Publisher’s note: Consciousness and Revolt was originally published as a book in 2012. Now out of print [see Author’s Note], this revised and freshly edited version – Edition Three – revitalizes R.C. Smith’s original arguments. We offer the text of Edition 3 in full, online and for free.
By R.C. Smith
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Fundamental Philosophical Problem
1.1 Humanity’s Philosophical Dilemma 1
1.2 To ‘Scrutinize This Life in its Estranged Form’ 10
An Introduction to Anxiety and the Act
2.1 Capitalism as Religion 24
2.2 The Dawn of Evasion 35
2.3 Non-Conceptualizable ‘Moreness’ and Anxiety 41
2.4 ‘Moreness’ and Evasion 52
2.5 Experiential Identity, Truth, and the Lack of an Absolute Orientation 58
2.6 Radical Subjectivity, Experiential Revolt 66
2.7 Why Evasion? On the Notion of Petrified Universal Moments 70
2.8 ‘Bad Faith’, Phenomenology of Consciousness, and the Self-Deceiving Core of Evasion 74
2.9 Evasion, Systems, Absurdity 85
2.10 Repression and Self-forgetfulness 92
Totalized Experiential Orientation: An Introduction
3.1 History and Evasion: The Genesis of Totality 96
3.2 The Turn from Evasion to Totality: The Dawn of Distorted Collectivising 106
3.3 “We Are.” 108
3.4 The Experiential Dawn of Ideology 115
3.5 Totalized Experiential Orientation: Experiential Blindness 124
3.6 Experiential Totality and a Lack of Critical Experiencing 133
The Economic Idol
4.1 An Absurd Social Reality 137
4.2 Abstract Rationalizing 152
4.3 Negative Dialectics and Epistemic Violence 165
4.4 Sociological Critique of our Distorted Social Reality 175
Experiential Coherence: The Origin of Reconciliation
5.1 Experiential coherence and a Democratic Theory of Knowledge: A Phenomenological Study of the ‘Mediating Subject’ 193
5.2 A Glass of Water and a Moment of Passion 210
5.3 Experiential Revolt 216
5.4 The Economic Totality, Abstract Reason and the Body 227
5.5 Transformative Experience 233
5.6 Experiential Revolt, Coherence, and Transformative Experience 236
Epilogue: Notes & Sketches
6.1 The Experience of Absurdity 248
6.2 History, Camus and the Notion of Absurdity 259
I first started writing this work in my early 20s. A result of my initial survey of some of the more pressing philosophical issues that we face, the main thesis – that there is an existential impulse toward domination and that this impulse often plays out in the false universalizing propensity of thought – is one that I still consider valuable today, albeit in a more developed and concise manner. Originally, this idea of hypostatization or conceptual subsumption led me toward the fascinating thought that deification – i.e., ‘the false universalizing propensity’ – plays a significant role in shaping western thought, including the ‘epistemic frame’ of contemporary capitalist ideology. From there, a critique of epistemology became a focal point as I studied the cognitive dynamics of the modern capitalist experience, which consisted of both phenomenological and textual analyses. However, underlying all of this is the question of how we relate with one another and with the world of phenomena – a question which spoke to me when I was younger and which the central concerns of Consciousness and Revolt tend to pivot. The notion of the ‘closed and hardened’ subject and the endless violence he or she may commit still troubles me. Perhaps one of the values of this work is how it shows my earliest struggles in trying to grasp this issue in relation to social systems and cognitive architecture: that transformation is of the personal and interpersonal. In any case, the culmination of my efforts is a book which wants to work toward a similar notion as Marcuse’s ‘new sensibility’, born of an idea of renewed experience – of a revolutionary shift from instrumental reason and the hardened subject to a radical ‘experientially coherent’ form of experience and the notion of the open, sensitive and free-flourishing subject.
Since the original draft was completed I have written and published almost 100 articles, as well as a few books. A lot has developed in my thinking in that time. It is only understandable, then, that in my reviewing this book there are at times arguments and sections of text which feel premature. With that said, though my position has advanced since Consciousness and Revolt, there are very particular arguments at the core of this work which remain alive in my thinking. These particular arguments and formulations inspired parts of my argument concerning a critique of Slavoj Žižek’s Lacanian theory of the subject. They have also inspired me to write a second book on a critique of epistemology, the notion of experiential coherence, science and scientific knowledge, among other important philosophical issues including the universal-particular relation and even a radical concept of a phenomenological (‘lived’) ethics.
Consciousness and Revolt was originally completed in 2011 and published by Heathwood Press as a book in 2012. It was a symbolic work for me for many reasons, not least because it was a product of my efforts away from the modern neoliberal university. It also bears quite a bit thought from my teenage years. Being Heathwood’s first book publication, Consciousness and Revolt also acted as a sort of ‘test of the waters’ in terms of setting up the press and understanding what book publishing actually entails. As such, it is understandable that the first and second editions had more than a few editorial errors. In truth, the copy was quite a mess and my experimenting with a new literary style surely didn’t help! Years on, I have found encouragement by others to prepare a final third draft, which I’ve done my utmost to clean up and edit. I have elected that, instead of this work remaining as a book, the revised and updated manuscript should be published online and for free.
In terms of editorial, a lot has been cut out from the original. An entire chapter on ‘the Absurd’ has been removed (with two original sections of this chapter instead added as part of the Epilogue), as well as the long and detailed Preface and other significant portions of text. It is possible that what has been cut out may be used in the future, including the short essay in the first edition on the ‘philosophical novel’. For the third and revised edition, I mainly wanted to keep the bare bones of the thesis intact, so as to make the work easier to navigate for the reader. That said, many unique stylistic and structural characteristics of the original version still remain, as I tried to preserve as much as possible the original aims and voice of the first edition of the book. There are parts which remain a bit rough and repetitive. I trust that these negatives do not take away from some of the more valuable arguments presented.
If there is a more truly serious philosophical problem, one that transcends most other philosophical problems, it is the historical tendency as human beings to find a false sense of security in some absolute thing. If like Camus before me, I ask myself how this is one of the most salient of questions, I reply that any other philosophical appointment fails to have meaning if we cannot answer, and with practical reflection, whether this life, in its most concrete form, is worth living in an open and experientially coherent way. Understanding whether, upon comparing my concrete existence with my fear of the unknown, it is necessary I might suddenly feel the need to turn away from this world and find security in an abstract totalized framework, is to know whether the fundamental problem is avoidable or not. 
If it is true, as Camus claims, that I must ask myself how to judge this question as being more urgent than another, I reply that one judges the fundamental philosophical problem posed in this work by the historical significance that it entails. History has never seen the birth of a war without the type of self-deceiving belief that is principally engendered in the human commitment to a dominant, fundamentalist worldview. The history of all extremism, of domination, of fanatics, is rooted in the human drive toward ‘totality’; it is a product of human yearning for the absolute.
How might I qualify these claims? My analysis is three-fold: 1) to argue that there is an existential dimension behind the human impulse toward domination (of internal and external nature), which, in the field of thought, is tantamount to fundamentalism in a variety of forms; 2) to disclose the philosophical and practical significance when it comes to understanding this existential impulse to dominate nature as well as the human tendency toward identitarian thought and absolute conceptions of truth; and 3), how a critique of these issues can further ground an emancipatory social analysis. Regarding this last point, several particular arguments will come into direct focus, including a study of the modern cognitive and epistemological paradigm and the nature of the closed, repressed subject.
In short, my claim is that there has been no dominant politics, no dominant ideology, absent of the drive toward the absolute. Nazi Germany ‘sterilized’ men and women in the name of an ontological argument. Centuries of religious violence have been principled on dogmatic clashes about the superiority of one Idol or another. Mothers have long been left to clasp their children against their breast, while their heads were smashed in, and only to have their death justified in the name of an absurd game amongst human beings: murder on behalf of belief in some absolute thing. Entire lives have neglected this world out of anxiety, and have long decided that concrete experience was not worth breaking the illusions that kept them feeling secure. Thus the gruesome nature of the fundamental problem of human history, which is entirely significant of the human leap beyond the concrete world of experience: it speaks historically of how we self-deceivingly find promise in the name of the absolute – that is, in the dogma of rigidified, unwavering one-dimensional thought. Objectivism, positivism, relativism and even post-structualism – all eventually succumb to a fundamentalist rationale. While some are more ideological than others, I argue that everything is open to the problem of dogmatic thought so long that the modern cognitive paradigm goes unchallenged.
For centuries now we have committed ourselves to building empires and attaining the absolute (Camus, 1970). Likewise, for centuries the human yearning for the absolute has been a standard principle of human thought. In instrumentally rationalistic drama as with religious drama, this point simply cannot be overlooked. In this sense, we can understand how throughout the various periods of human history, a questionable spectacle has been at play. This spectacle is one that we may describe as the (false) universalizing propensity behind human ideology.
If it is true, as I will come to suggest, that human society has always aimed at securing a totalized framework of some kind; then we will see that it has almost always done so by way of perceiving a particular sociohistorical-cultural Idol as the next human saviour. For me, this is ideology; it has to do with the process of resurrecting idols and of deceiving ourselves in the belief of ‘pure objective language’. From myth to enlightenment, we need not look any further than the vast array of literature covering human history to discern this to be true. Throughout almost every historical period in human history, we can trace a similar ideological operation via the epistemological, anthropological and cosmological characters at play. In surveying the history of humanity it becomes clear that ideology has always been a force operating in behind our imaginations; it is characteristic of the very belief of salvation and the idea of total security.
With the problem of ideology operating in the background of human society, in the very epistemic process of human civilization and in the very structure of civilization, the result is what I describe quite simply as that of absurdity. That is to say that absurdity signifies the path of human thought whose wicked and ravaging calls for the absolute – for the ontology of totality, even – become a necessary call for frenzied destruction of both our selves, each other and the world around us.
I call this reality absurd because the very foundation of our living, which nonetheless becomes principle to the absolute, gets falsified. And to my mind there can be no greater absurdity than the falsification of life, as it speaks of how we distort and deform the very experiential base of our experiences. It speaks of a particularly distorted epistemological and cognitive paradigm of experience; of how all particularity, including ourselves, one another, and the phenomena of our experience, is subsumed beneath endless ‘bad generalizations’. Historically speaking, all social absurdity and misery is merely a result of this distorted state of affairs: what Adorno would call the ‘blind ritual of domination’. Absurdity, moreover, is the inherent expression of a distorted social condition which we have collectively and historically achieved in life; it is the sign of all the struggles to be waged against ideological forces which speak only for injustice and oppression, distorted experience and the drive for objective domination.
Between the anxiety that wants to transform itself into dominion and the world of experience that inherently rejects this drive for domination, everything that tries to destroy the experiential equilibrium of experience finds its way to tragedy. The more absolute a definition, the emptier the definition proves to be. The more our cognitive distortion reaches toward defining an absolutely solid world, of absolutely solid form, in absolute and totalizing terms – the more blind we become. Therein lies the rub: the more blind we become, the more secure we ultimately feel in our blindness. This irony is, in every sense, an expression of the inherent contradiction that is the fundamental philosophical problem. In the deepest sense, it represents an existential game of human temptation. But let us pause here.
If I am told that the sky is blue for this absolute reason, that I exist for that absolute reason, that the universe works the way it does for another absolute reason, I have already become lost in the absolute poetry of the ‘human want to be’ and, likewise, of my own distorting declaration of ‘what absolutely is.’ In the adherence to any absolute principle lies the essence of stunted experience as well as a sort of self-deceiving existential nirvana.
It is interesting to point out that the historical problem of ‘absolutizing the experiential identity of phenomena’ is deeply rooted in the history of Western thought, from Aristotle’s (formal) logic and categories of Identity, Opposition and what we consider in dialectical terms as the Excluded Middle (i.e., identity and its opposite are absolutely cut off from each other in a dichotomy) through to contemporary Analytic Philosophy. To think in absolute terms, to see in black and white, is deeply rooted in western culture. That there is therefore no dialectical, intersubjective grounding between phenomena is, as Adorno would say, as dated as documented history itself. That is why in order to glimpse a foundational critique of ideology, we must come to understand the exact degree to which one chooses to flee the multifarious world of unfolding, constantly revealing phenomena. In order to understand the workings of capitalism in history, we must come to examine the epistemic processes of ideology and subtle phenomenological transformations of concrete thing and absolute thing.
Surely there are reasons for why things are the way they are. In other words: I am by no means promoting a relativistic worldview as an alternative to the cognitive and epistemological paradigm identified and critiqued in this book. What I am arguing toward is a far more complex understanding of truth: a many-sided, unfolding, intersubjective and democratic theory of truth. The phenomena of one’s experience are never of definitive or absolute reasoning. Phenomena, as we will discuss, are multidimensional. In fact, it has long been misconceived that the ‘world of objects’ is a coherent distinction, when really it is a symptom of ideology. This is why one key aim of this book is in coming to understand precisely the twisted relation between one’s acts of evasion and experiential distortion, which amounts to a shift from the type of intimate (subject-subject) relating with the phenomenal world to perceiving all phenomena as ‘objects’ ripe for domination (subject-object).
Today, as with the societies of yesterday, it is readily apparent that we self-deceivingly employ the absolute naming of things in our drive for domination. Prejudice, bigotry, epistemic violence, the capitalist law of value – all of these are grounded in the inclination toward objectivism. If we consider the human drive for domination and the process of ceaseless absolutizing from an existential perspective, this problem becomes understandable. The actual complexity of our experience is so incredibly difficult to arrange into something that we feel constitutes a deeply secure world; it is only through our self-deceiving evasion, through a dominant epistemology, that we might therefore achieve a dominant form of false security. For Freudians, this problem was, and still is, a matter of transference. But if what Freudians perceive as transference is considered in this work as a more practical problem of deifying, of absolutizing, then the Freudian problem of repression also becomes a more radical problem of conscious suppression.
For Freudians, if one can be so general, ‘the history of human beings is often perceived to be the history of our repression’ (Marcuse, 1987; p.29). It is claimed, moreover, that the fundamental struggle of human history is between human instincts and repression (the conscience of repression, or superego), which is said to describe how, as human beings, we necessarily repress our instincts so as to meet society’s norms. Marcus summarizes the outcome of the Freudian theory of repression well, when he writes: ‘culture then constrains not only humanity’s societal but also biological existence, not only parts of the human being but also our instinctual structures’ (Marcuse, 1987; p. 29). On the basis of this understanding however, what we are left with is the following conclusion: ‘such constraint is the very precondition of progress’ (Marcuse, 1987; p.29). Indeed, if one were to wholly subscribe to Freudian theory without question, one is left with a perspective of human reality which is limited to the fact that: if humanity were to somehow be ‘left free to pursue our natural objectives,’ the basic ‘instincts of human beings would be incompatible with all lasting association and preservation,’ meaning humanity must strive to deflect what is constantly running beneath its own self-awareness (Marcuse, 1987; p. 29)
The problem with Freudian theory, besides its tendency to privilege the biological and its failure to take into account the multidimensionality of being, is that it has long left society in an irreparable conundrum. Contrary to this perspective, whilst we cannot (nor should we) deny the existence of human repression, we can however discern that repression itself is often also connected to the choice to consciously suppress, at first, the realities of one’s experience. This is important. For, as we will learn in a following chapter, it is not that humanity is without volition when it comes to self-deception, to the distortion of experience, to deifying and self-suppression; there is no underlying reality to be mystified. Rather, the fundamental philosophical problem has always been a matter of choice.
