Laugh & Do Nothing
- When we have a discussion with someone of an opposing view and no progress is made, progress can be made in the study of human nature. I'm supposed to learn, assuming the problem is not in me, what is wrong with the other guy that gets in the way of understanding. That's how it is supposed to be.
- If you say so.
- I'm speaking hypothetically. What I find in practice is that if, for example, I talk with someone who thinks we're all selfish and what we say to each other is only a tool to getting what we selfishly want, even the most incisive arguments, presented with the most joyful satire, will accomplish nothing. Have you had the experience, even once, of talking to someone of opposing views and witnessing any understanding of what you say?
- Me either. The TV comedian Jon Stewart says satire makes an audience feel better, is cathartic, but changes nothing, has no political effect.* Noam Chomsky likewise has an audience in the millions. In response to questions about his politics, he will answer that an anarchist organization of society is desirable. He is careful though to say he doesn't considering himself an anarchist, but rather a 'fellow traveler', that is, not someone who aims at any practical realization of his ideas.
- You put Chomsky and Stewart and the selfish money-maker all in one class?
- Chomsky and Stewart undoubtedly are very smart guys. And selfishness being the highest ideal and the greatest good in life is laughably stupid. It excludes absolutely everything that makes life worth living. It excludes even the value of truth of its own statement, since it is composed for utility, not applicability to the world. But...
- But what?
- Stewart's satire, Chomsky's philosophy, attempt to clarify a world which, despite all the talk, they make no effort, have no plan, to change. How does such a world look to these critical speakers?
- I wouldn't want to speak for them.
- The cynical moneymakers will tell you that the truth of the world is everyone is selfish. They live lives of strict logic, doing anything required, without stop, to make money, but behind that strict logic is the "reality" of a whole world of selfishness, an unexamined, amorphous world.**
- And for Chomsky and Stewart the world they criticize and make fun of is equally formless? And that is why there is no change? I don't see it.
- Slavoj Zizek, another big talker with a large audience who changes nothing, likes making ridiculous comparisons. The augmented reality Pokomon, where a cartoon character is superimposed on the real world the game is played in, he associates with Hitler's "game" of exterminating the Jews. The incomprehensible quantum mechanical world he compares to video games which have only facades programmed in: god, he says, did the same with our world, never thinking we'd get beyond the facade of the atom.
- I don't think that is too funny.
- In both jokes an artificial world sits on top of an undescribed, perhaps meaningless lower world.
- And that is like how the player of the money making game sits on top of the world of the selfish.
- Assuming you're right, is there any way to get through to people who are telling logical stories against the background of meaninglessness?
- For that world to be meaningful to others wouldn't it have to be lived in by you?
- Everyone lives in the world.
- Does the money maker speak the truth, that is, is he living in the world, when he says that everyone is always selfish when that statement can not, if it is honestly spoken, that is, is selfish, be intended to establish a true relation to the world?
- So Chomsky and Zizek and the selfish money-maker alike all three establish no logical connection to the world that is subject to their critical attention.
- Let's pretend Chomsky starts talking about taking back the riches the extremely wealthy have acquired through crime and corruption of government officials. What, besides putting his life and career in danger, would he accomplish? Would he suddenly get through to people who before wouldn't listen?
- Only maybe?
- Chomsky and Stewart and Zizek in his own clowning way do a good job setting up a reassuring logic against the threatening, seemingly unalterable confusion of the world. How is someone who has a different set of logic and confusion supposed to take them? Simply trade in their, for example, money-making/selfishness couple for Chomsky and Zizek's logical/meaningless world couples?
- And if Chomsky and Zizek take steps to do something?
- Then the amorphous world vanishes, replaced by a human being with human nature trying to do something reasonable.
- And that display of human nature will get through to the money-maker in his world of selfishness?
- It might.
The Juice Media
* Emma Goldman reports hearing in the 1890s about free speech in England that if it had any effect it wouldn't be allowed. See: 'Living My Life'.
