with the search for truth.” (Ricoeur 1965:49 [1955], italics the text’s). Here, for the first time, ‘truth does not involve belief’. But just so, Ricoeur is quick to state that history may also be understood as an ‘evasion of the search for truth.’ Perhaps we are uncomfortable with the self-recognition, radical and also even absurd, that we must make our own truths without regard for either belief or yet believers, including ourselves. ‘Belief in oneself’, no doubt another slogan of decadent religiosity lurking under the sly guise of popular youth development tracts, is at best trite, at worst, some rationalization for narcissism. There is a suggestion of shunning others, of distrust, and in no way can such advice promote a healthy confrontation with anxiety. Yet it is also not the case that just because the thinker is charged with the search for truth, whatever it may consist of, does that mean that history’s meaning will be fulfilled if and only if all the rest of us similarly engage. This would be overstating the human case, at least to a certain degree. Rather, an analysis of the relation that holds between myth, the poetic, and the everyday use of language – simile, idiom, euphemism included – reveals even to the casual thinker something that might after all be cautiously understood as revelatory: “…as the power of the historical Dasein, which we ourselves are condemned or called to be.” (Heidegger 1992:131 [1925]).

from Blind Spots: the altered perceptions of anxiety, remorse and nostalgia forthcoming in 2019.

‘Forgetting the Dreamtime’ to be released August 31st

Loewen2018fullcover

click on this link to open an internet PDF of the cover of my new novel, Forgetting the Dreamtime: a novel of growing up.

Sixteen year old Kristen has had quite enough of following her evangelical parents’ copious rules. But although up to her neck in both disobedience and discipline, she nevertheless suddenly finds herself at the heart of a mystery more profound than anything her willful imagination could have conjured. A challenge so deep that it will effect not only her own fate, but that of the species itself. And, ironically, it will require all of the power of her remaining faith in attempting to overcome it.

“A coming of age story in the widest and most important sense, Loewen’s characters will at first dismay and then inspire, as we follow his plucky and precocious heroine and her intellectual beau straight into the abyss of life’s meaning in our own time.”

from Austin-Macauley publishers, London.

We Other Theocrats: a note on school dress codes and the like

Adolescents will get up to harmless mischief uniforms or no. Perhaps we adults need to go to school on them.

There were no dress codes in the schools I attended in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We guys were not ‘distracted’ by the young women any more than they were by us. It is true that females mature in all ways more rapidly than males. This is in fact the only salient clue we need to decipher the fashionable official tempest regarding something as regressive and archaic as the presence of dress codes in our public schools. Adults are the ones being distracted, end of story.

Numerous news articles have of late given head to this seemingly innocuous and obscure item. Students protesting – the #takeastand movement is the latest and hopefully greatest of these – and administrators aping their peers in Iran. But the idea that forcing young women to cover up there oh so dangerous bodies promotes a culture of rape and violence against women in general is only a slice of the entire issue. The wider pedigree of this latter day fascism is the puritanism of new world religious movements and the more general insensibility imported by European (and now other) immigrants of all kinds. The fanatics of Europe, cast out of a society rapidly changing politically, scientifically and intellectually only to wash up on the First Nations’ shorelines and promptly set up the residential school system amongst other atrocities, are the darker ancestors to today’s school dress codes. Woman-hating, certainly, but more than this, life-hating. Earthly, sensuous, beautiful life.

Christianity is hardly the only religious suasion that carries this baggage around with it to this day, but it remains the most pronounced in our society. Yet religion is a mere rationalization for other, more structural forces. One may read statements from schools across Canada that young persons need ‘guidance’ regarding their professionalism, citing workplaces as the obvious and indeed misguided homology. Case in point: I have never been asked to alter my apparel in any workplace in which I have been employed. Do I have a mysterious intuitional faculty that allows me to understand the mores of professional workplaces without ever being subjected to dress codes as a young person? I wish I had more of those kinds of occlusive skills. Of course, men are often exempted from such sanctions as these. Why? Because men, in the main, are the one’s who invent them for others to follow. No, religion is used by some as an excuse for fascism and the exertion of social control over those members of our society who are not really human beings in our eyes, those we resent because they still know how to love life, silly mischief included. But other excuses, especially in the public sector, come across as yet more inane than those scriptural, misunderstood or no.

