In Defense of Pornography as a Theater of Human Freedom

Senator aims to curb ‘violent’ porn, pitches mandatory age verification for online sites | CBC News

In Defence of Pornography as a Theatre of Human Freedom

            In the Mad-TV satire ‘What Men Want’, a woman steps into the original Mel Gibson role as the gender-reversed script ambles along its expected course, this time with the woman being able to hear the men’s innermost thoughts in her own head. The answer is simple, and in one scene, where the narrator says farewell to her dying grandfather, she intones: ‘I’ll miss you grandpa’. He replies, ‘I’ll miss you too, sweetie – (then silently) But not as much as I’ll miss porn!’. For men in particular this could be interpreted as a ‘me too’ moment, but however that may be, I will argue in the following why society as a whole might well miss pornography and erotica more than we may at first imagine.

            My experience with pornography-erotica, call it what you will, tells me I am consuming an aspect of base culture. As theatre, mostly plotless and with acting culled from an underground high school yearbook activity, it receives a solid ‘D’ rating. As sex itself, it is dull, stereotyped, unimaginative and attempts to win one over – whatever that may entail – with grandstanding (mostly) youth showing off. It is no surprise that, as with athletics, anything that so intensely involves the body as a physical vehicle should be the basic preserve of youth. And sadly, in our society, this is mostly what youth have to offer; their pristine and charming physiques. Pornography is in all aspects juvenile, from its representations of youth by those far older to its motives. It is at source about money and not about sex, so it is also essentially dishonest. Given this, why defend it at all?

            Though it cannot be defended as an aesthetic object, I suggest that it must be defended as an ethical one. At first, this seems a contradiction. While art is likely the highest expression of human freedom, attaining a status that transcends even history by communicating perennial truths of the human condition to and from diverse periods and variations thereof, the portrayal of sexuality alone speaks at best only of desire and passion. What is missing in pornography is the Gestalt of humanity; its passions, some certainly present, but also its compassions, which are wholly absent; its desires yes, but also alongside, its anxieties. It is therefore also not an ethical ‘object’. But what pornography does contain is a potent ethical objection to the self-imposed limitations we humans have a tendency to exert upon ourselves and others. Working from the simple premise that if thine eye offends thee, pluck it out – turn off the e-device but only for thine own self – any ethical objection to that which serves to place social norms and institutional orders into perspective must be applied first to one’s own self-understanding. As soon as it attempts to dictate what others shalt or shalt not do it strays over the line of ethics and into the space of fascism. And this is precisely the line that any call for the policing of the viewing of pornography based on age-related limits is doing.

            Creeping fascism always plays the same tired game, and it is astonishing that, given recent history, we are still attracted to it. ‘I’m not trying to shut the porn industry down, I’m only trying to protect our children.’ In Canada, anyone twelve years old and above is legally entitled to have actual sex. There are a few reasonable age restrictions between twelve to fifteen, but the principal is clear. Youth (12-17) is its own category under Canadian law, as distinct from children (2-11). The fact that youth are no longer subject to being forced into surrogate sex with adults through corporal punishment underscores this separation. France remains a rare European country that has not banned this practice, so is it surprising that it is one country cited in the above article that seeks to ban viewing of sexual material by minors? For the French, apparently, youth are to remain sexual objects in the service of adults and can have little or no sexual agency of their own. Canadians are better than that, and by ‘better’, I mean, more ethical. The call to criminalize youth sexuality is both a regression and an expression of adult ressentiment specifically against the hard fact of the loss of our own youth and the future of humanity more generally. But by calling attention to the nostalgic and altogether deliberately naïve idea that young people are somehow not sexual beings and need to be ‘protected’ from sexuality until they are eighteen, the fascist attempts to take on the guise of guardian angel. ‘Save the children!’ He cries, from themselves, from evil adults, from evil itself!

            Anyone who agrees with this kind of suggestion is committing the ethical error of projecting one’s own vain desires onto young persons. Pornography too exhibits these desires – ‘discipline’ sites are the most obvious expression thereof; why else would we be attracted to the idea that youthful looking actors should portray the very minors we are supposedly seeking to protect? Why would such roles always be those that require such discipline: physical, sexual, and political? – and in so doing it provides young people with an important insight: we adults want to harm you because you represent all that we have lost, including beauty, guilelessness, openness, and spirit. We might even hate you, but alas, direct hate crime is already illegal in Canada and thus we must express our dark passions in another way: limit your freedom, your sexual liberation, your mischievous fun. Portray you as disobedient pests who, if you can no longer be beaten in reality, at least you can be allegorized as being beaten in virtuality. Just so, to suppress your knowledge of how we actually think of you is one of the core reasons for banning youth access to pornography.