In short, it is another task in this book to reflect upon how we employ the abstract process of the absolute identification and classification of things; how we therefore distort and suppress the critical realities of experience; and how, in turn, we ideologically functionalize a distorted collective framework in the name of capitalism, which leads to the type of cultural repression in contemporary society that Freudians are all too aware of. Most importantly, I shall emphasize the fact that all of this is done, at least at first, by way of conscious choice. If capitalism gives us a sense of ultimate security today, of knowing by way of self-deception where we are in absolute relation to all things, it is because a vast majority of people consciously choose to undertake the ideological project of subservience to the market economy. On an epistemological level, not only does this concern the process of absolutizing the experiential identity of phenomena on behalf of the concept of ‘universal exchange’, but also the functionalizing of a totalized experiential orientation which is inherently totalitarian and repressive. Following the rational of such a course of critique, it becomes predictable that proposed alternatives to capitalism might also tend to focus on one or more absolute principles for organization, neglecting a more holistic social critique and theory of systemic change.
As I will endeavour to show, a critique of epistemology and the structural and cognitive paradigm of the bourgeois subject reveals a great amount of insight when it comes to the day to day functioning of capitalism on an experiential plane, as well as when it comes to the ideology behind modern society and behind failed attempts at revolutionary transformation.
At this point I have collected themes, laid the groundwork for an analysis and sketched out certain aspects of a radical method. Now the stage is set, and we are left to examine more intently the props that have been laid in place.
However, before moving forward, I should like to clarify a few points. In doing so, further summary of the background of my research is necessary in order that I may contextualize the overall analysis presented in this book.
To begin, Adorno once commented along the lines that in a social reality whose ‘perspective of life has passed mostly into an ideology’, one which now ‘conceals the fact that there is life no longer’, it is the urgent question of life and suffering which heightens the need for philosophy (Adorno, 2005). Under the whip of an absurd state of affairs; in the face of the utter barbarity that follows the alienation of labour; at the grip of the savage work week that claims the spirit of the masses; in a society governed by the principle of oppressive and coercive economic relations; it is through the potential realization of emancipatory social philosophy that we may find means to ‘scrutinize this life in its estranged form’ (Adorno, 2005).
I take this assertion by Adorno as the basis of a practical truth from which this work advances in thought. Of the ideology today which determines that, as human beings, as efficacious agents in the world, our value is primarily an economic one – this social reality demands the existence of genuine philosophy, one that is born from out of the depths of contemporary melancholy. In other words, it is not too much to say that this work represents an attempt to not only question the savage mode of consumption and exploitation which has crystalized as structure and overcome consciousness, but to also question the rampant conception of life and abstract social systems which have amounted to an obscure principle of individual and collective experience. These are the philosophical grounds of my following thesis. And I propose to undertake my analysis by giving voice to both the immediacy of cultural experience as well as to its hidden recesses. In other words, my analysis is inspired both by the dissection of the intimate as well as by the explication of the obscene, wherein my primary aim is: to question, in radical social-philosophical fashion, life in its damaged and estranged form.
How may one go about such a project? To begin, I should like to stress that it is demanded of those who work in contemporary critical theory to give voice to the unbelievable ache of our times, of the suffering that pulsates beneath the veil of society’s structurally-determined façade. It is the task of engaged social philosophy today to reveal the truth between the excess and affluence and the suffering and absurdity at the heart of the standard notion of contemporary social-economic relations. What is required, along these lines, is firstly a theory to match the experience of contemporary melancholy. We must speak of the cultural suffering that burns slowly and passively like aged embers deep within a kiln. We must highlight the critical realities surrounding the notion of damaged life (Adorno, 2005), which is nonetheless affirmed by the daily actions of the increasingly damaged subject. Second, in the process of critique, we must never lose sight of a radical philosophy of praxis – that is, the possibility of a break from what Herbert Marcuse calls the “vicious circle”. If critical theory is to have meaning in its ruthless critique, it must also support emancipatory practice and guide movements in the development of post-capitalist alternatives.
Understanding the philosophical spirit behind this work, it can be said at the outset that the book’s actual argument concerns, simply put, the dialectical relation between consciousness and emancipatory revolt. A result of significant philosophical and theoretical enquiry, including textual analysis and over two years of focused phenomenological study of daily life, conversation and cultural phenomena (including research within and around clinical psychotherapeutic practice), much of my thesis involves a critique of epistemology, cognition, and the contemporary psyche in relation to modern social systems and structures. It considers, in a study of the fundamental philosophical problem, a critique of the modern subject and the objective conditions which constitute and are constituted by the subject. To put it another way: one of my arguments concerns the very condition of our present-day hegemonic social reality which speaks simultaneously of the brutal self-enslavement of the individual and of a sort of structurally-determined necessity that pressures one’s self-enslavement. At the base of the ‘bad social totality’ there resides, I claim, a basic truth about how the existential realities of self, choice and responsibility are manipulated and coerced to conform to a certain ideological mould. Whether a person lives in the United Kingdom, Germany, United States, Russia or France, the coercive nature of contemporary society speaks of its underlying ideology. We live in a time where there are hardly any available forms of social and cultural life which do not, to some extent, accommodate dominant and hierarchical currents of thought and which, in many respects, are not coerced by the institutional structures of capitalism. Extending beyond a substantive critique of economic relations however, it is what we might consider as the epistemological, psychological, and cognitive – or subjective aspects – of ideology operating beneath capitalism’s institutional structures which is what most fascinates me in this work.
Ideology is not capitalism per se. Ideology is what represents the unity of fibers in the structure which determines capitalism as a system. Capitalism, as a structurally-determined system, is just as much powered and enforced by institutions as by the modern subject. The problem of contemporary hegemony – rather, the problem of the colonization of language, of the ego, and of the subject – is a direct exemplification of the definition of ideology that I would like to explore.
Of our contemporary ideological circumstance, which is so totalizing that it oversees the production of one’s sense of self, the subject is coerced to conform to the automatic and to that which is proficiently executed by underlying habits: socially and economically. This is not to suggest any sort of hardened determinism. Rather, what I am alluding to here is the basic reality concerning the relation between structure and agency as we read in Adorno and Marcuse. In a dominant, hierarchical and coercive society with a deeply rooted authoritarian legacy, the subject is coerced to abide by the status quo. That one must work to survive – to ‘earn a living’ – is a perfect example of the existence of systemic (political, economic) coercion. In turn, one of my basic theses is that the coercive legacy of capitalism has not only resulted in the unfolding of One-Dimensional Man (Marcuse, 1966) but also the deepening of instrumental reason, and, in essence, the increasing (de)formation of the subject (Adorno). In and through critical study, from the Frankfurt School to Bourdieu, we can determine that it is now the institutional structures of capitalism that propagates the guidelines for what is deemed culturally acceptable with regards to ourselves and our very subjecthood. That is to say that it is the very context of the capitalist totality, which in its utmost extreme has been cemented as a predominant conception of life, that seems to represent the very limits of self, choice and responsibility. It has become the main stage of our existential situations – the coercive legacy living in and through both contemporary institutions and the subject.
But it would be a mistake to stop here. The problematic status of the subject today – as alluded in the first section of this book – is not only found in the example of the limitedness of sight and imagination when it comes to conceiving concrete alternatives to capitalist society. The problem also concerns dominant ideological underpinnings of whatever proposed alternatives that do arise. Radical left politics may have a sense of some sort of socialist alternative to capitalism, but rarely ever do such proposals break away from capitalism in cognition and psyche and epistemology. Deeply seated beliefs in ‘working hard’, for example – the ideology of jobs and leaders and even of market coercion – often remain and sometimes even strengthen within certain ‘socialist’ movements. Can one honestly admit in such cases that there is no longer a lash of the whip? The lack of radical subjectivity in much of left politics – especially ongoing versions of left party politics – seems to suggest a comfort in working for the minimal goals of a plastic socialism, as opposed to the radical goals of an emancipatory socialist politics. In the past I have been extremely critical of socialism, communism, and so on, but only because their present incarnations – by which I mean modern-day attempts to develop a socialist or communist politics – is not up to the task of the demands of emancipation. The exception, albeit tentative, is the emergence of contemporary participatory movements who, in their different forms and colours, evince aspects, fragments, of a horizon of an actual radical philosophy of praxis in the field of action.
I think a large part of the problem, if I have not already made it clear, concerns a foundational theory of ideology which speaks on the one hand of the deeper problem of colonization (or the colonization of the ego, as we read in Adorno, Marcuse and Fromm). In this sense it is no wonder that radical contemporary social movements have discovered, in their emergence, the importance of reclaiming space in the process of reclaiming what it means to relate, interact and communicate – that is, in the process of revolutionary healing and individual-social transformation. In other words: the truth is that it is not just space that movements like Occupy-style initiatives seek to reclaim. Deeper down – even if such movements don’t explicitly formulate awareness of such – what unfolds in these spaces is the actual reclaiming of one’s self, of one’s subjectivity, from commodification, hierarchy, domination and alienation.
On the other hand, the problem of ideology also speaks of the impotence of much of contemporary critique – that is, the impotence of much of theory that masquerades as a watered down version of critical theory. This may sound like a bold statement, considering we live in an age of critique. But for all the critical literature available to us today, for all the talk and debate, for all the newspaper columns and literary publications, the general horizon of critical discourse is most dissatisfying. To borrow the words of Robert Hullot-Kentor: it needs to be noticed that to the extent that there are countless critical texts – an endless stream of critical commentary – the most serious parts of critique, of theory, “can be witnessed reaching fingertip to fingertip in the complete absence of any substantial criticism at all” (Hullot-Kentor, 2015). This impotence is due not only to the failure to break away from perceiving social, natural and historical phenomena through the lens of distorted epistemological, psychological and cognitive paradigms of thought. This impotence is the direct result of perceiving existing social, natural and historical phenomena within and through the dominant and reified epistemic frame that operates as the very lifeblood of dominant, coercive, hierarchical society. This epistemic frame is something I set out to explicitly challenge in this book.
In this respect we can look to David Sherman who, while writing in light of Adorno and Horkheimer, describes how ‘the problem of the colonization of the lifeworld and, more significantly, the problem of colonized language itself, suggests that colonized ego and alter ego no longer have, even in theory, the means through which to express their colonization. A colonized lifeworld still has at its disposal imminent critique, even if its application is impotent by virtue of the very extent to which the lifeworld has been colonized; but a colonized language closes even this space down’ (Sherman, 2007; p. 113). The reason that it does is because, if we consider a foundational analysis from an epistemological point of critique, a colonized language ultimately presumes ‘an absolute identity between word and object’ (Sherman, 2007; p. 113).
In response to this dilemma, it is the emergence of our awareness of the epistemic context of the colonization of the ego, of the processes of cultural hegemony, of the very relation between the objective context and basic cognition, wherein for example it can be evidenced that an absolute identity is presumed to exist between word and object, which points to a substantive ideology critique that goes beyond capitalism and suggests a course of analysis that travels to the heart of the very ideological structure on which capitalism is built. This, I suggest, is a vital aspect of the definitive landscape of consciousness and revolt.
In sum: capitalism is seen in this work as the desert of absurdity. It is what we might identify as the most immediate culprit of ailing society. To claim that life in capitalist society is damaged – this is to say that life has been ‘dragged along as an appendage of the process of material production’ (Adorno, 2005; p.15). As Adorno taught us, capitalism is the face of social evil. It is the cancer of the social body. But the problems of capitalism on a structural level are as universal as modernity, not in the sense that I am promoting, in turn, an anti-modern perspective, but in the sense that the problems of modernity have not yet actually been overcome for the benefit of the actual advance of civilization. If the viciousness of capitalism today is in the fact that it represents the limits of our imagination, this is because it represents at the same time a belief in a pre-destined history and a finalized form of ‘progress’. What this (false) universalization of ends reveals is not stupidity or deterministic ignorance, but of the integration of consciousness into the “false whole” (Marcuse, 1966).
All of this is to say that ideology passes over people in the most gruesome way. Its epistemic and cognitive task, as determined by the lengths of what I describe as psychic evasion, is to deform both the individual and the collective so that we become ‘no more than component parts of machinery’. If every act of human evasion is to forget, is to deceive and be deceived on an existential level, then it is the spirit of ideology – the transhistorical ideology of domination – to perform this automatically and proficiently via social mechanisms. For example, whether one exists within a purely religious region of the world that functions in a lesser form of capitalism or a strictly and purely capitalist region of the world, there is one common theme to them all. How we perceive one another, how we perceive ourselves and the world; our choices and the responsibilities that follow our choices; our lack of sensitive awareness toward the phenomena of our experience; all of this comes into question when considering the epistemological and psychoanalytical foundations of ideology in the most fundamental sense. For the manipulation of the finest experiential dimensions of the human being is, in every sense, the historical achievement of what I consider to be the problem of the ideological structure of modern and historical society as lived in and through the subject.
It is on this point that I turn toward the conclusion of this introduction by re-declaring the existence of a deep philosophical problem. Shackled by the oppressive bonds of self-deceiving cultural belief in the meaning of absolute relations, which lies at the heart of the capitalist concept of value – it is indeed from within this fundamental dynamic of our times, where we might glimpse into the deepest problem of the history of human society (Adorno, 2005; p.15). Moreover, and to strike the very heart of the matter: in the following work the question of the fundamental philosophical problem will not be considered as limited to our present-day historic reality and its extreme forms of cultural-capitalist barbarity. The fundamental philosophical problem spans throughout the age of humanity; it is characteristic of a historical process entwined in the genesis of the modern subject.