Kudos to the Victoria school district for considering banning dress codes in their public schools. The sooner the better. Those nameless  trustees mentioned in the news item who are concerned about ‘modesty’ should simply move to Tehran, where they can openly practice their women-hating etc. proclivities without hiding behind the guise of responsible and voluntaristic citizenship. Shame on the Essex school district, and countless others, for defending them. By way of analogy rather than homology, in BC at least, labour code regulations state that employers may not force their workers to wear items of apparel that are demeaning or affect their health, like heels, which are well known to cause back and joint problems. Could it be that the mental health of young persons is negatively affected by having so much control over their nascent lives? Anorexia is one response to this stultification of youthful desire for what freedoms are available to us. Addictions is another response. Repressed sexuality – hence the rape culture thing again – yet another.

We adults feel and bear all of these repressions ourselves and we imagine that imposing them on our children will even the existential score. I have written in other places about the issue of ressentiment which all aging humans feel toward the young. It is, at base, a symptom of the will to life, though a perverse and unethical one. Our suburban existence is itself a schizophrenic scherzando of public puritanism and private perversion. Instead, upon such matters as these, we might well need to learn from youth. Like the firearms issue, the problem of poverty in a society where we originally teach children to share and share alike – where does that go, by the way? – and the hypocrisy of telling youth that they can do anything they want with their lives, be anyone, male or female; be creative, critical, seek justice in all things and peace on earth and yet provide none of the institutional or wider bases for these things to take hold and manifest themselves in adult life, are all symptoms of the same sorry malaise.

Ironically, uniform schools show a greater sense of esprit de corps. Of course they must deal with the most infamous fetish item  – the young woman in tartan pleats and coloured tights, etc. – our sexualized objectification of womankind has ever invented. While respecting and evening out the sexual tension in such schools by flattening out the view, so to speak – adults can gaze out over the independent school classroom landscape and not be as distracted by individuals – one still has to deal with the archetype. So uniforms present their own unique array of challenges and do not unequivocally answer the issues supposedly plaguing the public schools. It is also well known that young women hailing from different social class backgrounds find ingenious ways to set themselves apart that their peers can easily recognize, since even the more limited options of the uniform can vary widely in price and brand cachet.

Once again, as with the firearms issue in the USA, the only counsel I can give young people is the same: walk out of the schools and don’t return until the dress codes are abolished. It is possible their presence may be a charter issue, though I am not a lawyer. There are so many of you that you will not be sanctioned. The schools need you more than you need the schools in any case. Shut the system down, legally, non-violently, but with purpose and dignity, with rational argument and insight like Mallory Johnston in Windsor demonstrated – whoever Sheila Gunn is, imagining that a fifteen year old has ‘tantrums’, she needs to rename her shtick ‘the reactionary’ for she is surely no ‘rebel’, at least on this issue – and change will occur.

In the meanwhile, and even more importantly, we adults need to re-examine the manner in which we remain within and retain the suppression of basic elements of a wider ambit of human freedoms to the point of questioning our daily subsistence practices and the regulations that enforce them. If we already know we are jealous to the point of the grave regarding our children, then it is but a short cognitive step to ask the question: why so? If we’re not having enough fun, sex, engaging in silliness and loving life on a day to day basis; if we’re instead working too much, addicted, suffering from mental illnesses, in uneasy relationships at home and at work, hating those wealthier and prettier than us, doubting our senses regarding the environment, pretending to believe in world systems thousands of years old and hailing from another metaphysics entirely different than our authentically own and further fearing our own Jungian shadows, let’s at least not foist all that on our kids. If we don’t adjust the world accordingly, their time will come in any case. We will see to that.

