17 Nov The Benevolent Violence of the New
CHIANG MAI. The thing that I fear is the repetition of sameness in thinking, an ongoing dialectic of conservatism and liberalism. If this election has taught us anything it’s that “thought,” in the sense of a zeitgeist of thinking, had become ossified, enclosed around fixed forms. I’m mostly targeting progressive thinking that had over the past couple of decades stopped progressing and instead—for convenience perhaps, for economics most certainly—accepted and took ownership of the influx of neoliberal and technocratic advances. This is progress for the elite not for the people. And the people acted. Regretfully, for regret is a prevailing mood, the public action gathered around hate. It’s hard to destroy from a place of joy.
This is why philosophy to me is extremely important in an era of Trump. Politics, economics and science deal in dualities, patterns, containers, objects and strategies. Change is always oppositional and reactive within the conventions that have been perfected, as Heidegger, Deleuze and many others have warned us about. Philosophy, meanwhile, is nothing more than the history of thought, and the thought of this age is not yet showing a willingness to change. Like the histories of politics and nations, sometimes a rupture invites an opportunity for a shift. This needs to be the time of a shift forward rather than an entrenchment. I see many people talking of the injustice of the election, but it seems this was a fair election; they speak of a need to consolidate power around the prior/existing structures of contemporary liberalism. This means people are not accepting why Trump occurred, which was a fragmentation of the liberal elite. I believe that if Bernie Sanders was our choice, the rupture would have been positive, and I fear that with Trump the rupture is grounded in negativity and extremism. But Zizek is right, as much as we are resistant to admitting it: there is an open invitation here. It’s just that we cannot see it yet.
If philosophy is the history of thought, then this is the time to give ourselves an era. In doing some research today I came across some interesting words by one of my favorite thinkers, Henri Bergson. He’s usually found in discourses on memory and time, but his resistance to prior conceptual thinking is applicable to this era. His language in today’s connotations may seem odd. He advocates a rupture in thinking that is drawn from one’s “intuition” (not in the hippy sense) and an “intellectual sympathy.” In this, thinking penetrates into a field of potentiality rather than analyzing from a distance. Rather than fixity for contemplation or closures around ideas he wants us to draw ourselves into the mobility of the lived world.
He admits: “This is extremely difficult. The mind has to do violence to itself, has to reverse the direction of the operation by which it habitually thinks, has perpetually to revise, or rather to recast, all its categories.” (Introduction to Metaphysics) While metaphysics/philosophy is his topic, this is an ethical plea. We must resist our own dogmas that fall into existing systems or representations. For him, violence is not negative but rather a breaking into the field of the new.
Perhaps one area in which we can enact such a benevolent violence is in how we obtain information about the events of our world. Currently, fake news is a hot topic. An old way of thinking (classic pragmatism) is to identify a fixed concept (“fake news”) and find a practice, legal or otherwise institutional, to eliminate the problem. This would be like identifying a tumor and surgically removing it, ignoring the lifestyle choices that led to the growth. Fake news is a problem. But the bigger problem is news. Illegitimate sources often spread lies. But “legitimate” corporate media makes a financial killing by continually spreading self-serving truths, indulging in Trump stories while advocating for Clinton’s candidacy (both aspects contribute to their financial interests).
A wider approach is to find a means of breaking the profit motive in media. Instead of buying a subscription to the NYT or other for-profit companies (as John Oliver suggests), and instead of lazily relying on a Google or other aggregator, do a search for non-profit sources and learn what they’re all about. Bookmark and visit them, link to them, talk about them, and perhaps even donate to them. Here are just a few I’ve looked into:
If enough people were more discriminating in their opinion-gathering, we could do violence to the stranglehold of corporate media, which is omnipresent and which is beholden to advertisers, not information, nor the public good.
This is one example of countless fields of availability toward enacting change. Change, real change, is not going to come from falling back into the bloated Democratic party machine. It’s going to come from new pathways of thinking, new ideas and new forms. There is an ethics to our participation; it doesn’t only happen with a vote but happens with a mindset and a courage that creates excitations of newness.
This is the time to create a new era in thinking. It is the best alternative we have to the immanent dangers of hate and repression on one side and bloated rationalism on the other.