Though such a thesis might sound extravagant, it is one primarily informed by the already established and widely recognized theses of the first-generation Frankfurt School. Underlying almost the entire basis of this work is the thought of Adorno and Marcuse. For this reason, when, at the outset, I introduced “the fundamental philosophical problem”, the reader should understand this concept in the context of what Adorno considers as being ‘the historical ritual of blind domination’, which pertains to what I shall later identify as the experiential moment of ideological practice. Western society’s long ‘entanglement in blind domination’, which begins from what we can discern as the utmost concrete point of humanity’s fundamental dilemma, speaks of how: as human beings we have always chosen to act from out of a similar mode of thought which is the frame for every instance of ideological barbarity. Along these lines I claim that an important factor is the stunting of experience, the deepening repression of the subject, which amounts to the type of experiential blindness that, as Adorno exclaims, inevitably results in ‘the mindless pastime of beating people to death’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 140). If anything, history shows this to be true. Every paradigmatic belief in some dominant Idol, of some absolute principle of experience and action amounts to the type of experiential blindness that spawns the endless experiential violation of the world, of other people and even of ourselves. From Authoritarianism through to Fascism and, finally, at the height of a fraudulent democracy which has roots in hierarchy and coercion, dominant cultural values have always been measured in the name of belief in the absolute movement of domination. The existence of hegemony owes itself to this simple truth. All falsely ‘objective’ and absolute values – the very ontologizing of ‘bad society’ and the false whole – which are epistemologically and psychologically characteristic of hegemony and of the historical ideological structure of society, are utilized as necessary means of a particular authoritarian project. Nothing is spared.
If the obscene violence and barbarity of historical and modern society is what ultimately lead Albert Camus to scream “absurdity!”, this is because what is so vehemently absurd about modern society is the mass self-deception and self-denial that permeates within its total ideological context. Although even Camus was guilty of elaborating a (false) metaphysics – that is, often confusing the energy and anxiety of the social basis of absurdity as the metaphysical basis of absurdity – he was nevertheless onto something in his exclamation of the absurd. Life is, today, absurd. The endless stream of contradictory images, of excess and affluence and then also of suffering and poverty, are what constitutes this modern life of absurdity. In and through such absurdity we speak of ethics as though it may fall from the stars, when really all ethics originates from out of how we experience the world. In another way: while human beings have, for example, normatively striven to realize a concept of justice throughout history, majority of attempts to realize a concept of justice have been unfolding in a structurally-negative social universe. This is what I take Adorno to mean when he reflects in Minima Moralia (Adorno, 2005) that the ‘wrong life cannot be lived rightly’. As J.M. Bernstein states in his book on Adorno: ‘if ethical thought is a reflective articulation of ethical experience, which itself is structured through ethical practices; this assumes that the ethical possibilities open to an individual are delimited by the state of the ethical world (i.e., the very structures of society and hitherto its manifesting institutional practices) this individual inhabits. Therefore the wrong life (the state of the ethical world as an expression of the structures beneath society’s operation) cannot be lived rightly’ (Bernstein, 2001). This is why we must investigate and even interrogate the epistemic and cognitive structures beneath contemporary social practice, as well as the interaction between subjects encoded by these epistemic and cognitive structures. Ultimately, if there is any chance of realizing a normative ethics it is not from discovering some ancient essence in the sky. All ethics resides in the thin phenomenological space between one’s presuppositionless experience with the world and one’s ideologically imprinted experience with the world. As Marcuse would say, for ethics to become real, for emancipatory politics to flourish, we must realize ‘a new sensibility’ (Marcuse, 1972). A significant part of this ‘new sensibility’, I argue, is the development of a phenomenological (‘lived’) ethics.
To play on the words of Adorno and Horkheimer (2002): ideological behaviour is ‘unleashed in situations’ in which experientially blinded collectives of self-deceiving individuals, who are thus ‘deprived of subjectivity, are then let loose as subjects.’ In the example of socially engendered or legitimated violence: our experiential acting as efficacious subjects becomes violating, because it is our subjective experiencing of the world which is now distorted through an (ideological) structurally-determined, objective worldview. Hence why society today is drowning under the weight of a repressed and insensitive subject, and why our acting increasingly ‘amounts to a series of meaningless reactions, of the kind behaviourists register but fail to interpret.’ Ideologically engendered violence, from physical slaughter to emotional violation, is ‘a well-rehearsed pattern, indeed, a ritual of civilization, and the pogroms are the climax of true ritual murders.’ The experience of absurdity which so many have registered throughout history is therefore, in the broadest sense, a result of our conscious negation, of a moment of awareness that identifies social practice as that which merely ‘confirms the drab existence to which one merely conforms’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 140). The utterly gruesome nature of the decaying subject demonstrates, moreover, the central character of ideology; because ‘individual actions today highlight the potency of what has restrained them – a lack or lameness regarding reflection, meaning, and ultimately truth.’ If an emancipatory politics is to be possible, if we are to break from the “vicious cycle” (as Marcuse put it), we must first come to understand the necessity of experiential coherence and the many-sided human transformation process integral to any potential revolutionary shift in relations.
If it is true that in the midst of my existential situation I simply want to know how to live in this world – this is understandable. It is understandable that at the deepest part of a person’s being, there might be found the practical desire to want to live and to the best of their ability, especially when forced to contend against antagonistic social forces. Life, being what it is—namely the phenomenon of existence—speaks of how we are encompassed in a glorious universe of vibrant colours and remarkable phenomena; and irrespective of the stunting form of bourgeois life practices, the world asks of us such an evocative passion. I am of life just as much as life is of me. Even if I don’t always realize it, even if I choose to distance myself from it, I am always of this world. I am of this flesh which encases my body and of this food in which I ingest. I cannot deny this existence with its lights and sounds, its energy and matter, its horrors and joys, its necessities and responsibilities, its emotion and logic. These are what I experience and my experiences are the most profound storyboard of my existence. Within this setting, the striving for passion and joy and love and friendship (Eros) is something we all share. It is an ongoing dimension of human experience. But so is another, more sinister dimension: that of the existential impulse toward domination.
Already we have managed to bring to light the general direction of this book’s exploration with regards to this latter feature of human experience. In the introduction, through the simple act of ‘setting the stage’, and by calling out our social reality for what it really is, a significant feat has been accomplished. We have not only taken it upon ourselves to initiate a confrontation with the permeating absurdity of our greater social reality, but we also managed to discern the immediate aspects of the historical totality which we have secured in the name of global capitalism. On the same token, we have contrived the beginning stages of a hypothesis that strikes deep into the distorted orientation of western life today. We have managed to initiate, and in great detail, a description toward the fundamental philosophical problem and the overwhelming strife that affects the hearts of so many. In the process we have illustrated the general and the immediately discernible characteristics of our social reality. We have extracted concrete samples from the absurd climate of contemporary society; and in doing so, we have practically prepared these specimens for a more concrete and in-depth analysis.
On the other hand, in view of the fact that we have both questioned certain aspects of our social reality and have simultaneously taken it upon ourselves to discern certain philosophical themes – themes which can nevertheless be pulled from out of everyday experience – we have yet to wholly evidence their specific relations. We have managed only to illustrate an outline of what seems to be the greater philosophical picture, and nothing more.
Herein, considering that we have already taken it upon ourselves to come face to face with the absurd climate and initiate a process of deep questioning with regards to its nature, for this is the very rule of our journey, we have now only to travel further into the expanse of contemporary disrepair. There is no turning back, and we must not settle until we have met some sort of concrete understanding. Especially with regards to the many complexities of the fundamental philosophical problem. To where this might take us has yet to be seen. What we do know is that, in the future, our goal is to achieve a successful return from the absurdity of economic dominion and abstract reason, back to the grounds of coherent experience; this is our ‘guiding principle’. But in order that we work toward a return to coherent experience, we must first gain concrete insight into what such a return to coherent experience actually means.
Moreover, if it is a return to experiential coherence that defines my overall project; it is henceforth necessary that we first come to terms with what undermines the intermodal coherence organic to our experiencing the phenomenal world. Because to understand what it means to achieve an experientially coherent method of living implies that we have already discerned, through concrete hypothesis, the very nature of our greater totalized and distorted experiential framework which nevertheless defines the absurdity of our present-day social climate. In many ways, we are to go beyond the very totalized and distorted framework that defines our present-day social reality so as to better understand it. But let us pause here for just a moment.
Each theme that we are about to discuss in this work represents a dimension of the fundamental philosophical problem. And in order that we reach a concrete hypothesis with regards to the experiential reconciliation of our lives; it is almost necessary that we come to terms with each one of the several dimensions which constitute the greater absurdity that we are now up against. But this requires, firstly, that we map out a particular course of analysis – a method – especially when it comes to the fact that our course of reflection concerns an investigation into a complex array of interconnected dimensions which ultimately compound one general problem.
The thought that I am after in this work may suffice to sustain, if well executed, an experientially coherent attitude; but only so long that it supports and normatively critiques a broader argument. The fundamental problem, with its many dimensions and complexities, cannot be negated. The return to experience that I am setting out to describe, consists of a critique of several dimensions – each with their own integral aspects or layers. And at the outset of our journey, it will prove beneficial that I reiterate upon a few of the more general points of discussion so as to make familiar the direction of this work’s overall investigation.
This process begins with my noting that the fundamental problem is, indeed, a multidimensional problem. This is crucial to recognize because, in order that we achieve some sort of conclusion with respect to our return to coherent experience, we must first come to terms with each of the several dimensions of the contemporary problematic and how, in sum, they equate to the overall contortion of the integral and intermodal coherence of our experiencing the phenomenal world.
On this same point, and to remain general throughout my swift summary of terms, we can say that the most proximate dimension of the fundamental problem pertains to the general notion of economic totality. In other words, the topmost dimension of the fundamental problem refers to the crystalizing of global capitalism as a dominant totalizing system of thought.
On first description, this dimension of the fundamental dilemma pertains to what we shall consider as the economic Trinity; a three-in-one triad of greater social distortion. It amounts to the absolute of the market economy and the functionalizing and legitimatizing of abstract (instrumental) reason, scientism and technicism on behalf of that Idol. It represents, moreover, the very concretion of instrumental reasoning, scientism and technicism on behalf of capitalism as a totalized experiential orientation and logic – as a false ‘concept of life’.
We can discern this topmost dimension of the fundamental problem practically on the level of everyday experience. It speaks of how present-day society seems to have surrendered itself to the absolute of capitalist economy and of how greater society itself has been pulled into being in the service of this Idol, which bears the mark of particular epistemological qualities whose essential characteristics can be described as a form of abstract rationalizing (abstract conceptualizing and reductionism), scientism and technicism (not to be confused with a critique of all science or all technology).
The market economy today is the historic Idol of our times: it embodies ideology in the same way that it represents a new ‘historical saviour’. It is not a stretch here to concede that, to whatever degree, and through immediate observation, a principle aspect of my investigation in this way is therefore the performance of an experiential analysis toward the manner in which we collectively deify the economic dimension of life. My investigation entails, in turn, how we collectively secure the ‘market economy’ as a totalized orientation which has engendered and administered three-tiers of greater social distortion in the name of that dominant worldview.
Here is the most immediately discernable dimension of contemporary social experience. For it seems, upon first approximation, that it is the manner in which we secure a totalized experiential orientation in the name of the economic Trinity that plays an integral role in our continuous abstract rationalizing of the phenomenal world.
As I will discuss at a later time, the contemporary and distorted economic triad is a matter of three interlinked and interdependent layers of greater social distortion. Global capitalism, which is the head of today’s warped Trinity is not only conceptually but also experientially dependent on abstract reasoning, scientism and technicism. The reason for this is because capitalism is dependent on certain epistemological and cognitive conditions. We can discern indeed that the capitalist totality requires that we abstractly and instrumentally rationalize the world in order to maintain, what Adorno would describe, as the inner workings of its ‘universal principle of exchange’. It requires, for instance, that we reduce the phenomenal world of experience to an abstract conceptual dimension – and, based on the principle of this reductionistic reason, that we also reduce the phenomenal world of experience to its economic dimension.
Furthermore, in the face of the multifarious world of phenomena, I argue that we assume to whatever degree that our experiential realities are chaotic and unknowable. Henceforth we employ certain (distorted) epistemological processes in the form of abstract reason and scientism, both of which are in the service of capitalism, to impose a ‘dominant order’ over the world. From this point forth, having functionalized the economic totality, we then technologically manipulate through scientism the inherently diverse world of phenomena so as to best serve that religious system of thought. In other words: through our reductionistic reasoning as well as by way of scientific and technological exploitation, we reduce the phenomenal world to its economic dimension so as to better economize everything in the name of the global market. This is the general stage of contemporary absurdity.
Experientially speaking, in scientism (which is analogous of abstract reason) is our trust. And in technicism we believe that we can solve all of the world’s problems, even or especially those caused by the destructive system of capital – the basis of many people’s fervent religious belief. Under the economic Trinity, the two come together and affirm the ideological worldview which wants everything to have a price and an economic value, almost in the same way that the Orthodox Catholic believes everyone and everything possess the Spirit of God. As we therefore functionalize abstract reason, scientism and technicism in the name of the economic Idol, whose dominant ‘method of life’ is almost solely principled around the possession of goods and services, we believe that we have secured historical ‘happiness’ and a realistic hope for the ‘good life’.
The unmistakable façade of contemporary society is plain to the eye, especially as it undertakes a modern form of the fundamental problem. The manner in which we collectively functionalize a totalized orientation in the name of the deified market economy is one of the more perceptible characteristics of our present social state of affairs. As Walter Benjamin would say: capitalism is like a religion. It is clear that in today’s absurd climate, the market economy and even its epistemological framework and cognitive dynamics which are projected through such phenomenon as abstract reason, scientism and technicism, represent the absolute principles from which we have, for the greater part, collectively secured a totalized ‘method of life’. [Postscript: Besides, what is the power of capitalism if not in how as a total system it gives one a sense of ultimate security, of knowing where one stands in the world by way of its absolute relation to all things? Not only does capitalism represent the (global) system of absolute identity on behalf of the concept of ‘universal exchange’, it also represents a particular mode of subjectivity that is inherently dominating and totalitarian. Ideology, in this way, represents the unity of fibers in the structure which, once spawned from the shutters of human anxiety, determines thought as an appropriated system of (social) organisation and action according to the standards of economic domination. Indeed, in the spirit of capturing everything unknown, the concepts of sovereignty, democracy, and freedom over time become that of instrumentality, bureaucracy, technology (i.e., technicism) and commodification. Capitalinsm, as an ideologically developed system, delivers exactly what it was supposed to: an instrumentally rational, dominant and highly administered world].
This topmost dimension of the fundamental philosophical problem – i.e., capitalism as a deified system or as the transference of religious angst into the world as economic value – is really the face of absurdity today. But let us not get too far ahead of ourselves, because in order that we reach this conclusion, especially in terms of a greater theoretically substantive hypothesis, we must first inquire into how this absurdity comes into being. This leads me to a brief introduction of the next dimension of the fundamental problem.