G.V. Loewen is an internationally recognized student of ethics, education, religion and aesthetics. The author of over thirty books, he is one of Canada’s leading contemporary thinkers. 

 

 

Kimmy smack porn (and I don’t care): on demonizing the internet as decoy behaviour

Max Weber warned us long ago that we should always question expertise. Like Sagan after him, Weber saw science as a tool, more theoretically sophisticated than mere technology, but still an instrument to inform our choices, ethical and social, and not a messianic force. When CBC Ottawa implies to us this week that someone from the IT field is an expert as well in ethics, education, social relations and sexuality amongst other things, it caught my attention. Needless to say, from what was reported, none of those latent claims – either made by the staff writer or the expert himself, one Paul Davis – appeared to be the case. Admittedly, I was myself miffed. Uh, no, folks, I’m the expert on these other things, and the tech guy can stuff it. Let’s see if I can shelve that gut reaction for a few moments and speak to the issues involved.

I think Mr. Davis and I hail from the same generation. It was true, at least in my experience, that we spent all day outside sans souci. No pedophiles stalked us, and no cougars either, that is, of the natural feline variety. Growing up in paradise was a return to Eden, unbesmirched by adult knowledge and its corresponding loss of innocences. He states that it is crucial young persons have an active childhood. Agreed. But of what sort? I too share a personal disdain for video games and social media, gambling and erotica. What the media – all media mind you, and not merely the internet – teach youth is to consume and consume again. Everything you can, as fast as you can. This lurid daydream arguably bleeds over into human relationships in work or in the homes and schools. But it is also the leverage upon which our economy continues to rest. The alternatives that Mr. Davis suggests, including sports etc., are also vehicles for consumption, competition, bravado and fantasy, just like the internet is. The price for enrolling children in such activities is far higher than leaving them be using media. So what are we actually gaining from enacting such a shift?

Organized sports, also extremely rare in my generation, teaches teamwork, but also tribalism. Us versus them. It’s only a game, we say to ourselves, but the ‘sports parent’ is a notorious figure (as well as the sports fan cum fanatic), as can be the ‘arts parent’, or any other thing a young person becomes inured to through parental vicariousness. Such so-called adults seek to live again a childhood they wished they themselves had, and are amongst the most pathetic human beings on the planet today. Not so different from pedophiles themselves – psychology explains to us one of the patent features of such people is the desire to rob a child of his or her love of life and sense of wonder as the criminal in these cases has none himself or herself – vicarious parents do not so much ‘enrol’ their children in activities as rather enlist them. Such activities are no more authentic, or to use Mr. Davis’ term, ‘real’, than anything portrayed on media. Indeed, self-posted or even so-called ‘revenge porn’ contents are much more real and also more realistic. Actual people, not paid professional actors, did these things with and to one another. And the knowledge that we gain from encountering these sometimes sordid affairs is worth a great deal more than the fantasy paraded in official posts of any kind, including much of the news. Should very young people be exposed to such things? This a related, but other question from the one that is claimed to drive Mr. Davis’ statements. But kids aren’t concerned about data breaches, election fraud, and targeted marketing surveys. We can, and should teach them about these things and how all of us are entrapped by them, once again to use one of Mr. Davis’ own words. After all, young kids don’t post professional erotica or much of anything sexual at all, nor do they own and purvey gambling venues, nor run social media networks. These are all adult concerns and profit is the main if not the only goal. Mr. Davis’ expertise comes from being an IT consultant to the private sector. So we are to understand that he helped corporations protect themselves from their competition and also aided them in schemes to make money. A much-in-demand expert, no doubt, and a well remunerated one.