** See Hans Jonas, 'Philosophical Aspects of Darwinism': "The combination of necessity and contingency seems paradoxical. The first obvious aspect of the universe in the modern scientific scheme was indeed the strict rule of causal law, in the function and consequently also in the genesis of things, and this seems rather to exclude any kind of contingency from nature. It certainly does exclude contingency in the sense of accidents outside the law. In another sense, however, the modern causal scheme is the very principle of an overall contingency of existence as such, insofar as the necessity here operating is external for any given entity within its pluralistic setting and does not proceed as an autonomous law of becoming from its intrinsic nature. Nor does it proceed from a transcendent plan, in the comprehensive design of which the particular things and their destinies are integrated. Rather is the necessity that of the sum total itself in the interaction of its parts, each of which contributes its quantity and is itself determined by the distribution of quantities around it. Though everything in this interaction is governed by causal law, the resulting formations are metaphysically contingent: none fulfills a particular end of reality, there-being no intrinsic preference in reality for this rather than another outcome of the arithmetic of interrelated quantities. External necessity of the summative type is therefore the corollary to the most radical contingency of every particular existence. Some initial conditions being different, the solar system would not exist or would be otherwise than it is, and the completeness of nature as an equilibrium-system would be none the worse for it. 'Necessity plus contingency' can be most simply expressed here by saying that there is the complete concourse of causes but no reason for the system as it happens to exist."
- I saw you threw in a footnote to our talk.
- What about it?
- It suggests to me all kinds of ideas.
- Let's here them.
- All of them?
- I have time.
- First then: the criticism offered by Chomsky, Stewart, and Zizek which you claim fails to have any effect on the world because, ridiculous as it sounds, they describe a logical world that borders on a darkness. In the footnote you added to the written version of our talk, a text from Hans Jonas, science is said to be in a similar condition, troubled by a similar darkness: why nature has the laws it has and not others we don't know, nor whether it will continue to have the same laws, nor whether there is any purpose to its having laws at all. Science does not show us nature proceeding with an autonomous law of becoming from its intrinsic nature.
- Our sense of ourselves does include a belief we proceed from an autonomous law of becoming from our intrinsic nature. We have souls. We develop habits, have memories, desires, fantasies, dreams, make plans. Science can research the movements of one kind of thing in response to the movements of another kind of things. It doesn't have access to soul, to what proceeds as an autonomous law of becoming from its intrinsic nature, only individuals do. Now here is my second point: it seems to me neoliberalism attempts to put science back together with what it has no access to, the darkness of the soul, by including in political logic recognition of dark operations that cannot be touched.
- Soul ought to have its place in political arrangements despite its being opaque to science.
- Yes. The 19th century let in the darkness of the soul to an economics that said to governments: "Hands off our darkness! Our free market! Somehow, and only in this way, our economic logic of universal selfishness is going to, deep in the alchemy of the soul's darkness, be converted to universal benefit."
- But I ask you, how did we end up with creatures like Chomsky, Stewart, and Zizek modeling their personal lives on 19th century economic science and its darkness of the soul?
- They followed the path of least resistance. Study and humor are rewarded, dissenting action strongly punished.
- And their criticisms are completely ineffective because...?
- Because their lives instruct their audiences: "Do as I do, not as I say. I don't have to spell out to you the consequences if you take my words seriously."
- Spell them out for me.
- "Unwilling in the economic daylight of logical pursuit of desire to knife in the back the other economic murderers before they knife you? Then you'll have to be always responding to economic demands outside yourself, autonomous law of becoming from intrinsic nature made impossible, so creativity impossible. You'll be living your life in the darkness of the soul, and you're not going to like it. Your future will be poverty, isolation, and depression."
- In form of life and practice, Chomsky, Stewart, Zizek are neoliberals. What about in personal economics?
- Check out their bank accounts. And now my last idea, really the most amusing. Neoliberalism began with a "hands off our darkness"; our three critics, seeking their own neoliberal fortune, kept their hands off but couldn't keep their mouths shut. But no matter. Neoliberalism has adapted. Before what happened in the dark made sure everyone benefited from everyone's selfishness. Now what happens in the dark makes sure changing the daylight economic logic will only make everything worse: "There is no alternative."
There Is An Alternative