One step lower and we can discern that what takes precedence to the general landscape of absurdity – capitalism as religion – is the very manner in which we deify the market economy in the first place. This second dimension, which is also rich in its variations, pertains to the ideological process of distortion: how we distort our experiences as we initially wrench them from out of their integral and intermodal coherence. It also refers to how we strive to secure by means of experiential distortion a totalized experiential orientation.
Continuing in the same spirit of recapitulation, this second dimension of the fundamental problem refers, more broadly, to the manner in which we historically and experientially strive for an ‘ultimately certain’ method of life. This second dimension, moreover, represents the ideological process which operates as our collective historical yearning for some sort of dominant sense of security. It speaks of how in effort to achieve false security, we distort our experiences so as to better manipulate them into being in the service of the absolute. Much to a future point of investigation, it is through an analysis of this dimension that we may begin to strike the essence of how we wrench our experiences from out of their integral and intermodal coherence so as to better isolate and absolutize a dimension (of life or experience). But it does not end here, for we can go one step further.
The next dimension, which is the third and second lowest dimension of the fundamental problem, refers to the concrete phenomenon of cognitive evasion. In turn, this dimension reveals how, through historical ideological practice, one self-deceivingly evades his or her experience and, in turn, engages in the act of experiential distortion so as to achieve the security of the absolute.
Finally, this dimension of the fundamental problem, the act of evasion, is extended lower to the most irreducible, concrete point that represents the beginning of the overall ideological process. This final and deepest dimension represents the relation between experiential evasion and human anxiety. In sum, it is how one responds to the concrete diversity of the phenomenal world by evading their experiential experiencing of it through either anguish or terror, which ultimately gives rise to the drive for domination and to achieve a sense of ‘ultimate security’.
In general, we can say that these are the more concrete dimensions of the fundamental philosophical problem. Each one of these dimensions (albeit not limited to) represents the sum of what constitutes, in the very end, the problem of ideology and the lack of ‘experiential coherence’ in society. Although each one of these dimensions has their own integral aspects that we will have to flesh out along our journey, they are nonetheless the more immediate dimensions that we must explicate as we broach the very heart of my analysis.
But before going any further, let us take a moment to reiterate the very spirit of this book: it is one that speaks of how each dimension of the fundamental problem is not subject to any sort of systematic formulation. There is no ontological rule to the unfurling process of ideology, evasion, or the collective concretion of absurdity. I am merely offering an experiential hypothesis about the seeming drive toward ‘systematic domination’ now rampant in western society. One may or may not practice ideology as conceived in this work – I am simply analysing what I see as broad trends, which are historically subject to change.
Let me repeat that my discerning of the many dimensions of the fundamental problem does not propose a systematic series of events. Economic dominion, experiential totality, the desire for a totalized ‘method of life’, experiential distortion, evasion and anxiety build up to the absurd insofar that all these points are found in both the history and the everydayness of ‘bad society’. Equally well, if one wishes, there are surely other themes at play. I am simply conceding here that it is enough at this point, and in a work that wants only to introduce an analysis from which other works shall be based, to limit the following discussion to the more immediate regions of the fundamental philosophical problem. Absurdity in all its complexity – that economic ‘philosophy of life’ which rushes in and out of the consciousness of falsified society, speaks of how we surrender to the illusion of the absolute. The various dimensions of the fundamental problem that I shall enquire into are simply road-signs pointing out the direction that we seem to take on the path toward ‘ultimate security’ and sociohistorical absurdity. My analysis, in this way, is merely being faithful to the method I have laid out: it is a matter of reflective persistence and engaging with a phenomenologically rooted hypothesis informed by critical theory.
To understand how the ideological process I’ve identified actually unfolds, let us begin with a discussion of the bottommost levels: existential anxiety – the impulse toward the absolute – and evasion. To start, we should take a few moments to circumscribe the notion of evasion before we look to a more in-depth analysis of its particulars.
In a sense, and as in the human search for ultimate security, the evasive drive to find shelter in the absolute amounts to a conscious confession. It is confessing that, like so many others in the broad scope of human history, concrete experience does not offer enough assurances toward any sort of dominant and formal sense of security. The historical yearning for an absolute safeguard with respect to life and an ultimately certain orientation with respect to experience, this is merely one’s confessing that ‘life as it stands does not offer any dominant, securing commandments for my existence’. Here, we can make the first inaugural distinction of what constitutes the notion of human evasion. The motive behind one’s evasive acting is a want for self-deceiving security. Evasion is the historical phenomenon that speaks of how, in the history of the human enterprise, we have either wanted everything explained or nothing, the latter of which is just as absolute as the former. History is summarized by just such an attitude: to make absolute semblance under the guise of a major principle the diverse world of phenomena and, in turn, our collective experiential relation with it.
If we were to give an inaugural description toward the theme of evasion, we can say that it is a notion that speaks of the manner in which we experientially distort the phenomenal world. It also speaks of how in our distorting of our experiences with the phenomenal world we isolate and absolutize one dimension of life or experience over all other dimensions so as to secure a ‘totalized worldview’. What justifies this act of evasion in the individual psyche is almost always the persuasive force of existential anxiety – an impulse toward domination of (internal and external) nature.
If my hypothesis is correct, it is the anxiety behind one’s evasive acting that almost always energizes a person to drive to uphold some absolute thing over everything else, and proclaim that particular thing a form of ultimate truth. The absolute that one pulls from out of their distorting of experience becomes for that person the supreme, securing orientation for all future experiences. For this reason we can say that every act of evasion implies that we have recognized, even intuitively, the diverse and multidimensional character of our experiences that do not satisfy our thirst for the supreme protection of the absolute. If there was an absolutely secure orientation with the phenomenal world, my yearning for a totalized orientation would never come into fruition. This is a matter of simple logic. So long that the phenomenal world is fluid, diverse, multidimensional, unfolding, and without absolute orientation, we desire practically to achieve the absolute. Therefore, evasion is manifest in the direct relation between one’s yearning for an absolute orientation and the phenomenal world which is not up to the task of offering an absolute orientation.
We can say practically, without addressing the entirety of the problem, that the phenomenal world lacks an absolute orientation because the phenomenal world and our experiences with it are in and of themselves saturated in non-conceptual ‘moreness’. The phenomenon of my experience – the phenomenal world in its whole – is soaked in a vast array of colours, and is of a dynamic and integral multifariousness.
This notion of the non-conceptual ‘moreness’ behind one’s experience with a phenomenon is tantamount to how phenomena are resistant to being ascribed ‘absolute identity’ (i.e., a critique of identitarian thought as found in Adorno’s negative dialectics). It is to say that one cannot, irrespective of their greatest efforts, absolutely know the phenomena of their experience. Thought – even at its highest value – can never wholly capture a phenomenon in some sort of abstract theory or concept. Besides the fact that there is no pure subjectivity and, in turn, no pure objectivity, due to the fact that our experiences are intersubjective by nature: one cannot wholly know any one phenomenon for the simple reason that both one’s subjectivity and the particular phenomenon of one’s experience (the concrete phenomenon of a person’s awareness), which is also a subject in and of itself, are always experientially fluid and multidimensional in their present dynamic. The nature of experience speaks of how there is always a ‘moreness’ in behind one’s experiencing a particular phenomenon.
Though I will elaborate on the nature of this ‘moreness’ in more detail a little later, it is worth pointing out here that contrary to ‘post-modern’ thought, which collapses in on itself as a totally void subjectivism (because, as it stands, post-modern thought has yet to be wholly realized), the ‘moreness’ of experience which we can discern and distinguish on the grounds of experiential experience, is not a case of ‘pluralism for the sake of pluralism’. The unconceptualizable ‘moreness’ – the inherent diversity, divergence, and multicolouredness of experience – this simply concerns the intersubjective nature of our (the Subject) relationship with the concrete phenomena of experience (which, too, are multidimensional Subjects). This is something that much of pre-modern, modern, and post-modern thought (excluding Adornian Critical-Theory and Sartrean Existential-Phenomenology) has failed to locate. In a later section it will be clear how I critique identiarian thought and recognize a theory of unconceptualizable ‘moreness’ while simultaneously holding onto the identity and the possibility of intersubjective truth. Meanwhile, it is enough to say here that between the concrete fluidity of my general conscious experiencing and the multidimensional phenomenon of my attention – these two dimensions that contribute to the ‘something more’ behind my experience, are a representation of what, in truth, I can never absolutely conceptually nail-down. The ‘moreness’ or diversity inherent in experiential experience is what ultimately results in our experiencing a lack of absolute orientation. This non-conceptual ‘moreness’ – similar to what we read in Adorno’s negative dialectics – speaks of a lower key of events generated at the core of being; wherein one’s yearning for the security of the absolute is a direct response to a sense of lack in the face of a fluid and diverse world that does not offer any sort of concrete totality. So long that the phenomenal world is without absolute orientation, the historical problem of evasion, which begins in the form of anxiety and in the human desire for a type of absolute orientation, is the primary point of significant philosophical interest. The historical yearning for an absolutely certain ‘method of life’, this visceral attitude common to the deepest parts of the human dilemma, discloses historically how every falsified social phenomenon – how every absolute principle that we force onto the fluid and multifarious world of phenomena – and subsequently how every ideology born of a totalized experiential framework, ultimately has its roots in the complex relation between the fluid, multicoloured and multidimensional world of experiential experience and the anxiety ridden acts we commit to evade it.
All that is involved in this process is a psyche driven toward security. Let me repeat: at least at the beginning. Much to what we will discuss in the next chapter concerning the crystallization of a totalized experiential framework (that being the final outcome of evasion) implies a lack of openness with respect to how we experience the concrete diversity embedded in experiential experience.
To sum up, the experience I wish to describe in this chapter is one that involves the most historic, human anxiety; one that can be discerned from within the limits of our organic experiential relating with the phenomenal world. If ‘fear is the most primal emotion’, threatenedness should be understood as the most primal form of anxiety. This reflection is significant. The deeper we penetrate the almost visceral anguish or terror that is common to the human dilemma – the anguish or terror that is a result of the insecurity one feels in the face of an existence without absolute orientation – the more insight we gain into the psychological, epistemological and ideological fabric of the contemporary political landscape. To put it another way: the theme of evasion, which is the most concrete dimension of the fundamental problem, speaks firstly of the relationship between human anxiety and a form of self-deceptive manoeuvring. Only from the grounds of the relationship between anxiety and evasion does the initiation of the method of deep experiential distortion come into being. And only from there does a relentless series of actions follow: how we wrench life and experience from out of its integral and intermodal coherence; how we then absolutize a dimension of life or experience over all other dimensions; how we then collectively go on to secure a ‘totalized experiential framework’ and suppress the diversity of experiential experience from within this framework; and how, in our collectively securing a totalized and distorted orientation, we close ourselves from wholly absorbing the concrete phenomena of experience because, in the end, our closure from experiential experience amounts to how we take an ‘objective’ (as in objectivism) distance from the phenomenal world in order that we strive to securely conceal ourselves from within the phenomenal world.
Now we can begin to broach the notion of evasion in more particular terms. It has already been felt as to what analysis might be given. If the definition of absurdity is linked to how we fix an absolute principle into our relatively fluid existential and experiential orientations, and if the spirit behind our fixing an absolute is driven by an urge to achieve self-deceiving security in the name of an Idol (a totalized ‘worldview’), the first step toward our actually seeking this outcome is what can be defined as the act of evasion. Every ideology, every absolute principle, every totalized ‘method of life’, is built on the spirit of evasion. Whether our concern is with the deification of the economy or with how we absolutize any dimension of life or experience for that matter—the absolutizing process that leads to the concretion of any absolute principle, to any totalized experiential orientation, is the result of evasion.
So how does evasion actually arise as a course of action? In a sense, the experiential moment, the subtle step when an individual opts for the absolute, it is best to deduce this event to the act itself and the concrete consequences it implies. According to the phenomenological study I have undertaken, it is observed that there is an embryonic relationship between human anxiety and the experiential act of evasion. To this point, I have already alluded that it is not simply the broader lack of an absolute orientation that triggers one’s anxiety. In truth, a more nuanced and complex analysis should be considered because we don’t always reflect or allow for ourselves to be aware of the ‘greater picture’. It is often only in passing where, for example, humanity’s precarious dependence on nature might come into direct focus of one’s immediate conscious awareness. Therefore human insecurity often resides on a more intimate scale; it begins with the concrete ‘moreness’ or diversity of experiential experience. It is through one’s intimate relating with a phenomenon that the organic diversity of experience constantly triggers the anxiety behind one’s evasive acting. Only when the concrete diversity or ‘moreness’ of experiential experience is magnified, can one then discern more readily the greater lack of an absolute orientation that they have with this world. In the face of every experience, the concrete diversity or ‘moreness’ of the phenomenal world and our experiences with it is an embedded intersubjective relation. On what concrete grounds can we discern this ‘moreness’?
We can begin with an immediate discussion of conscious experience. Even the basic experiential reality of our multidimensional being – i.e., the bodily, emotive, sensorial, imaginative, aesthetic, and rational dimensions of being – discloses to us how we have the organic capability to respond to a particular situation or a particular phenomenon in a diversified manner. The multidimensionality of our being discloses to us how we have the organic capability to be aware of a host of alternative reactions to our phenomenological situations, especially since no situation can dictate a single conscious response.
For example: when experiencing this bird resting on a branch before me, I have the capability to respond in a multidimensional way – perhaps an emotional response will be evoked, or an imaginative response, or a critical response. In my experientially experiencing a particular phenomenon there is a multidimensional possibility in my responding. Here we already have a sense of the outermost edges of the ‘moreness’ embedded in our experiences. We, as human beings, are creatures saturated in conscious, experiential freedom as efficacious and mediating subject (Sherman, 2007). We have the experiential capability to experience the same phenomenon countless times without our necessarily repeating the same conscious response toward it. We know this because it would contradict experience to claim that a situation or a particular experience determines our phenomenological freedom.
Moreover, despite the seeming ‘logic’ or ‘facts’ of my situation, in the very process of reflecting upon my immediate situation I experience myself as consciously free to perceive otherwise; or to choose how I might conduct myself; and thus I can discern that I am consciously free to do other than that which I am heavily inclined to do. This accounts for one dimension of the ‘moreness’ of experiential experience: it is a matter of phenomenological freedom.
But our phenomenological freedom, our ability to perceive or express an ‘otherwise’, should not be confused as absolute freedom. Aside from the self-evident fact that we do not experience ourselves as absolutely free at any given moment, the point is that although one is ‘free to choose (for example) how to conduct oneself with respect to the facts of a situation (for the facts never over-determine how one might choose to approach them), it is nevertheless the facts of this situation that limit the range of my possible choices (and thus limit the range of those things that I might achieve through any one of those choices)’ (Sherman, 2009; pp. 71-72).
