Introduction: Regression Analysis Redefined
We live in the time of the world regression. How do we then respond to such a world, wherein what appears to have become the most plausible sensibility is the least sensible, the most probable the least possible? In a word, that time can run backward, that history can fold in on itself, and that culture can regress into, and unto, its childhood, even yet its primordial inexistence. And though such an event in some of its symptoms can be measured statistically, this volume of studies suggests that we redefine the analytic of regression. To do so, we might use the following rubrics:
1. That regression is present any time one desires to base reality upon fantasy, and has thereby lost the ability to distinguish between the two.
2. That regression is present any time nostalgia is in the ascendant, no matter the cultural thematics or personalist narratives involved.
3. That regression is present whenever childhood, a mere phase of life, is exalted as both innocent and yet also wise at once.
4. That regression is present if and when youth and its experiences, once again, a brief phase in human existence, are negatively sanctioned, limited, mocked, or bullied.
5. And most importantly, when history is itself understood as the handmaiden of myth, and thus its auto-teleology is aborted, regression is the source of this inauthenticity.
The exaltation of childhood, the disdaining of youth, the disbelief in reality through ‘anti-science’, the dismantling of history through ideology, the inability to discriminate between fantasy and the world as it is – perhaps observed most popularly in our entertainment fictions and more darkly, in our moral panics – and, most insipidly, the inveigling of a marketeering that plays upon our personal desires to re-attain lost youth or yet childhood in the form of generational nostalgia in fashion, popular music, and once again, emerging from the shadows, in mores and norms, is the source of the world-crisis today. ‘I want to return our education system to about 1930’, says Dennis Prager, the billionaire founder of PragerU, a private sector purveyor of fantasist school curricula, ‘but without all the bad stuff’. Which would be? The only thing that comes to mind that would perhaps be better would be textual literacy – more people read books a century ago than today; but at the same time we must ask, what kind of books? – but this too would have to be oriented to other more contemporary forms, such as that digital, in order for it to be salutary to literacy in general. This is but a single example of hundreds globally, which would include populist and nationalist movements in politics, ethnic-based religious affiliations and churches, charter schools based upon ethnicity feigned or historical, government policies that pander to the neuroses of otherwise absent parents, and so on. Let us recast as questions each of the five points listed above, which designate types of regressive presence.
1. How can one distinguish between what is real and what is non-real?
The irreal is a third form of general human experience which occurs only when something ‘irruptive’, an event or a presence which breaks into waking reality as if one suddenly and momentarily dreamed awake, makes itself known. These kinds of experiences are rare and we, in our modernity, no longer interpret them in the traditional mode of the visionary or the religious-inspired presence. That they continue to occur sporadically is certainly of interest, given that the cultural matrix which might be seen to have generated them in the first place is long lost. This phenomenological concept can serve us in a different manner today: anything that tends to hitch itself up to the authentically irruptive but is not itself irreal is fantasy, pure and simple. The difference between Israel and Zion is a current example of a political attempt to base a modern nation-state on a legendary construct. Similar historical examples abound: Victorian England’s smittenness with Arthurian Britain, given ideological, that is, unhistorical, literacy by Mallory; The Second and Third Reichs’ genuflections directed to Nordic mythos, given artistic transcendence, but equally non-historical this time, by Wagner. Is there now a Zionist composer or children’s author about?
2. Why do our desires for youthfulness take on a nostalgic formula?
Mostly for market purposes, childhood and youth are extended far beyond their phase of life appropriateness. It may well be that the reappearance of neoconservative or even neo-fascist norms regarding child-raising and the curtailing of youthful desire and wonder are the result of simple economics; the market targeting the only people with non-responsible disposable income coupled with the general lack of control over anything but consuming by which children and youth are characterized. In this sense, youth consumption is no different from anorexia; a simple attempt to exert agency in an otherwise adult world. Even if this is the case, however, such regressions are no less than evil, as they strike at the heart of what makes youth profound. Hazlitt, writing at the time when ‘youth’ itself was a novel concept, is correct when he states that youth’s very lack of experience is what makes it not only a unique period of human existence, but also gives it its patent sense of wonder, wanderlust, desireful passion, and naïve compassion all at once. From our first love to our first knowing brush with death, such events appear once again to be irruptive, so filled with wonder are they. The very absence of the human irreal in mature being prompts a regressive desire to ‘return’ to our salad days, green not so much with envy but with a desperate melancholic anxiety.