But the Ottawa school board should take a second look at what he is peddling publicly in their venues and now on state-sponsored media. He foists the moral panic surrounding cyber-bullying, which would include sexting amongst other things, as an essential concern. In our shared generation, when schools cared not a whit about bullying of any kind, it took place everywhere. On and off the school grounds, in the ‘dark sarcasm of the classroom’, and in the malls. On the playing fields, courtesy for the most part from ‘loving’ parents, and in the homes, when bullying your own children with real violence was still a socially accepted norm. His comment regarding ‘no tech at the dinner table’ calls to mind the vacant puritanism of the pater familias. My father had the TV news on throughout dinner, turning the antiquated stand around on its fragile wheels so we could all watch it together; his version of the internet, I suppose. This can be overdone, no doubt, but it did spark semi-educated conversation at the daily family gathering that would not have occurred otherwise, and was a variable in myself and my sister’s chosen vocations. He also advises that parents should be ‘in the vicinity’ when children are on the net. But at the same time he tells us that parents are generally incompetent with regard to technology, and the kids are the ones who are ‘tech-savvy’. Of course,  he also informs us that in homes operated by IT people, this apparently isn’t an issue. Make me laugh. I would if it wasn’t such a serious deadpan.

No, the facts are these: 1. adults run the media; much of it is there to socialize consumer behavior and uncritical acceptance of our current political, educational, and other social institutions. We consume them as well by our very acceptance and use thereof and therein. 2. Children are both social and sexual beings. Ever since Freud’s discoveries, though part and parcel of the Victorian anxiety concerning sexuality in general, we have been liberated by the self-understanding that desire is not itself a sin, though it can produce evil, or if that word offends, at least negative consequences. His naïve comment asking children to ‘please be a kid’ after being on the net suggests the banal nostalgia of the ‘good old days’, which has long been known to be a fantasy itself. Are we then simply to tell our youth that they can only trade fantasy for fantasy? Where, exactly, is the reality in such commentaries as Mr. Davis’ and many other popular writers and speakers?

Let me submit that it lies in the effort to truncate any truly subversive aspects of experience young people might encounter. Some of that is even on the net. Thankfully, a person such as myself and my peers do not have to resort to the so-called ‘dark web’ to express our opinions. Dissidents in many states use this other venue to communicate and even simply to write. The governments of Iran, China and a host of other places force this upon them. But let’s look for a moment at how our own system of checks and balances marginalizes thinking and keeps its characteristic subversion suppressed. ‘Keep it real’, yet another tired tag Mr. Davis utilises, was also used in anti-drug campaigns and the like. Can we please apply it to our politics? Our curricula in our schools – why do schools who teach non-historical and non-factual religious beliefs still have a market, for instance? – and our fantasies about sports. Media coverage of organized professional and even amateur sports (more Olympics, anyone?) outdoes by far any analysis of geo-political issues, the enforced culture of poverty, the structures of capital and any other serious topic one cares to imagine. Boring as hell? That tells us one thing about contemporary socially and institutionally organized existence: it itself is a fantasy.

‘Who benefits?’, that time-honoured sociological question cleverly coined by Robert Merton, could be the very title of a daily news program in the genre of PBS’s Macneil-Lehrer, nightly viewing at the dinner table when  I was growing up. Yes, who benefits and why. It is sage to note that Mr. Davis, an IT expert and private sector consultant lest it be too rapidly forgotten, is himself quick to note that when used ‘properly’, social media is ‘awesome, it’s great.’ Right, oh, like awesome as in ‘The Lego Movie’, got it.

I don’t often take umbrage at what’s going on with this or that hired gun or self-styled expert. There are far too many of them, echoing the ancient Mediterranean penchant for messiahs who were at that time a dime a dozen. Their level of discourse is shallow and unabashedly apologist, often puritanical and almost always nostalgic. They are, in a word, kindred spirits with almost all of our media. The internet, when it is real, expresses the human undertones  that media and its vouchsafes consistently and conveniently remove from view: unscripted sexual desire and violence amongst and between actual people; jealousy as cruel as the proverbial grave projected in status seeking social media posts – how many ‘followers’ does one have is a question that rings itself of messianism – resentment projected at successful commercially attractive persons that shows up in comments sections in sports or entertainment columns and even in part fuels my own editorial today – I do resent the attention paid to uneducated ‘experts’ who walk blithely yet also with a kind of cunning calculation into arenas they seem to have no background in; and other shadowy motifs such as sites expressing the very ethnicism, bigotry, and hate speech that Mr. Davis says parents must protect children from viewing.