On the level of experiential experience I have only to lend my phenomenological freedom to a particular situation. I am also simultaneously embedded in a situation (what we might also describe as ‘facticity’ in light of Jean-Paul Sartre), which pertains to how, for example, I exist within a precedent social reality. Hence, I am constrained to experience myself as phenomenologically free in the midst of a situation which could impede my sense of freedom. I have the conscious ability through my phenomenological freedom to perceive an otherwise or express a ‘moreness’, yet all the while I am also constrained to experience certain particulars in the midst of a certain situation (i.e., my emotional history, my bodily situatedness, the political dynamic definitive of my situation, a rotten economic circumstance, etc.).
In this sense there is a conscious ‘moreness’ to the more broad scope of experiential experience, for I am always necessarily embedded in a situation whilst simultaneously experiencing the ability to perceive ‘otherwise’ or express a divergent opinion. Antagonistic social, political and economic forces may repress this ability, but even in the most oppressive circumstances one’s phenomenological freedom remains present as the possibility for divergent thought and critical self-reflection.
Practically, what I see, hear, taste and smell on an experiential level concerns how I am orientating my self toward the phenomena of my experience. Our perceiving, our hearing, our tasting, our smelling, which are limited of course to the sensorial dimension of our being, invariably involves our interacting with a phenomenon. And even if we continue to limit ourselves to the sensorial dimension of experiential experience, we can say that our experience with a phenomenon is one that is still rich in diversity and divergent possibility. Our experiencing a phenomenon can in fact evoke within us several different sensorial responses. Then if we consider that the sensorial level of being is only one dimension of our being, that there are several dimensions of our being, each with their own integral aspects and complexities, we get an even more complex picture of the phenomenological freedom behind the non-conceptual ‘moreness’ I have set out to describe. For instance, there is a numerical, spacial, ‘energy’, movement-motion level of being; a physical, neural, hormonal dimension; a more general bodily functioning dimension; an organic and biochemical dimension; an emoting, feeling, sensing dimension; an imaginative dimension; an aesthetic dimension; and there are of course dimensions such as our ability to experientially think and distinguish, relate, reason, and be critically self-reflective. All of these dimensions can, and often do, respond to any particular phenomenon of experience. That is, in experiential experience, how we experience a phenomenon—if we are open to our experiences—is often through an intermodal and multidimensional process that we can define as ‘experiential coherence’. And one aspect of the experiential coherence of our experiencing a phenomenon involves a multidimensional response from our being—or, in other words, the performance of our phenomenological freedom.
One’s experiential experience with a phenomenon can evoke an inter-dimensional response between ourselves as subjects and the phenomenon of our awareness, which is also a multidimensional subject. Practically, each dimension of our being is intersubjective. That is to say that in experiential experience, our multidimensional being invariably involves our interacting with a phenomenon. Since one cannot not experience, due to the ‘intentional’ aspect of our consciousness (Sartre, 1966); it has long been understood that an organic aspect of experiential experience is how, through our ‘intentionality’ (our attention toward a phenomenon), we are always consciously focused on a particular phenomenon. To put it another way, our multidimensional being is always coherently focused on a particular phenomenon. This is due, once again, to the fact that our conscious focusing on a particular phenomenon involves the multidimensionality of our being; because our conscious ‘intentionality’ is the channel for each dimension of our being. This is a defining aspect of experiential experience. And it is an important aspect if we are to better discern the concrete ‘moreness’ in behind all of our experiences.
When an individual sees a painting (via his intersubjective intention), the piece of art shows itself to him as a multidimensional possibility for an experience and, in turn, reveals a dimension of itself that can therefore be reflected upon. If the individual is experientially open to wholly absorbing the experience with the painting, there is embedded in his intersubjective experience a simultaneous moment of diversity and the event of his (or her) being confronted by self-reflective possibility. We can truly alter this example to an endless amount of scenarios. Indeed, this can be said for every experience we have with the concrete phenomenon of our experience. In any case, each time the same individual experiences the same phenomenon of a piece of art, there is always ‘something more’ in behind his/her experience. Each time he experiences the painting a new experience with it unfolds: a new response within him is evoked; a new moment of self-reflection is born, and a new dimension of the painting is revealed and focused upon. In relation to this point, we can discern quite practically that there is always something more to a particular phenomenon and our experience with it – a something more which we can never wholly nail-down because each experience is multidimensional, fluid, unfolding and evokes something new to be discerned.
But what this also implies is that if the same individual is open to the multidimensionality of his (or her) experiences with a particular phenomenon—if in experiential coherence he is open to wholly absorbing his experience without nailing-it-down, particularly in the sense of ascribing onto the phenomenon of his experience some abstract or absolute identity that subsequently stunts the intersubjectivity between himself and the phenomenon; then each time that he then experiences the phenomenon his own experiential and existential orientation is challenged. The concrete ‘moreness’ of my experience, as we know, also implies the concrete possibility of self-reflective ‘otherwise’ in my experience. This ‘moreness’ or diversity of experience is analogous to the simultaneous possibility of ‘otherwise’ in my experiencing a particular phenomenon. And it can be seen here that with this aspect of the ‘moreness’ of experience, we have discerned another point of reference for either the anguish or terror that one feels in the midst of experiential experience as a challenge against one’s self, against one’s existing orientation and knowledge.
To put it differently: if for the time being we hold the concrete ‘moreness’ of experiential experience as analogous to self-reflective experience then we can immediately flesh out one source of the anguish or terror beneath the act of evasion. As we will discuss in more detail later, to wholly absorb the unceasing experiential reality of ‘otherwise’, the concrete possibility of ‘otherwise’ in our coherently experiencing a phenomenon as discerned within the two-way relation that constitutes the ‘moreness’ or diversity of experience, amounts to one’s being open to one’s own critical self-reflective thinking. What is more, to be open to the ‘moreness’ or ‘otherwise’ or ‘diversity’ of experience amounts not only to one being continuously open to one’s own critical self-reflective thinking but also to another’s critical self-reflective thinking, to an uncertain world of experience, to a constantly unfolding orientation, and to new experiences writ large.
It is the persistent ‘otherwise’ in our experiencing that, if we are open to the diversity of the world of our experiences, immediately challenges our more organic experiential and existential orientations that we have developed over the course of our lives as subjects. This is important: the concrete diversity of phenomena continuously confronts us in every experience. And as we know, each experience we have with a phenomenon reveals a new moment of experiencing. In this respect, we can determine that our more organic existential and experiential orientations are constantly challenged by each new experience that we have. Since we are always consciously driven towards the phenomenal world via our conscious intentionality, we are always orientating ourselves with the stuff around us. It is in our necessary driving towards the world that we are always orientating ourselves with the world. This expresses, concretely, how we therefore gain orientation, history, knowledge and understanding. But with each new experience that I have, the concrete diversity in behind every experience holds the possibility of a relentless challenge towards my existing sense of things. The experiential reality of ‘otherwise’ is, in other words, an expression of a world without absolute orientation. It is one of several characteristics that define the existential-phenomenological notion of ‘lived experience’.
With my being in experiential coherence, then, this implies that I am open to the organic relations of experiential experience which, as we will discuss later, requires that my experiential orientation is under constant challenge. In overly simplistic terms, if I am practically always open to new things, to new people, to new experiences, my sense of self and my beliefs are constantly challenged to grow and expand and develop. This process is anathema to ideology; because ideology – consider bigotry, for example – is by definition closed to this unceasing ‘otherwise’ and ‘moreness’, to a world of continuous self-growth and of phenomenal unfolding, to a world of continuous self-identifying and of social changes. Ideology runs opposite to different opinions, to a diversity of data, to a diversity of phenomena, and lastly, to a world that does not offer an absolute, secure orientation. 
In sum, and to repeat once more: I consider it self-evident that in our conscious experience there are degrees of self-reflective thought—degrees of experiential experience, even—that attest to our multidimensional being. Each dimension of our being reflects a degree of self-reflective thought. Evidently, I can say practically that I experience self-reflective consciousness. And in my possessing self-reflective consciousness, I possess the capability to both experience and discern in a multidimensional way the world of phenomena. To the same extent, I am practically aware that my experience is intersubjective. I know this for the very reason that it speaks to the nature of how I experience the concrete phenomenon of my attention. Likewise, I can practically admit through my intersubjective experience with a concrete phenomenon, that I am ‘intentional’. In other words, I cannot not experience as I am always driven toward a phenomenon which is embedded in my present phenomenological context. Hitherto to say that consciousness must live in the world, as discerned through the theme of intentionality, is a concrete notion (Sartre, 1966; Adorno, 1992). Intentionality at the outset can be described experientially in how, as conscious beings, we ‘intend’ or are consciously driven toward some phenomenon of experience (as described in the rich tradition of phenomenological study). The theme of concrete intentionality speaks of how I live through the experiential world; but it also tells me that I coincidentally continue to remain beyond the experiential world in the sense that the world of experience does not determine my conscious experience.
We have the conscious ability to reflect upon our experiences. And practically, we have the diversity of our multidimensional being to experience a similar situation in countless ways. This account illustrates, as I have said, one dimension of the ‘moreness’ of experience. Henceforth it is true that one dimension of the ‘moreness’ of experiential experience is what we experience in reference to our own conscious freedom (phenomenological freedom). More practically, we can also determine through various forms of analysis that our conscious freedom is often realized in the form of anguish or terror. In general, it is in the conscious ‘moreness’ evidenced upon our realization of our phenomenological freedom (which represents one base of self-reflective possibility), produced by the fact that consciousness experiences itself as cut off from its past and future roles and value systems external to this nature of consciousness (a play on Sartre, 1966), that a sense of existential terror or anguish rises up to face us. This existential anguish or terror rises up in a manner by which we are then tempted to make absolute (in the form of self-forgetting deception) the existential and experiential relationships which constitute our existences.
In truth, there is a common measure between this dimension—the experiential freedom organic to our being—and the anxiety born from it. But the ‘moreness’ of experiential experience is not limited to the concrete reality of our phenomenological freedom. There is also a concrete ‘moreness’ embedded in the phenomenal world. That is to say that, what coincides with one’s phenomenological freedom is the concrete ‘moreness’ or diversity embedded in one’s organic experiential, intersubjective relating with the phenomenal world (which represents the second base of self-reflective possibility). This last point pertains to the multifariousness in the very world of phenomena; it highlights the ‘moreness’ behind the concrete phenomenon of one’s experience (the concrete phenomenon of one’s attention). And this second dimension of the organic diversity embedded in our experience is what helps produce the concrete existential anguish or terror we feel in the face of the world.
I should like to stress that much of my analysis with regards to the relation between experiential experience and the phenomenal world is discerned more wholly in a later chapter on ‘experiential coherence’. For now however, it is vital that we discern the ‘moreness’ and concrete diversity of experience as it relates directly to the relation between anxiety and evasion. This begins by coming to grips with the fact that the subject and the world are engaged in an unceasing dialogue. The phenomenal world invites our experiencing it, as we are necessarily driven towards it. But if the notion of evasion is, in fact, a concrete notion, it is one born of anxiety that is invariably linked to this relation.
However, it should be noted that there are several tiers of anxiety. One of them – perhaps a more primal fear or anxiety – has to do with the existential threatenedness toward humanity’s precious dependence on nature. There is another fear or terror, which has to do with a fear of the unknown. In the end, when considering all of the variations, one might ask: what else does diversity or ‘otherwise’ – i.e., change – represent if not the uncertain, the unknown? What else does the ‘moreness’ of experiential experience represent, if not a representation of what one cannot wholly nail-down? And what do all of these descriptions represent if not a challenge towards my existing existential and experiential orientation—a challenge against my desire for security? Is it not logical to assume that the historical insecurity common to human beings is anchored in concrete experience? In a later chapter on ‘experiential totality’ we will find that these questions almost naturally illuminate their own answers. But the point at this moment is to flesh out the relation between anxiety and the act of evasion:
The anxiety or terror that one feels, one’s fear of the unknown, holds a direct relation to his or her yearning for totalized security; particularly when it comes to how in relation to anguish or terror one desires the ability to predict or control the unpredictable world of experience. Such phenomena as birth, death, sex, marriage, illness, accidents, epidemics, earthquakes, and wars – the constant confrontation with all of these things represent a general source of anxiety. For it is the case when reflecting on these various phenomena, which are significant of the ‘moreness’ of experience, that the act of evasion is an expression of how I choose to distort and absolutize my experience, particularly as I strive to secure a self-deceiving and dominant form of ‘supreme certainty’ in the face of an uncertain world.
Evasion is, in every sense, a matter of insecurity. Even a brief phenomenological analysis of the experience of time, duration and development reveals to us a deep description of the reality of ‘moreness’ and ‘otherwise’ and our fear in the face of it. In the most simple use of language, the ‘moreness’ of our experiencing and the anguish or terror that I feel in direct relation to it is commonly felt even as we arise from out of bed each morning. To paraphrase J.H. Van Den Berg, and without being too general: it is a common description that one’s fear of the unknown comes to meet one’s mind in the face of the dim, uncertain entity that bears the name of the future. As I wake up in the morning, before getting out of bed, I allow myself to be taken hold of by the thought of what the day will bring. It does not take much time. The evening before, the day before or perhaps much longer ago already I had made plans for this day or plans were dictated upon me by circumstances. I step into the day, which immediately assumes a certain character. Then and there it is clear to me that the way I put my legs out of bed corresponds with the practical character that the day has assumed. There are days that make me get out in a flash, others when it takes a moment for the second leg to follow the first. I even know days whose aspect is so unattractive that I turn over again and pretend that the day has not begun at all. It is evident from this example that the future cannot actually be so vague and isolated an entity as has sometimes been assumed. But, even with that being said, we can simultaneously strike the claim that although there is a very close tie between the present and the future, so close that we may say that the future lies contained in the present, the future is still what is to come later. Perhaps it is true, in certain circumstances, that this ‘later’ can appear to me now. But I also know that while getting out of bed I don’t allow for myself to be determined by what is going to happen later in the day. Such a thing is indeed unimaginable; for what is really happening later in the day is not yet there. But simply because the later has not yet been evidenced does not mean that therefore, because it does not exist, I am left without influence. Even if this influence is of my insecurity for the ‘what might happen’; this insecurity can still be a concrete experience and it may result in a form of influence (emotionally, for instance) irrespective of my knowing what the day may or may not bring (Van Den Berg, 1955; pp. 65-71).