3 and 4. How is it possible that the absence of experience generates wisdom?
It isn’t. If experience can sometimes harden our biases, turning us into ironic bigots, it also has the power to banish prejudice and for all time. Akin to the jaded hypostasy that suffering makes one insightful – for the artist this may be true in some cases, for the rest of us, suffering produces primarily misery, secondarily, resentment, even ressentiment – lack of temporally adjudicated biographical experience in a life is, writ small, the lack of historical consciousness in a culture. What adults are reacting to in the child-mind is a naivety that appears to make suffering blissful; if only we could manage to bracket the world so easily! And what we are reacting to in the mind of the youth is the ability to dare to question the world as it is. Now this second aspect of the illusion of the absence of experience is an excellent tutor, if only we adults would take it up with all due seriousness. Instead, we seek to limit the questions of youth just as we limit youth’s ability to express its phase-of-life’s essential characters; wonder, desire, passion, romance, and most importantly, its rebellion against authority. If we merely took the last facet of the youthful gem and lived it, leaving the other more phantasmagorically inclined imagery behind us where it belongs, we would be by far the better for it.
5. How do we attain an ‘effective historical consciousness’?
The phrase is Gadamer’s, and points to a kind of working pragmatics that, in its ‘fusion of horizons,’ generates Phronesis, or practical wisdom. One simple way to approach a sophisticated state of being is to recall to ourselves the how-to skills associated with a specific material task, such as fixing something around the house or cooking a meal, a project in the workplace or helping a child with their studies. These are aspects of a consciousness directed ad hoc, or to some specific task or object. They are also the stuff of Weber’s ‘rational action directed towards a finite goal’. Finite goal agency is, in turn, a manner of thinking about the self: I am an actor who needs to get from here to there – what do I need to do to accomplish this movement? The process by which I do so, whatever its content, is a temporal one, but one that belies its own historicity due to its intense focus on what is at hand. Nevertheless, time has passed, and a small part of one’s own personal history has been acted out. Now think of species-being in History as a form of agentive action directed to specific, if various, series of goals. This can not only provide some inspiration in anxious times, when once again, the mythic apocalypse is being contrived as an overlay upon very material conflicts regarding resources and their distribution, it can also give us, as individuals, the sense that what we do matters within the wider cultural history of which we are a part.
Finally, the redefined regression analysis (RRA), differs from demythology in that it cannot take place through art. It is an aspect of critical and reflective thought alone. Its effect may be equally disillusionary, but its means must stay analytic, never adopting either the allegorical or the agenda narrative. It also differs from a deontology, which is to be seen more as another effect therefrom rather than a source method. Demythology is an anti-transcendentalist critique that is perhaps best performed in art, deontology similarly in philosophy, but RRA in the sciences, and specifically in the human sciences, their critical allies.
This volume of essays, both popular and scholarly, is dedicated to redefining the analysis of regression in all its forms. It does so at a time when we are witnessing a worldwide regression, the psyche of which is desperate, anxious, and fearful, all of the very weakest aspects of our shared human character. Instead of giving in to those base impulses, grasp rather the more noble cast of compassionate critique, both in your own life and in the life of the world itself.
The following two articles first appeared in edited form in peer-reviewed journals which are now defunct. They are reprinted here in their original state for the first time.
2011v ‘On Distinguishing Between Criticism and Critique in the Light of Historical Consciousness’, in Journal of Arts and Culture Volume 2, #3, Nov. 2011. Pp. 71-78 dc. ISSN 0976-9862
2012v ‘Is there Hermeneutic Authenticity in Pedagogical Praxis?’ in Journal of Education and General Studies, volume 1 #8, July 2012. Pp. 180-187 dc ISSN 2277-0984