Utter nonsense. That is what’s real. Real people do feel this way or that, and we need, more than anything in our troubled times, to understand the reasons for the ongoing presence of all of these feelings that endanger all life on earth. Not exposing our children to these things and working with them daily to explicate them is an exercise in patent irresponsibility. It is unethical, fantasist, and pure laziness besides. It is poor parenting, not good parenting. And the person who makes plain his case that this is what we should be doing is someone who must be interrogated with all due vigilance. In spite of all of this, it remains true that the world is also a beautiful place, and that some small portion of that is due to the human endeavour. Where are the nightly broadcasts of a Mahler symphony, of a tour of the Louvre, of the ongoing revelations of archaeology and astronomy? YouTube will find them. How about that?

 

G.V. Loewen is an internationally recognized student of ethics, education, pedagogy and aesthetics. He was professor of the social sciences for over two decades in both Canada and the United States, and is the author of over thirty books.

The barricades of banality: some streetside thoughts

‘I’d like to think I’m past the age, of consciousness and righteous rage,

I found out just surviving is a noble fight.

I once believed in causes too, I had my pointless point of view

but life went on no matter who, was wrong or right.

  • Billy Joel (1976).

Anarchism in Hamilton of all places? How, well, unCanadian. I’m old enough, sadly, to recall our own coastal version, the so-called Squamish Five – though by Red Army Faction standards we could have called them the ‘Squeamish Five’ – who plotted and planned to no avail regarding the state of society as they saw it. Now who am I to castigate activists of any kind? They’re putting it on the line, whatever one they have drawn in the shifting sands of culture and history, and at least they know they’re in the right, unlike we thinkers, who, though tempted, can never imagine such a thing is so clear and exposed.

This newer cabal refers to themselves as ‘The Tower’. Not made of ivory, no doubt, but perhaps rather the butter made famous in Henry V. Even so, what the group’s Facebook post does say that is difficult to argue with is that we continue to live in a society filled with both inequity and iniquity. Very often the two go hand in hand. The fact that it isn’t illegal to make someone homeless is a scandal to be sure. Not that we should exchange iniquities, however unequal as the case may be, and make it legal to vandalize property in its various forms. We might rather consider acting within the frameworks available to civil persons to alter the egregious forms of our culture that promote incivilities such as evictions based on poverty alone as well as wanton mayhem in the streets.

It is also reasonable sociologically to suggest that all of us are in on the general ‘conspiracy’ to thwart efforts at social reform of seemingly radical tenor and timbre. Shopping at high-end boutiques isn’t my thing – I’ll never be able to afford it and I’m too old to worry about fashion in any case – but we need to remember that of all of us who work in capitalism (i.e. all of us), a scant few work for it. That is, more than uncritically accept it or tolerate it while wishing we could do better and perhaps even be better, but rather in fact those who are zealous acolytes of technological capital to the expense of any other sense of selfhood and society. Even the vast wealth of a Gates or a Buffet is equivocal, and I can guarantee it has done more good in the world than any band of anarchic brothers that has ever existed. Now of course no dyed-in-the-wool revolutionary would think much of someone like myself, a phenomenologist and hermeneuticist, two threads of thought known (unfairly) for their ‘conservative’ stances. Conserving, yes, for there is still much to be gained from reading Plato, Aristotle, and the rest of those ancient fellows in spite of the fact that much of it is also certainly misogynist, xenophobic, and simply factually incorrect. The art of interpretation is precisely doing the work necessary to sort such things out. This kind of work is what Marx and Engels did, for instance.