Continuing in a play on Van Den Berg, it is true that ‘when I wake up in the morning, I know that it is very possible that what might happen later in the day might not at all accord with the way I move my legs out of bed.’ As the day unfolds ‘I am confronted by unexpected experiences. We can at once expect the most pleasant day and be thrown for a loop with an unsightly incident’. In this way also, there is a ‘moreness’ to our experiencing; a ‘moreness’ which, again, is significant of the possibility of ‘otherwise’. The future is not always certain. Nothing can be more clear than this simplest of truisms. Each day is not absolutely secure. The future is, in fact: that which comes as it comes to me now. Anguish or terror, my fear of the unknown, especially as they relate to the concrete ‘moreness’ and ‘otherwise’ of my experiencing, speak in quite a direct manner as a reaction to the realities of the future. This reaction, moreover, can be seen as a response to the concrete dimensions of life which make up time, duration, and development; all of which find expression in the way things come to meet me each and every day.
In sum, by thinking of the future I already exist in what comes hastening towards me. Before I put my legs outside of bed, the day has already come to meet me. I was already in the day before the day began. Before I move my legs out of bed and move into the room, I had already entered the day. The way of my entering-the-day and the way in which the day and each experience hasten towards me correspond like a constant interplay of question and answer (Van Den Berg, 1955; pp. 68, 69, 70).
I am practically confronted by experiential uncertainty. And this uncertainty alone is enough to compel me to find my security in evasion: to place my security in an abstract ‘ultimately certain’ framework, where I may start to pray for safe page through the day or direct myself from the insecurity I feel by focusing on a diversion.
On another level, but with the same thought in mind, the deep insecurity of human life can just as well be linked to the phenomenon of death. As Van Den Berg states, of all beings, human beings are the only ones that know that they will die. ‘If a person wishes to, he (or she) can see every day that his life moves toward a usually infirm and difficult old age, followed in most cases by an end full of pain and anguish. A discouraging thought! Even more discouraging if we reflect that death does not always come when life is rounded off, but may intrude at any moment, in the midst of our plans, in the midst of life, which must be called unfinished then in every aspect’ (Van Den Berg, 1955; pp. 68-75). Death, in a similar albeit more extreme manner than the most basic ‘moreness’ of experience, is a particular phenomenon that ‘threatens not only as a final ending but as one that hangs over us as a catastrophe that may strike at any moment’. Just as ‘if there is one thing we know about the future, if there is one thing we can say in clear certainty about the future, it is that death will come’ (Van Den Berg, 1955; pp. 68-75). Death of course is not always in our immediate awareness and to some extent that is understandable – even though our openly accepting that each of us will die one day can enlighten the course of our experiencing. But let us not exaggerate in this direction. The point I am making is that if the process of time, duration, and development frightens us, it is because there is no other sufficient surprise that everyone lives as if no one absolutely ‘knew’ (Camus, 1955).
To sum up, we are not beyond ourselves to say that the anguish or terror, the fear of the unknown, can take a vast array of forms. But, in any case, the main point of this discussion can be address in the form of the following question: what better way to deduce the phenomenon of insecurity than to trace its source to the common relations inherent in concrete experience? It is evident that the organic challenge embedded in our openly experiencing the phenomenal world can be seen as not being without its insecurity. Allowing oneself to unceasingly and wholly absorb the experiential reality of ‘otherwise’, ‘moreness’, and diversity as embedded in our experiential experiencing is an experientially coherent mode of experiencing that, at first, invites the deepest of human anxieties. Hence how the anguish or terror we feel is really a historical expression of the insecurity inherent in our orientating ourselves toward a phenomenal world that is without absolute orientation. The question now is whether it is practical to link this lack of an absolute orientation to the act of evasion, which represents the process of our seeking security in some absolute thing. But let us not go there just yet. Considering that we are limiting ourselves to a summary of the ‘moreness’ and ‘otherwise’ of experiential experience, and in particular how the concrete diversity of experience relates to anxiety and evasion, we can still go one step further in elucidating the aforementioned terms.
In experiential coherence, our orientations are always unfolding, changing and fluid. Just as, for example, if one is open to one’s own self growth; the process of self-development is an unceasingly fluid and unfolding process. In fact, the process of self-development can act as an analogy with regards to the coherent mode of our experiential orientations. For anyone who is familiar with the theme of ‘self-development’ or ‘self-actualization’ knows that our ongoing development of ‘self-identity’ is saturated in diversity, as it is our ceaselessly absorbing something new that contributes to our constant self-growth. Likewise, the same people will also know that our self in this way is always unfolding and in direct relation with the stuff of our experiences. This is, indeed, analogous of the process of experiential orientation. And through a discussion of the ‘self’ we will be able to bring to light another brief description of the ‘moreness’ and ‘otherwise’ inherent in experiential experience, especially as it relates to our lack of an absolute orientation and the question of identity.
In many philosophical discussions the nature of the ‘self’ is often held in direct relation with experience. If we can say practically that we are conscious; if we can say practically that we experience ourselves as conscious of our surroundings; and if we can say practically that we are aware that we also experience ourselves as aware of our past and present; we can say practically that we are therefore self-conscious and that we experience ourselves as self-aware, which, in turn, amounts to being able to be aware of our self. From this point, it is only a small step toward our acknowledging that in our present conscious experiencing, our past psychic state, our past sense of self, does not necessarily determine our present experience of ‘self’. If my present self were casually determined by my past self, then my experiencing phenomenological freedom would be impossible. Thus, we once again touch on the first dimension of experiential ‘moreness’. If the non-determination of my past and present self refers back to what we have already described as the conscious ‘moreness’ of my experience; the anguish or terror I experience can also refer to the moment when I am confronted by this ‘moreness’ in the realization of, indeed, my constant unfolding self.
As Sartre would say, ‘I am what I am not and I am not what I am.’ In the organic process of self-development, if I am to be in experiential coherence, I am required to be open to my own continuous self-growth. In my experiencing my present sense of self, there is a ‘morness’ in which I cannot absolutely identify; because just as I have a past in which makes up the stuff of ‘who I am’, my present self is also in the process of a continuous unfolding. Therefore there is always more to me, or to my self, as my present self that is defined by my past is also always caught up in the continuously unfurling process of my unceasing self-development. I am at once a self-identity and at the same time, if I am open to the ‘moreness’ of my experiential being, my identity is never absolute. In fact, our phenomenological freedom can be almost entirely evidenced by the experiential reality in which I experience my present psychic state—my present self—as a constant fluid motion from the point of which encompasses all of my past experiences.
My present self is never an ontic relation. In fact, my self ceases to be an absolute definition. Of course there is a historical continuity with regards to what actually constitutes my present sense of self, for I can always express who I am; but this is not a totalized identity. There is always a ‘moreness’ in behind my present self. Just as, when I see a friend, I know practically who that friend is. I know them and I can recognize them by the characteristics of which I have grown familiar in my knowing them. To paraphrase Camus, throughout the course of my friendship with a person, I can summarize the totality of their deeds, by the consequences caused in life by their presence. I can know a person practically. I can appreciate them practically. I can gather the sum of their characteristics, which are reflected by their past and present acting, and I can practically outline the person who is my friend. But for all that, I cannot absolutely know my friend. I cannot absolutely know a person. For I cannot, irrespective of what might be my greatest self-deceiving intentions, package up a human being into nicely wrapped definition, and sell them as a mere ‘object’ (Camus, 1955; pp. 6-10). As Camus would say, it is certain that apparently, though I have seen the same person a hundred times, I shall not for that reason know him any better. Yet if I add up all of the months that I have known a person and if I say that I know him a little better at the hundredth month counted off, this will be felt to contain an element of truth. Indeed, because I can sketch out the characteristics of my friend to date, here is an element of truth. But each time I see my friend, there is still always something ‘more’ about him or her that I have yet to discern. Of course, I can choose through my evasion to self-deceivingly package up my friend and ascribe onto him or her an absolute definition; but this would be false. I would be distorting the phenomenon of my friend. Not only is my friend continuously growing and, not only is his or her sense of ‘self’ continuously unfolding; but so am I and so is my relation to them. Everyone is familiar with such an aspect inherent in the phenomenon of ‘friendship’. But what is most interesting is that the same can more or less be said of phenomena in general. And this deserves reflection.
One step forward, the phenomenon of ‘self’ can act as a wonderful analogy with respect to the ‘experiential identity’ of phenomena and, in turn, our more general orientation with the phenomenal world. One’s sense of self and its fluid process is almost like a phenomenon’s ‘sense of self’ in respect to a phenomenon’s ‘experiential identity’ and its own fluid, unfolding process—or, better yet, ‘self-development’. That is to say that phenomena have an ‘experiential identity’; but they do not have a totalized identity. There is a ‘moreness’ to phenomena. Of course I can, through self-deceiving evasion, through my want for security, suppress the ‘moreness’ of a particular phenomenon and ascribe onto that particular phenomenon a totalized or absolute ‘identity’. But this is, as we will conclude a little later, a matter of experiential distortion. This act is falsifying.
Moreover, in the sum of the world’s diversity, from the concrete grounds of experiential ‘moreness’ straight through to the multidimensional complexities of nature, we can say that we lack an absolute orientation. But it would not be very coherent of us to say that the phenomenal world lacks identity, just as it would be incoherent of us to say that our selves lack identity or that our friends lack identity. On this point, to say that the concrete ‘moreness’ and ‘otherwise’ of the experiential world does not offer us an absolute orientation, this is not to say that the phenomenal world does not offer us concrete regularities with regards to life and experience. On the contrary, it is evident that there are concrete phenomenal regularities and continuities, which help form the basis of our historical knowledge. In the same way, there are concrete phenomenal regularities with respect to human history. Hitherto there are also concrete phenomenal regularities in the process of time, duration and development that, in many ways, we have already alluded to.
One of the longstanding errors of philosophy in fact is confusing the self-conscious capabilities of human beings with a concrete emergence from an unmediated nature; that human beings are ultimate in uniqueness, because we are the only to emerge from out of a solid nature and possess a symbolic identity and a type of self-consciousness that goes along with it. This is the absurd equation that has long stood in direct opposition of the coherence of the western mind: that human beings are in some way ‘out of nature’ and yet hopelessly bound to it; that human beings are a dual, our self-conscious capabilities can question the meanings of life while we are forever anchored in the biochemical-organic dimension of life that is our bodies. This is even mistaken by many as our existential dilemma. And of course it is simultaneously determined that the ‘lower animals’ are, for lack of a better word, spared this painful and agonizing dualism; for it is said that the lower animals lack a ‘symbolic identity’ and ‘the self-consciousness that goes with it’. Hitherto ‘they are anonymous, and even their faces have no name’ (Becker, 1973).
Yet nothing has been so insane than to actually submit to the deceit of this hypothesis. The fact of the matter is that we can see that every phenomenon has emerged from out of an ‘unmediated nature’, each with their unique characteristics and identity. We can say quite practically that there is an experiential ‘identity’ with respect to each phenomenon that makes up the phenomenal world. Even further, we can say on the grounds of everyday experience that it is the ‘experiential identity’ of a phenomenon, which is what we recognize and remember over time – it is the experiential identity of things that are given to us as we orientate ourselves toward the world that make up our existing orientations with the world. And here is where we not only come to describe one concrete aspect of our organic experiential orientating but also the notion of phenomenal continuity in spite of the lack of absolute identity. This is, indeed, similar to how we can identify our sense of self, but without our sense of self being an absolute sense of self. Therefore, in sum, history is made up of continuity, phenomenal regularity, in spite of its possible discontinuity.
The sparrow who lay to rest in this tree before me will be the same sparrow tomorrow. I can experientially identify the concrete phenomenon of the sparrow. On the other hand, my experiential recognition and memory of the sparrow does not imply that I have an insight into the absolute identity of the sparrow. In the same sense, I cannot look back into history and absolutely identify the sparrow. I cannot, irrespective of my deepest desire, capture the experiential identity of a sparrow in a totalized concept. I can study the sparrow, learn its evolution, and research all of its characteristics; but to that, I cannot wholly know the sparrow.
On the other hand, it is through my deep longing for security as I undertake my self-deceiving project of evasion, wherein I want to capture the absolute identity of the sparrow. I want to catch the sparrow in a form of absolutely knowing the subject of the sparrow. I want, for all that, to evade the reality of the sparrow as a multidimensional subject and turn the phenomenon of the sparrow into an ‘object’ that can be dominated. Thus, through an example as simple as my experiencing a sparrow, we can discern the manner in which I, through my self-deceiving evasion, drive for a sense of false security in the world by suppressing the organic diversity inherent in the phenomenon of the sparrow. So it is with a delicate understanding of the nature of our experiences and the experiential knowledge we gain in our experiencing the phenomenal world that we can therefore discern the difference between our organic relating with the phenomenal world and our evasive relating with the phenomenal world.
If an essential aspect of evasion is to successfully satisfy my desire to absolutely explain the world, my evasion therefore implies a desire to want, firstly, the abolishment of experiential coherence. To abolish experiential coherence is to elude the reality of my experiential experiencing with the phenomenal world. Evasion speaks of how I close myself off to the world of experience, to my organic experiential interacting with phenomena. When it comes to a later investigation, the degrees in which one jumps or leaps to an absolute conclusion and invariably stunts their experience will become evident. Nevertheless, it is solely on this basis, in advance to an upcoming series of reflections toward the fundamental philosophical problem, where I would like to cannulate the underlying attitude of this essay.
The only world I experience, without false pathos, is one that does not function in any sort of absolute capacity. The world of experience, irrespective of my attempt to force onto it a totalized worldview, does not organically console my yearning for an absolute orientation. On the experientially coherent plain of intelligence, I know practically that the experiential horizon does not offer me an absolute framework. My experience tells me that this is true. For the world of experience, my concrete experiencing of the phenomenal world, is a matter of intersubjective limitations. Such limits disclose to me, particularly when it comes to my coherence, to the very the nature of my experiences, that the concrete phenomenon of my attention is at once isolated and captured in my intersubjective awareness toward it. From this point I can therefore identify it. But I cannot absolutely reveal its essential nature in a conceptual framework. ‘Here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I can feel its taste, a bird and I can sense its crying tune ring in my ears. Likewise, these scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes—how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel?’ (Camus, 1955).
I negate this world that I experience through my evasion; on the other hand, I can accept this world I experience through my revolt. For in my experiential revolt, all of the knowledge professed by an ‘unequivocal reason’ found in the service of the deified economy, or by any absolute frame of reference, becomes known for what it really is: absurd. To self-deceivingly leap into the realm of absolutes, this is only a matter of me lying to myself: it will not suffice to teach me this world I experience any more than through my openly experiencing it. It will give me nothing to assure me of the real splendour, the experiential texture of experience with this bird, who reveals itself to me while hanging off the bow of this equally resplendent tree.
Within this mode of radical subjectivity, what drunken experiential delight comes of my openly experiencing this world! Contrary to the evasive attitude, I know this multicoloured and radiant world as only but a part of me. This is my experiential revolt; wherein this bird, that tree—these teach me the drunk of life so long that I am open to my experiencing them.