            All fascists fear exposure of their true desires. These include ultimate control and the possession of a singular authority. They too know God is dead, but unlike more modest persons, they’re quite willing to fill in with the hope of making it a permanent situation. Hence the real ‘creeps’ in our society are not so much the relatively rare on-line child ‘groomers’ or molesters but rather the much less rare closet fascist who shows us just enough flesh so that we are distracted from noting the bones in behind him. He always begins with seemingly the most reasonable premise and this ‘foot in the door’ technique is also dishonest: ‘our children are vulnerable’ (And why so? Because we tend to control and baby them beyond their years lived). He uses seemingly reasonable analogies which turn out to be spurious: ‘films have limited access’ (In public only. Anyone can view an R-rated film without the fear of invasive criminalization in private and internet viewing is always already in private). He leaves out his true demands: ‘I’m only talking violent porn, here’ (in age-restricting porn sites you lose access to all porn, not just the minor percentage of it that might qualify as ‘violent’). He represents himself as reasonable: ‘I know this is a delicate topic’ (So was the so-called Jewish Question). The limits which are in place walk the actually delicate line between impinging upon hard-won and truly fragile democratic freedoms and the advice of child development experts and discourses: here’s some warnings and judge accordingly; some children might be disturbed by this or that material, others not, or yet some parents themselves might be warned off. Indeed, if I were to support age-restrictions on sexual material I would place them between the ages of 12 and 40. Anyone under or over those ages would not be permitted to view it. On the one hand because, according to the American Psychiatric Association, childhood ends at age 12 in important and specifically sexual ways – their definition of pedophilia, for instance, runs as ‘having a prurient interest in children under twelve’ – and on the other, mature adults need to focus on saving the planet and its life, including one another. Enough distraction, enough fantasy. Pornography is an education, of sorts, and it is at best trite to state that reality and fantasy are seldom the same thing. The world is in the shape it is in not because youth cannot distinguish between the two of them. Ask yourself why it took a sixteen year old with a disability to call our wider attention to the climate crisis? Ask your very much adult stockbroker, financier, captain of industry, or wonder of wonders, politician, why it wasn’t they who provided such an alert, amongst others. And then we can ask why yet other adults willingly take on the role of domineering Lydias – a role that is, with ironic relish, only barely admissible within the fantasy of discipline-oriented pornography – intent on correcting our bad habits without respect to our freedoms. An educative pornography might well include titles such as the all too obvious ‘Handmaid’s Tail’ by Marguerite Göttwood, in which such self-proclaimed defenders of ‘morality’ can bare yet more of their sorry selves.

            If one wanted to construct a genuine ethical argument against the decoys of contemporary social life, pornography included, I would be the first to entertain it. It would first have to outline the activities sanctioned by society that distract us from both the existential profundity of human life as well as the future of our collective existence. These are: organized sports (ironically a ‘must’ for youth, supposedly), all non-critical entertainment fictions and video games (Atwood not included), erotica/pornography, holidays both consumer and religious – and, speaking of reality and fantasy, is it really the case that we can distinguish such days? – conspiracy ‘theories’ of all kinds, obsessions with speculative, if, in principle interesting, topics such as extraterrestrial intelligence and ‘paranormal’ events, and the like. At the top of such a list of unethical attempts to divert our attention from serious global conditions would be our neurotic compulsion to rationalize our resentment of youth.

            If made, such an argument would be valid across the ethical board. But the message we send to both present-day youth and future society alike is that we, bereft of both conscience and foresight, have instead opted to suppress the curiosity, the spirit, the very existential verve of young people who, robbed of their nascent capacity to think for themselves through schools, media, and portions of the legal apparatus perhaps to be extended, will be unable to avoid the very fate we have already set out for them. This satisfies us as well, for it will not be we ourselves who have to live in the denuded future of a well-raped Earth. Youth will pay simply for being young.