But to raise the call to arms by making a public nuisance of oneself, by aggravating hard-working fellow citizens, by contributing to costly affairs of restitution, the courts, and rehabilitation is to cheat yourself and your human brethren of the dignity and freedom necessary to engage in the conversation that we are. There are no laws preventing the formation of political parties, NGOs and NPOs that espouse tax reform, rent controls, affordable or even free housing, free education and better funded health care, the banning of violence in the homes or in media, and education in the history of ethical ideas. Not in Canada at least. If ‘The Tower’ operated in Syria we would be less judgemental of them or any other such group. People in such places really lay it on the line, simply because they have to. If any Canadian wants to make our society into a place where we are forced to behave uncivilly to get what we need as human beings then  I for one would stringently, perhaps even illicitly, oppose them. And I’m betting that 999 out of 1000 of my fellow citizens would as well. Maybe more.

At the same time it is also reasonable to suggest that we do little enough to care for our own margins. The fire always starts at home. I’ve had a privileged career and soapbox and I rationalize my own efforts at culture critique as doing ‘what I can’ or what I am suited to. But there is an element of comfort involved, and perhaps what we can take away from the actions in Hamilton is that there also is an Aufklarung to be both rung and heard. It is not merely the responsibility of governments or social movements, anarchist or otherwise, to engage in this call and response. It is rather both our collective and our individual responsibility at once. There are far more of those who work hard and honestly to survive than those who can be cast as shameless profiteers or even sleazy jerks. In a democracy these latter have, theoretically, little power. Perhaps we can try using the laws we do have to make the course corrections we need before abandoning each other at best to the churlish and childish rants of political extremities – the Facebook post mentioned above is actually quite guarded and relatively inoffensive compared to say, much of Fox et al – or at worst to civil war.

It does need be said that violence of any kind in a democratically based civil social organization cannot be sanctioned. The lens that violence casts always doubles back on itself without exposing to the critical light the structures and habitus of the violences, symbolic or otherwise, that organize the thoughts we have, the institutions we work in, the places to which we send our children. This is not an ‘all you need is love’ petition. But the nature of love is such that it can be made to dispute its own self-criterion by the sudden turning away of the other. It takes some time, no doubt, but reason, argument, dialogue and dialectic remain superior in all forms to the abrupt decision of violence and what follows therefrom. To engage in the frustrating, painstaking, and seemingly endless effort of the examined life is part of both the human condition and the condition for humanity to remain a part of the very world it has so wrought.

 

The Bravery of Youth and the Bravado of Firearms

The Bravery of Youth and the Bravado of Firearms: a note on the character of social violence.

The ‘NeverAgain’ and ‘#menext’ movements that have quickly arisen following the latest in a lengthy pedigree of mass murders stateside are a belated response to more than mere gun violence. They are to be commended at every level of society, by every honest and noble human being, but their task is enormous. For violence also exists at every level of society, can consume even the most honest and noble among us, and is part of the character of contemporary humanity as it has been since we have been human. Notwithstanding its primordial character, it is nevertheless not ‘human nature’ to be violent. There is no single human nature, and nature, as we know it in the world apart from we humans, is made up mostly of instinct. There is no human instinct above the bare physiological and base-cortical functioning of the body. As history is the greatest argument against nature – specifically that human, but also in other species given the evolutionary course of natural selection – what passes for social habit changes and thus can be changed. But actually changing it means to confront its fullest traditions and deepest convictions.

Youth are eminently suited to do just that, for they do it, in ways both petty and profound, already everyday. From simple disobedience of so called ‘authority figures’ such as parents and teachers to inventing new forms of art and craft, music and machine alike, young people the world over gradually practice the manner in which they will eventually age and take over the very world they so disdain. But it is precisely through this process of aging out of their youth that the heavier responsibility for caring for the world as it is comes into the foreground, and with this, the frustration, the questions, the anger, and the disbelief in the way things are, in adults’ ways of running the world, gradually dissipate, become dissolute, and ultimately disappear entirely. So the greatest task facing any youthful movement is not simply to overturn this or that law, habit, prejudice, or custom, but rather to maintain its own revolutionary abilities and actions throughout the life-course. Yes indeed, shame on us, we adults, who have given up doing so. When the young leaders of these two new movements – so far mostly social media based – shouted ‘for shame’ at politicians and others responsible for the way things are in the United States today it was an epithet that all of us who are no longer young or yet even young at heart needed to face up to.