On the other hand, through my evasion I might strive to secure a framework for the benefit of absolutely explaining the world. I might try to discern all phenomena, as I am inclined to do in the economic totality, by abstractly rationalizing the world’s unfaltering laws, to teach myself to abstractly classify and reduce all of the stuff of my experience. But at the same time this outcome restricts the organic passion I feel—this meaning born of experiential delight that makes my life worthwhile.
In sum, the voice of the Idol of the economy might hail from its topmost balcony and try to persuade me through my deep longing that its laws are applicable to universal truth; and my thirst for its securing knowledge might evoke in me a want to admit that they are indeed true. But no sooner is this bird reduced to my interpreting it through a distorted perspective of reductionist, identitarian objectivism. No sooner am I, as a subject, propelled into a state of internal decay. No sooner is this world that I so passionately feel become subject to economic distortion. Hitherto it is of my revolt to ask whether or not I’m doing justice to the things that I am seeing. If I only allow myself a limited amount of engagement with the phenomenon of my experience, especially by way of reducing it to an absolute frame of reference, my life loses any meaning which ought to make it worthwhile. Herein, the question of meaningless becomes a question of human absurdity.
Contrary to evasion, then, my revolt does not want to impoverish the experiential reality I so passionately absorb. Indeed, it does just the opposite to what the evasive project anxiously claims by honouring the multifariousness of reality. This is a matter of lucid consciousness and concrete understanding; it is a matter of a ‘new sensibility’ (to borrow from Marcuse). The world of experience is a radiant one, rich in its multidimensionality and dynamic in its truth. The experiential horizon, the world of experience, is fluid; it flows and unfolds and, indeed, it alters. Thus, in a moment of experiential revolt, we can say, at least upon first approximation, that I want only to be open to the concrete phenomenon that confronts me as a fluid and unfolding experiential event—this is the base for all coherence or none. Anything above and beyond this base is a matter of absurdity. The concrete phenomena of experience only burst forth with (meaningful) passionate life so long that I give myself to the phenomenal world. To this extent, we will understand in the future that coherent experience requires an openness in my own multidimensional being. And this openness requires that I recognize the limits of concrete knowledge, which is strengthened by my revolt. For what I discern and make knowledgeable in this world, as it reveals itself to me, is anchored solely in my multidimensional being and experiencing the equally multidimensional subject of all phenomena. Distortion, evasion, wants only to transcend these limits of knowledge.
To sum up, the experiential identity of things, which I can discern practically through my orientating toward the phenomenal world, provides only an experiential frame of reference for my concrete experiencing, awareness and knowledge. Subjects have a phenomenological identity that is both continuous and, in turn, is what changes slowly over time. The butterfly that flutters past my window, I can discern practically that this subject is a monarch butterfly. Tomorrow, I will be able to once again discern this subject of the monarch butterfly. Indeed the concrete phenomenon of the monarch butterfly has its historical continuity. Yet despite my being able to discern the concrete phenomenon of the monarch butterfly, I cannot, for all that, catch this phenomenon in a total definition, in an abstract concept or even theory.
I have only in my revolt, in my coherence, my present awareness and understanding of the concrete subject of the monarch butterfly, because I know that the subject of the butterfly is always ‘more’ than how I previously experienced it. There is, indeed, always ‘more’ to be discovered about the subject of any concrete phenomenon. The subject of the monarch butterfly constantly reveals itself in every present experience I have with it; but the subject of the monarch butterfly is also caught-up within the process of time, duration, and development. This goes for all things that define the phenomenal world, even our selves and other people. And what is perhaps one of the more prevalent points here is that although there is a historical continuity with respect to phenomena and their ‘experiential identity’, there are also different modes of our experiencing and, in turn, an intermodal coherence with regards to each subject or concrete phenomenon—even with regards to what we might determine as a concrete regularity. This is another reason why we can define the concrete ‘moreness’ of experiential experience. And this is where the tie between anxiety and evasion is wholly evidenced.
Henceforth I cannot, in clear pathos, absolutely identify the concrete phenomenon of my experience. But it is of my evasion, through either the anguish or terror that I feel, to want to totalize the phenomenal world for the benefit of achieving a false sense of security. As we have already said, evasion, whether as a project or a moment of instantaneous choice, is invariably linked with insecurity. And these reflections on the theme of evasion will only become more clear in our analysis of the notion of a ‘totalized experiential framework’. Indeed as our journey continues to unfold, the theme of evasion will become all the more founded in the notion of experiential totality. In the meantime, we have at least begun to pinpoint the relation between anxiety and evasion. And we shall have to continue to persist in fleshing out this relation before moving any further.
Considering that we have already drawn on several reasons as to why one might commit the act of evasion, I am left here to ask the more obvious question: if I experience a tree or forest at different times in all its dimensions—if I experience a tree or a forest in all its magnificence, with its passion and splendour and richness, why on earth would I want to evade this experience? In other words, the theme of evasion evokes the question, why do we not allow for ourselves to remain open to the world of experience, to the diversity of our experiences and, subsequently, to the diversity of our self-reflective capabilities, if it is so profoundly rich in experiential and existential fruit? In another way, why do we choose to distort our experiences and, in turn, dislocate life?
In terms of everyday experience, how we interact with the richness of a particular phenomenon, in this case a tree—this speaks of how, on one level, we are in a constant confrontation with the multifariousness of our fluid experiential comportments. The reality of our experiences being both multifarious and fluid, this alone speaks in opposition to any concrete possibility that humanity might historically realize the ‘ultimate security’ of the absolute and this harks all the way back to the precarity of our existential situations in the world. If diversity, divergence, ‘moreness’ is grounded in the very nature of our experiential comportments, in the very nature of how we experience, in the very relation we have with this world and each other, it is true that there are few other sources of existential anxiety which may motivate evasive action and a dominant project of thought.
In sum, it is not only the ‘moreness’ of a phenomenon or the ‘moreness’ of conscious experience that, in general, creates a sense of anguish or terror and incites the violating act of evasion. Even the general uncertainty of my experiencing evokes a feeling of insecurity. That is to say that, although there is a concrete ‘moreness’ with regards to the phenomenon of my experience and with regards to my phenomenological freedom; these relations also contribute to the concrete ‘moreness’ with regards to the course of time, duration, and development. Keeping to the above illustration, the ‘moreness’ of my experiencing a forest, for example, has the ability to evoke within me a series of core existential questions: questions such as, ‘what is going to happen to our forests?’, ‘with climate change affecting our forests, will that, in turn, affect our oxygen supply?’, ‘what about the pine beetle or the daisy?’. Or if we want to be even more general, such questions as ‘what will be evoked in my being open to experiencing a phenomenon?’, ‘what if a comet hits the earth?’, ‘what might be the cause of my death?’, ‘what is going to happen to civilization?’ – all of these questions, however broad they may be, refer to the time, durational and developmental dimensions of life. These dimensions are always unfolding just as my experience is fluid and always unfolding; and they are the dimensions which seem to contribute more wholly to my general ‘fear of the unknown’.
It is only practical, then, that we conclude that from within this experiential reality of fluidity and multifariousness, there is an obvious terror that wells up within our experiencing—a terror which is projected outward and onto the diverse scope of our experiencing the multicoloured world of phenomena. Evasion, in turn, is significant of the reaction of our feeling threatened. It underlines much of humanities meltdown in terms of the dark myths of diversity and multiculturalism; the desire or implicit drive for domination; and the clash between a yearning for totality and the organic, experiential reality of divergence; all of which are purely created by insecurity and downright fear of change and diversity. Evasion, as the answer to insecurity, is a message of despair. In history, the deification of some thing and the functionalizing of an ideology in the name of that totalized worldview, is essentially the human response to the existential terror found within the eternal diversity of infinite spaces.
Moreover, it is the existential and experiential nature of our comportment that the primal core of the evasive attitude rises up to face the world in a petrified form. The expressions of petrified universal moments occur within the cognitive moment of the human desire to make absolute assertions. And, for that matter, it is the very nature of concrete existence that we respond to, project onto, and self-deceivingly evade which, in turn, sparks humanities drive for endless domination. Rather than striving to live openly, we try to force on to the world of our experience the veil of the absolute, and this always comes at the cost of our own coherence. For if coherence is characteristic of our staying open to experience and to the multidimensional and fluid nature of phenomena, it runs contrary to the historical absurdity of how humanity constantly acts as though it must resort to ideology, to the absolutizing of things, and indeed to dominating social policies.
To paraphrase J.H. Van Den Berg, we can summarize these last points as follows. The relationship between human beings and the phenomenal world is so profound that it is an error to separate them. If we do, then human beings cease to be human beings and the world ceases to be world. The phenomenal world is no conglomeration of mere objects to be absorbed in a distant or ‘objective’ abstract and analytical framework. The phenomenal world is our home, our habitat, the materialization of our subjectivity; it is the diverse landscape on which we intersubjectively depend for our experiencing, for our development, and, indeed, for our ‘living’. The individual who wants to become acquainted with life should listen to the language spoken by the things in existence. The individual who wants to philosophically describe himself and the social reality around should first make an experiential analysis of the ‘landscape’ which he and the social collective demonstrates, explains and reveals. The rigid separation of human beings and the phenomenal world is by no means the fruit of a course of thought naturally proper to human beings. In fact, it is a mistake to hypothesize that human beings are organically distant from the phenomenal world. This separation is the result of a purely abstract, experientially distorted form of reflection. This separation is ideological. And in no less of a concrete conclusion, this separation begins with the relationship between anxiety and evasion.
Historically, every ideology undoubtedly invites if not requires from the beginning, the act of evasion and its inherent process of experiential distortion. Every ideology, in this way, is also self-deceiving. In other words: in the very process of our evasive acting we inherit a particular form of self-deception. In fact, the very nature of evasion speaks of a self-deceiving act. And this mode of self-deceptive thought, at first, pertains to human consciousness and the ability to ‘lie to oneself’ which, in turn, is what we find at the deepest core of humanity’s denial.
If my upcoming hypothesis is correct, at the heart of all experiential distortion is the theme of experiential evasion, and in this act of evasion there resides a core of self-deceptive thought. This self-deceptive thought is simply that which originates in the human (self-consciousness) ability to lie about something that we know is true.
Moreover, the theme of self-deceptive thought amounts to little more than the human ability to function in the mode of believing a particular lie whilst simultaneously not believing that lie. In the same sense, the deified economy, like all forms of experiential distortion, is manifestly self-deceiving. It is driven by a core of self-deceptive, self-denying thought. The human belief in the absolute economy, particularly as the sole principle of being, becomes in many ways an unceasing lie. For the human commitment to the economic Idol and its abstract reasoning is, in and of itself, a measure of self-deceiving distortion. In turn, it is this core of self-deceptive thought found in the western ‘vision of life’ that also makes the experience of our awakening to the self-deceptive nature of the western economic project so vehemently absurd. It is our ability to experientially deceive ourselves in relation to the economic project through the very abstract rationalization inherent in that absolute project, that contributes to the absurdity experienced in our self-reflective confrontation with that project.
In Being and Nothingness Sartre tackles this human complexity—the human ability to be self-deceptive, through what he considers as the phenomenon of ‘bad faith’. To be clear, the theme of ‘bad faith’ in Being and Nothingness is one that also endeavours to describe the the human capability to ‘lie to oneself’. It strives to discern the phenomenology of a particular attitude that is manifestly self-deceiving. Sartre’s most basic claim is, in fact, that bad faith is entirely a human (self-consciousness) ability to ‘lie to oneself’ (Sartre, 1966; p.89). But if ‘bad faith is essentially a lie to one self’, as Sartre describes, I must therefore be both ‘the liar and the one lied to’ because, ultimately, the liar and the one lied to ‘are one and the same’. Moreover, if I engage in bad faith, Sartre seems to suggest that I must hide the truth from myself. To do this I must know the truth or, indeed, the experiential reality of an experience. Sartre writes, for example:
The ideal description of the liar would be a cynical attitude or what Sartre calls a cynical consciousness affirming truth within himself, denying it in his words, and denying that negation as such. Now this doubly negative attitude rests on the transcendent. The fact expressed is transcendent since it does not exist, and the original negation rests on a truth; that is, on a particular type of transcendence. As for the inner negation which I effect correlatively with the affirmation for myself of the truth, this rests on words; that is, on an event in the world…The liar intends to deceive and he does not seek to hide this intention from himself nor to disguise the translucency of consciousness; on the contrary, he has recourse to it when there is a question of deciding secondary behaviour. It explicitly exercises regulatory control over all attitudes.’ Please See: (Sartre, Being and Nothingness, 1966; p.88).
So a paradoxical situation occurs when I engage in bad faith. I must know the truth to conceal it from myself (Wider, 1997; p. 50). And this is understandable. For what this description amounts to, is the human ability to lie about something that is known not to be true, and, even further, to live out that lie all the while knowing it is an abstraction. To this extent, Sartre’s phenomenological distinction of self-deceptive thought is on par with my own analysis.
Sartre goes on to claim that ‘bad faith’ is ultimately grounded in the ‘double property of the human being’, being-for-itself (consciousness) and being-in-itself (the natural or material world). He describes, moreover, how ‘transcendence and facticity’, which is said to be analogous to this double property of being, is actually an interpenetrating and ontological relation that leads to the bad faith phenomenon. Sartre’s notion of bad faith, then, is not only a result of an overemphasis of either the transcendence of consciousness (the for-itself) or the facticity of the material world (the in-itself), but also the hypostatization (the ascription of material value to) of them in their difference? (Sherman, 2007; pp. 144-145. Emphasis added). This is evident when Sartre concludes that: ‘Bad faith does not wish either to coordinate’ transcendence and facticity ‘or to surmount them in a synthesis’, but that it is the nature of bad faith ‘to affirm their identity while preserving their differences’, because bad faith ‘must affirm facticity as being transcendence and transcendence as being facticity in such a way that at the instant when a person apprehends the one, he can find himself abruptly faced with the other’ (Sartre, 1966; p. 98).
It is important to point out, in passing, that Sartre’s ontology is not an ontology per se. What Sartre is concerned with is a phenomenological ontology rooted in history and therefore open to the possibility of change. Sartre’s distinctions, in other words, should be read as descriptive aspects of human reality. In a sense, then, the phenomenon of bad faith, for example, the human ability to “lie to oneself,” should not be seen as an unavoidable reality. While Sartre’s distinction of bad faith is perceived as possible due to a ontological relation (again ontological is concerned differently for Sartre) due to the nature of our comportment, I consider this notion through a project of critical retrieval which sees the phenomenon of self-deceptive thought as little more than a mode of continuous self-deceiving. This self-deceiving is not an unavoidable event for it requires a choice and a continuous choosing. Moreover, the very choice made in the direction of deceiving ourselves is, indeed, consequential to the choice made to evade our experience. But this evasion requires a continuous suppression of experiential experience. It involves, on one level, a conscious choosing to distort and suppress the reality of experiential experience.