            The call to limit youthful experience of the world in any way, no matter how juvenile the material or knowledge, only adds to the sense that we have given up on an ethical human future. Shutting it down ahead of time, exerting a pre-emptive strike against the coming freedom of world youth, is the evil privilege of adulthood. And adults are, in fact, old enough to know that we either use it or lose it. We betray our truer selves as maliciously resentful oversized children in its use.

            Social philosopher G.V. Loewen is the author of over forty books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, and more recently, metaphysical adventure fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for two decades.

Learning how to be Properly Anxious

Learning How to be Properly Anxious

Anxiety proper is part of our core being, just as is care, resoluteness, and the ‘being-ahead’ which orients us to the future and our own singular finitude. It must be separated from anxieties, plural, which have to do with the concerns of the day. It is an alert mechanism, can initiate the call of conscience, and mediates between the unconscious surreal language of dreams and the like and our conscious self-understanding. It is the personal ‘effectiveness’ of historical consciousness insofar as it can be relied upon to make us more aware of our present situation.

Just as an existential analysis prefers the present in understanding the state of being, the consciousness of ‘Dasein’ – being-there or being-in-the-world –  and its possible entanglements, so does any phenomenology of the altered perceptions anxieties, remorsefulness, and nostalgia brings about within Dasein. But what is the present, after all? It cannot be summed explicitly, for any attempt to do so, somewhat proverbially, takes us into the realm of reflection upon something that has already occurred. Danto suggests that we live in a ‘posthistorical’ period because we no longer possess a ‘narrative of the present’ (cf. 1993:138), but I think also in part this sensibility subsists because of a sensitivity we maintain regarding the ‘just before’ or the beforehand. Such a sensitivity is also ironically present and maintains its presence in part because of the prevalence of both anxieties and nostalgias in our social world. Not enough remorse, to be sure, but otherwise a fair display of remorsefulness, for the benefit of others and the looking-glass selfhood. If anxieties are distractions, they at least have the merit of drawing our attention to an ad hoc concernfulness which might lead to the more authentic variety. But nostalgia is just plain ugly. Even so, just as there may be no beauty to be discovered either by science or philosophy, (cf. Heidegger 1992:152 [1925]), we cannot simply rest with such a casual judgment upon what appears as its opposite. And if the social world is often ugly, the world itself is not. Nor is it, as the supposedly heroic thinker or scientist  might imagine, ‘apathetic’ (cf. Binswanger 1963:171). Though Lucas speaks here of the lost moments of ‘personalist idealism’, including most famously that of Lotze, it is in principle better to have one’s thought ‘examined and refuted’ rather than simply fading away to be mentioned only in arcane and advanced histories of one’s respective vocation (cf. 1993:112). This kind of apathy we can ill afford. Better to restate and defend the idea that “…all modes of human existence and experience believe they are apprehending, something of the reality of being, in the sense of truth, and do so, indeed, in accordance with their own proper ‘forms of reason’, which are not replaceable by or translatable into other forms.” (Binswanger, loc. cit:173, italics the text’s). Binswanger is lauded by Fromm-Reichmann, who states that the former applauds the ‘constructive aspect of anxiety’, and the ‘tension aroused’ in a person who is determined therefore and thereby to ‘face the task set by the universe’, the universal task and the ‘action’ that is called forth by it (1960:139 [1955]). This is itself resoluteness guided by care. It is not only authentic to the Dasein it is how Dasein must needs ‘apprehend’ the world. One must beware the ‘temporalization of counterconcepts’ so that one does not ‘abolish’ otherness (cf. Koselleck 1985:165 [1969]), and phenomenology is not immune to such ‘temporal loading’ in its exploration of the reciprocity of perspectives. It may also be the case that entropy itself, seemingly non-reciprocating and ‘one-way’ is neither isolated or of course, ‘perpetual’ (cf. Horwich 1988:65). Nostalgia attempts to arrest entropy inasmuch as it desires to do the same for history. Remorse does so in a more ’subjective’ manner, whilst everyday anxiety disregards the temporality of the act and thus hamstrings our own ability to both react and to take the kind of action resolute being must engage in.