It is a shameful thing, amongst other things, that a child cannot go to school and feel safe, concentrate on his or her studies, kindle the humane wonder at the world and through unbridled curiosity and question, unlock the secrets of the wider nature within which all life and non-life alike is ensconced. It is a shameful thing that much of our entertainment culture glorifies violence as a means of negotiating with one’s fellow human, much of it with firearms, on screens everywhere, from film to television to video game. It is a shameful thing that the geopolitical competition amongst nation states is so often premised on deadly violence. It is a shameful thing that in twenty states so-called ‘educators’ can assault young defenseless human beings with weapons under the guise of ‘discipline’, and in all fifty states such is the case in the home, with so-called ‘parents’ at the helm. And it is more than shameful that we do not recognize that all of these settings and the violence that occurs within them are intimately related, for they are.

This is not the place to play the smug Canadian. But it is worth noting that the level of violence up here is far less than due south. The fact that physical discipline has been all but outlawed, that firearms are controlled vigorously though not banned outright, and that per capita acts of violence in Canadian media occur far less than in Hollywood is of some small interest. But these are epiphenomena. The deeper reason that there is a difference between our two closely related nations has to do with the cultural personality and history of the places in question.

I lived for six years in two very marginal, rural areas of the United States. I found great friendship there, I found much love, and Americans came across to me as mainly noble creatures, generous to a fault, refreshingly honest  – you always knew where you stood with your ‘average’ American, like it or not – and most importantly, willing to hear you out. Stating one’s case is part of the ‘American way’, whether in court or on the street, in a church or school, the workplace, or yet under the bed sheets. I did so in all of these contexts many a time. Sometimes I was pilloried and sometimes I was celebrated. I was both demon and angel to my southern cousins and I was called every name in the book, for better or worse. But that was just me doing my job, for which I was fortunate enough to be handsomely paid for a quarter century. The youth who have organized and are pushing forward these two new movements are not being paid. No gun lobby will support them with its powerful networks and wealth, no media lobby with its even more powerful networks and wealth, and no political lobby either. Some parents perhaps, some teachers, some officers of the law. But I think that they know that they’ll be mostly on their own, as all authentic culture critics of any make and mark always are.

Hailing from bygone days, the beginning of a new religion, the self-proclaimed messiah piloting its radical course, represents the ancestor to modern social movements which also must use the language of the unfamiliar to get their point across. To seize this kind of day, when the disgust factor of most people may safely be assumed – who can defend the absolute cowardice of Las Vegas, of Florida, of Sandy Hook etc. etc? – is certainly of the moment. But the moment is, in the end, exactly and only what it is. If young people can organize consistently, act considerately, think constantly, then there may be a chance of success.

Here’s some free advice from a philosopher and professional human scientist: empty the schools and cease consuming violent media until the laws are changed away from the habits of violence. Include in your arc all of the contexts within which violence breeds, including institutionally sanctioned currently legal assaults by adults against your person, commodities such as violent games and films etc., and force all adults to be forthright about their viewpoints. Let them state their case and then evaluate it. Make us provide for the health, safety, and dignity which is your collective birthright. Be ready to compromise when it is reasonable to do so – for instance, it is true that an AR-15 is not necessary to defend one’s home; an old-fashioned .38 special will do just fine, but do not imagine you can ban firearms in your country because only about one-quarter of Americans own them anyway, and for the record, I myself do agree that one should be able to defend against home invasion or wanton personal assault with deadly force if necessary – and be ready, more than anything else, for adults, hiding in our collective shame, to put you down and try to blunt your critique. Don’t let us do that to you. Don’t give in on the basic principle that sociality can change for the better even if we older folks have given up long before.