But all of this is given the lie by an examination of our shared condition and the experience thereof and therein. Part of our existence is ‘strange’, is even strangeness itself, since we are the sole creature known to have lost our ‘nature’, in both the sense that we are no longer apart of the wider natural realm as well as seemingly having departed from any sense that we can come home to ourselves in a manner bereft of culture or cultures. As Puech suggests, the presence of this sense of Ungeheuer tells us that we have not always been what we are at present (cf. 1957:73 [1951]). But what is revealed by this disconnect is our ability to ‘have conscience’, to ‘choose the presupposition of being of itself’, or more simply, ‘choose itself’ (cf. Heidegger, loc. cit:319). Running along towards death, this ‘forerunning’ is in fact “…the choice of willing to have conscience.” (ibid). This is a momentous discovery. Not only does it allow human reason to engage in itself, it contravenes and stands against all forms of entanglement and regression. Its ‘care’ does not stand for it, and thus it becomes resolute. It may not be “…the final trace of the ontological proof of God…” (Adorno, op. cit:133), but it most certainly is the core of being human as well as the ethical essence of becoming humane. The call of conscience is a reveille that enacts Anxiety proper. We do not at once care, but we can do so given the Aufklärung that is at once an enlightenment. Just as all great art begins in scandal, so “The law of scandal answers the law of the ‘false consciousness’.” (Ricoeur, op. cit:281). The scandal of art, of thought, even its evil, according to convention at least, must be present as a manifestation of Anxiety proper and as a bulwark, chiding, mocking, satiring, but most of all, critiquing, anything that would backslide into a regressed state; nostalgia, remorsefulness or regretfulness, and the decoy of anxieties. It too does not rest with a pedigree that culminates in an origin myth. Archaeology exposes what is left of the truth of things, both psychoanalytically if taken within the fullest light of the recent, as well as more literally; the history of humanity as buried but still grounded nonetheless. These spaces, subterranean and occlusive, are indeed what contemporary art, in all of its scandal, represents: “If modern art is characterized by the disintegration of external reality and an activation of the transpersonal psychic world, it becomes understandable that the artist should feel a compulsion to depict the powers in their own realm…” (Neumann 1957:31 [1950]). This is a kind of externalized ‘disposition’, a finding of Dasein in its own being and in its ‘own there’ (cf. Heidegger, loc. cit:255). The psychic realm is often unobservable in any direct fashion. Aside from jokes and linguistic ‘slips’, dreams known only to the sleeper, and other faux pas, art is the most potent expression of a shared subjectivity which has overcome the bonds of an also shared subjection. In literature, the new mythos evolves in a similar manner: “Once the hero is no longer an innocent child, but a young adult fighting for values not yet socially accepted, the plot can finally dispense of its fairy-tale-judicial framework.” (Moretti 1987:215). Such values can of course ‘become nonsense and even outrage’, “…but it also forces us to seek a new meaning, to revive our scale of values.” (Dardel 1960:587 [1958]). This is, by definition, the necessary counterpunch to any form of regression: “…that the experience of loss of self and loss of the sense of subject-object relations is a loss of a certain kind of anxiety generated self-consciousness; it is a creative rather than a regressive movement.” (Fingarette 1960:576 [1958]). This is obviously more than the acceptance and even slight fatalism suggested by Shaw’s famous quip regarding ‘making the family skeletons dance’ (cf. Erikson, op. cit:41). In fact “It is not an anxious interrogation on our discouraging historicity, on our way of living and sliding along in time, but rather a reply to this ‘historical’ condition – a reply through the choice of history…” (Ricoeur, op. cit:25).

The outcome of this ‘choice’ is crucial, for we can choose an end due to the wrong means, or one can reverse the two of them, or yet engage in tasks that make them seem co-extant or even identical. Unethical means are said to ethically affect the end, as well as perhaps more logistically, effect it. But unethical ends that look like means are surely the more dangerous: “One wants to break free of the past: rightly, because nothing at all can live in its shadow, and because there will be no end to the terror as long as guilt and violence are repaid with guilt and violence; wrongly, because the past that one would like to evade is still very much alive.” (Adorno 1998:89 [1963]). So the hero, the being who is still young but may be socially considered an adult even so, must not only root out what is hidden in her inherited world, but must hide herself within that world as if it were both cloak and cape at once. The ‘when and how’ of means and ends within this quest may not even be visionary or epic, allegorical or mythic, or all of these at once. They may exact their truth of both departure and terminus in the smallest moments of self-realization, of a Dasein which cares with each step of its being. There will always be resistance, but most heroic quests do not involve the ‘Worldcraft’ of a total transfiguration. And if it is in the very ‘nature of crises’ to go unresolved, at least for an indeterminate amount of time, what cannot be predicted as a future outcome knows still that such a crisis will itself end, one way or another. (cf. Koselleck 1988:127 [1959]). And we also know that “In the form of memory and hope, for example, past and future consist in the fact that something other than natural change takes place in the now, namely, reflection.” (Lampert 2012:87). And finally, as Wood reminds us, though judgments may emanate out of both recollection and retrospection, the ‘horizon they celebrate is that of the future’ (1989:89). We have in fact overcome something, mostly ourselves, no doubt, but also a piece of the world of action and the world that has engaged us to ourselves engage in inertia-defying action. Our heroine may make a fool of herself during her quest, and this is indeed inevitable, but its necessity rests as well upon the perception of the others to whom she must communicate the new tables of value: “The spontaneous, unreflecting attitude of the young fool enables him to maintain himself in the heart (center) of time.” (Wilhelm 1957:222 [1950]). Certainly, one must ‘accept one’s life’ in order to exercise a ‘genuine freedom in the present’ (cf. Shabad, op. cit:124), but equally so, the ‘anxiety about remaining normal’ must be overcome, overleapt, even transcended (cf. Canguilhem, op. cit:286). Indeed, “The menace of disease is one of the components of health.” (ibid:287). For a society, the menace of insurrection, subversion, scandal and yes, even evil, are necessary features that youth, especially, bring to the historicity and facticity alike of both being and world. The ‘sociality’ of this mediative limen, that which must be crossed – in the sense of ‘no crossing at this point’ versus the heroine’s ‘don’t tread on me’ – is a fulfillment on the order of the momentous forerunning.

Dasein, before its own completion, has itself completed the death of an aspect of its world (cf. Heidegger 1962:288 [1927]). It is specifically through such heroic deeds that the Dasein becomes ‘ripe before its death’ (ibid). It is ontologically the case that ‘No one can take the Other’s dying from him’ (ibid:284). Why would we care to? The hero ‘dies’ before ‘his time’ in this way. He has taken his own death and run into it well before the horizon of the future has made its final approach. This is, subjectively, a scandal, but objectively, so to speak, an evil. It is the ‘art of dying’, the celebration of life at its most ripe. This fruit is sweet beyond words, and no aftertaste lingers to sully its sweetness. Since Dasein’s only ‘experience with death’ is as a ‘Being with Others’, (cf. ibid:281), this is ‘objectively’ the case for Dasein as well. But this is still not an experience of one’s ownmost death and can never be. To experience this one must become the hero first, to live as Anxiety and as the apprehending, while maintaining a disentangled being, for of course, the whole impetus to scandalous revolution and thence transfiguration is the realization that one is a prisoner, a slave, a servant, a maiden. It is a human realization because slavery is a human institution, a way of organizing our relationships and no one else’s. Just so, the ‘false consciousness’ that pervades species slavery is answered by ‘the law’ of a scandal that appears evil. But in fact it is beyond both good and evil at once, for it has acted consciously, perhaps for the first time: “Truth does not emanate from ‘the nature of things’; it requires a decree of the mind, a decision about life that runs a risk in order to partake of the truth.” (Dardel, op. cit:591). This risking is not only apparent in hermeneutically inclined dialogue, but in every ‘having of’ a new experience in an equally hermeneutic sense. The newness of this experience is a microcosm of revolution, just as every thought enacted and reflected outside the boundedness of the conventional and the slavish sensitivity to change is also radical to what has been. Anxiety proper overtakes anxieties plural, and the remorse momentarily present at the loss of the old life is itself overcome by resoluteness. There is no turning back, but there is also no need to do so. It is the very essence of the human adventure to leave all things behind it and to engage in all things that come to it, no matter their character. Only through this does the human character itself emerge and make the history which is its own. Here, the last word belongs appropriately to Kierkegaard (op. cit:255) himself: “I will say this is an adventure that every human being must go through – to learn to be anxious in order that he may not perish either by never having been in anxiety or by succumbing to anxiety. Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.”

G.V. Loewen is the author of over thirty books in ethics, education, social philosophy and social psychology, religion and aesthetics.

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.