Understandingly, in order for the experiential act of self-deception to be ‘a lie to oneself’, it must be a lie that we are conscious of engaging in. On the same token, much as Sartre discerns in his discussion on bad faith, self-deceptive thought is nonetheless faith because it involves both a conscious choice and, ultimately, a belief in that choice to deceive ourselves. Self-deception, then, does not begin as belief. On the contrary, self-deception is, first and foremost, about the very nature of our engagements in the world to the extent of our evasive engagements in the world. And it is from our evasive engagements in the world, through which we undertake a process of self-deception, that we form our beliefs about them. Self-denial is hitherto also brought into being. This is what Sartre invariably goes on to say at the end of his chapter on bad faith in Being and Nothingness: ‘the true problem of bad faith stems evidently from the fact that bad faith is faith.’ From which he goes on to ask, ‘how can we believe by bad faith in the concepts which we forge expressly to persuade ourselves?’ (Sartre, 1966; p. 112). A question he goes on to answer by stating that it is, indeed, a matter of our engagements in the world, and our belief in those engagements.
Bad faith or, more practically, self-deception, must involve a belief that one believes and at the same time does not believe. That is, self-deception involves belief that is not quite belief. What actually makes this possible is the fact that all consciousness is self-consciousness. This is to say that due to the very nature of self-conscious consciousness, belief can fail to be identical to itself. Hence ‘Sartre argues that because belief is conscious of itself at the prereflective level, it is not belief…The reason that one does not [believe what one believes] is that consciousness of one’s belief, even at the pre-reflective level, removes one just enough from one’s belief to turn one’s belief into non-belief. (Wider, 1997; p. 51. Emphasis added).
In everyday language, experiential self-deception as a form of belief which one simultaneously believes and does not believe is made possible due to the degrees of self-reflective experience (consciousness). As I will discuss in a following work, human consciousness seems to experientially function through different degrees of self-awareness. In fact, one’s life is more or less a process of a constantly unfolding intermodal awareness. If we consider this phenomenological distinction more practically, we can say that two basic degrees of self-awareness that we evidently experience is ‘background’ and foreground awareness. The background and foreground of our awareness are in constant interaction with one another. They are also anchored in what can be discerned as the three interactive structures of conscious experience, which consists of the bodily/tacit structure (prereflective consciousness), the instantaneous structure, and the explicitly reflective structure (reflective consciousness). Each one of these inherent structures of experiential experience is ceaselessly interactive and constantly shifting between the foreground and background of our awareness.
In a study I already have laid out, I will spend a great deal of time reflecting on the fact that there are three inherent, ceaselessly interactive structures of conscious experience: the bodily, tacit level; the immediate, instantaneous, immersed, embedded, unabashed level of phenomenological experience (of which refers to an embedded (cognitive) distinguishing: i.e., experiential knowledge); and the level of the explicitly reflective, third-person perspective (the explicitly reflective, generalizing level). With regards to this thesis, I will consider a concrete hypothesis of the general-particular relation;; our constant (intersubjective) interaction with phenomenon; our experiential orientations and what they mean as past; experiential knowledge and the reifying of knowledge; and what is theoretical knowledge. In sum, I will continue to push forward the radical alternative to Anthropology, Epistemology and Cosmology that I am currently in the process of sketching out. Meanwhile, in return to a discussion on bad faith:
The experiential act of self-deception, the act of ‘lying to oneself’ whilst all the while knowing the truth of that lie and yet continuing to live it out, this is a result of the fluid translucency of conscious experience. The translucency of consciousness, or what we might consider to be the fluid translucency of experience, is a phenomenological description of how in experiential experience we are at once embedded in the phenomenological context of our surroundings (prereflective) and are as such constantly immersed in the phenomenal world; and yet how our ceaseless orientating and relating with the givens of experience is different to how we experience ourselves as being conscious of these surroundings (reflective). Our ability to experientially deceive ourselves—to experience the world through the lie of an ideological lens, even—speaks of how we can therefore manipulate these two forms of experiencing. More practically: in experiential experience there is just enough space between our being embedded in a situation and our ability to reflect on that situation to create a lie. It is this space that makes possible the act of self-deceptive thought.
What is nevertheless an important point for us to highlight here is how in an act of evasion, which is manifestly self-deceiving, we manipulate the prereflecive and reflective dimensions of experiential experience so that our reflective experience interprets the ontological limits of our objective situation as insurmountable, whilst our background experiencing remains aware of alternatives. This last point comes out in a number of ways, some of which we have already considered above.
Due to the phenomenology of human experience (of consciousness), we are always aware that we are not whatever it is that we are aware of. In everyday language, this distinction can be made practical in that when I experience a concrete subject (the concrete phenomenon of my attention), I am self-evidently aware that I am not that particular subject. And so, on the one hand, experiential manipulation in the form of evasion comes out practically in how we self-deceivingly make ourselves into a thing which we are not, particularly through our securing an absolute framework. On the other hand, this manipulation also comes out in how we self-deceivingly ascribe an absolute identity onto the concrete phenomenon of our experience and, in turn, how we consciously manipulate the phenomenon of our experience into an object which it is not. In both cases we deceive ourselves about the experiential nature of both our selves and, in turn, the stuff of our experiences.
These practical descriptions toward the social phenomenon of self-deceptive evasion touch on the experiential manner in which I know through my experiencing that I have the conscious ability to lie to myself whilst all the while knowing that I am, in fact, both the liar and the one lied to. I can lie about the totalized nature of phenomena and, in turn, experience the phenomenal world in the course of living this lie. I can also deceive myself about the nature of my self, deceive myself in the sense that I believe that I am not an unfolding and fluid being. I can therefore make myself into a definite thing and, in turn, live in the course of my life as an absolute definition, a thing-in-itself.
Hitherto we can discern quite practically the experiential absurdity of self-deceiving evasion. That is, the absurdity of knowing the reality of an experience and, in turn, suppressing and distorting that reality—knowing at once the truth of an experiential event and, in an act of evasion, concealing that truth through a particular form of experiential distortion and suppression. Moreover, it is not impractical to concede that from the grounds of experience, human beings have an ability to lie about an experience, an ability to abstract from an experience and to be self-deceptive even when it comes to the reality of the experiential world of things that blatantly confronts us. In general, we see this type of self-deceiving on an everyday basis. Ideology is built on this premise. And in many ways it is of falsified society to gear toward a type of suppression and distortion of experiential experience and to suppress and distort critical realities.
Now a word or two on choice. Through my evasion I choose to refuse diversity by self-deceivingly closing myself to it. We know this. Thus I merely act by misleading myself through my own self-deceptions and experiential distortions. For in my evasive acting I choose to suppress the diverse voice of experience and to travel straight into obscure remedy. I therefore also choose to wrench my experiences from out of their coherence in order to better isolate and absolutize dimensions of both experience and life. This insult to my existence, this flat out denial to truly experience the world, amounts to nothing more than an immediate form of self-deception. If it is the anguish or terror that one feels that initially provokes one to evasively act in the midst of the phenomenal world; it is only practical to suggest that one’s evasion is concerned firstly with the deceiving of oneself as to what constitutes the diverse nature of one’s experiences. The attitude of evasion, whether it is the first step of our evasive acting, a moment of choice, or an unfurling process, indeed pertains to a self-deceiving albeit conscious project.
Practically speaking, self-deception and self-denial are integral aspects of the concrete theme of evasion. Experiential evasion discloses how we consciously choose to self-deceivingly evade our experiences. Hitherto, if the concrete phenomenon of self-deceptive thought implies anything for us here, it is the initial choice to suppress or emphasize some qualities of experience over other qualities of experience, nothing more. In addition, if we were to consider the phenomenon of self-deception as an overemphasis or hypostatization of some human and, or, experiential qualities over other human and experiential qualities, we start to discern a little more clearly the phenomenology of the evasive attitude. For it would seem, upon greater inspection, that our self-deceiving capabilities found at the core of evasion amount to the following experiential event: how we do indeed emphasize by way of experiential distorting some human or experiential qualities at the expense of other human or experiential qualities. The very idea of self-deception itself alludes to such a distinction, that in the very act of deceiving ourselves—in the very act of a lie—we are giving priority to one thing while we choose to suppress another thing. And when it comes to our analysis of the contemporary Trinity—that distorting, isolating and absolutizing of the economic dimension of life which leads to the raising of the economic over all other dimensions of being and experience—this description of bad faith certainly fits nicely.
To sum up, the evasive attitude represents the path toward ‘the lie’, because the evasive attitude is, indeed, already a process of ‘lying to oneself’ to the extent that to evade experiential experience is to deceive ourselves of the reality of our experiences. Thus, when it comes to the historical principle of evasion, which can be described here as the emphasis of some human qualities over other human qualities for the benefit of achieving a false sense of security, this amounts to how we might for example isolate the dimension of reason subservient to economism as the sole principle of being. This in turn implies the concrete negation of other human qualities (i.e., emoting, feeling, sensing, imagining, and the bodily). This suggests quite practically how a person might identify with instrumental reason at the deep expense of other human qualities; or how absolute reason nullifies for instance our emotional experience. On the other hand, the emphasis of some human qualities over other human qualities is, as I have said, also intertwined with the emphasis of some experiential qualities over other experiential qualities. This is due to the intersubjective nature of the relationship between ourselves as multidimensional beings (the subject) and the subject of our experience in the midst of the multifarious world of phenomena (the phenomenon of one’s attention).
In general what we will find is that evasion, distortion, and deifying can take on a number of forms. In time these points will become increasingly evident. Nevertheless, in both cases, evasion speaks of how a person emphasizes some qualities of oneself or of a phenomenon over other qualities with which one might have come to identify, particularly if one had stayed open to them. Even more conclusively, the concrete theme of evasion speaks of how one consequentially abstracts from those human and experiential qualities that one currently evidences in favour of those that one has not yet evidenced. And this last point will certainly prove crucial as we move forward.
The life of a flower is one that I can practically predict. I may plant the seed, and soon enough the flower will grow, flourish in its season, and then die. The same method of prediction can be said in my observing the life of a fish, a cat, or a dog. There is a less complicated plane of existing when it comes to plants and animals in the sense of the agency upon which plants and animals function. This is not to understate the complexity of plants and animals, but rather to acknowledge the plane of their agency in comparison to a human one. When Camus says, ‘The cat’s universe is not the universe of the anthill,’ he means that the cat lives in the universe of being a cat. Just like the flower lives in the universe of being a flower, or how the anthill functions in the universe of being an ant hill. Of course, the cat’s life, like the flower or the anthill, is integral to the world; and the cat like the flower or the anthill share biospheres with other plants and animals. As Lambert Zuidervaart describes, plants and animals have an ‘agency’, or at least a subjectivity that exceeds the common distinction of mere ‘objecthood’, and on which animals, plants and humans depend. The life of the cat just like the life of the flower and the anthill depend a great deal on the circumstances in which they exist; what they do is done both instinctively and via their agency, which for the most part is suggested by their natures. With human beings, however, the situation is little more complicated.
On one level, we can make choices. We can think about our lives and decide what direction we want them to take. We can exploit the biospheres in which we exist, and, for better or for worse, leave a lasting impact (Zuidervaart, 2007). And it is precisely this conscious efficacy, which is significant of the human condition, that represents the historical and experiential possibility of human distortion. Damaged life, reified social phenomena, falsification, illusion, absurdity: these are all rooted in the basic existential reality of human choice. Therefore if, in fact, it is the experience of absurdity that we recognize when we awaken to an increasingly reified and falsified existence, one that is no longer anchored in the only meaningful context—namely, this world—it is the basis of human choice on which we tend to leap away from concrete existence that separates humanity from the organic soils of that anthill and those trees.
There is a perceivable gap, in other words, between human existence and the existence of plants and animals. But this gap, this space that represents evasion’s objective drive, is a symptom of damaged life. It is a matter of deformed experience and henceforth of absurdity, for we have objectively removed ourselves from not only being embedded in the world but also from coherently experiencing the ‘natural world’. On the other hand, and contrary to what some have claimed, the fact that we as human beings can reflect upon our lives in a third-person perspective and make choices, is not, for all intents and purposes, a necessary source of absurdity. It has been a fundamental failure of western thought to conclude that human beings are superior to the ‘natural world’. It is a fundamental mistake born of our ability to abstract and distort life, to affirm and even defend the abstraction and distortion of life that we have placed upon the world, that is the mark of such belief and of the very absurdity of human existence. The overarching existential circumstance which represents the human condition, and in the multiple ways this circumstance breaks down in our everyday living is not, in clear pathos, a matter of absurdity. The experience of the absurd is almost entirely anchored in a falsified, reified climate.
Keeping to the existential for a moment, to reflect on the experiences born of concrete existence leads us to variations of particulars that, therefore, constitute our existences. In this sense, life’s seemingly natural incongruity, for instance, does not amount to ‘the Absurd’. (On the other hand, as I shall suggest, the incongruity of our sociohistorical, culture social reality is the very character of absurdity). In this sense our approach differs from the likes of Camus; for Camus, through his reflections on ‘concrete existence’, the concept of the absurd is a phenomenon that is universal in scope. To some extent, Camus found himself in evasion. Since we are to have no truck with any sort of universal judgement in this way, what we might describe as the givens of life, then, is made up of an array of multidimensional regularities (particulars). It must be said that the existentials of life are certainly entwined in our examination of identity and non-identity, but only insofar that there is simultaneously identity and non-identity. To speak of the existential is not to speak of (false) hypostatized universal not subject to historical change. The existentials of life are considered within their socio-historical, cultural context.
On this point, and in reaching back to the notion of evasion, in a sense, and as the existential attitude will confess, the human surrender to the economic Idol or to any absolute amounts to a confession. It is a confession that life is too much for a person, or that they do not understand it, or that the brute and concrete situation does not satisfy their thirst for the security of absolute ends. Surrendering to the absolute which falsifies one’s living is to voluntarily undertake the impulse of evasion; and that is the ultimate point. For the state of ‘self-forgetfulness’ intertwined with self-deceiving evasion means that we have, in one form or another, already recognized the more basic existential and experiential conditions in which we find ourselves. In other words, there is a common theme amongst the concrete layers of experience as they announce themselves in and through a type of daily agitation, an overarching dread, the uselessness of existential suffering, a type of fear and trembling towards the unknown—that is, in the total of strenuous trials we know as the history of being human (experientially).
Now, let us embark on an even deeper excursion into the mind. Growing increasingly estranged from truly experiencing our lives, lost in the dark pits of obscurity, enclosed within the armoury of the economic totality and therefore the limited experiential accesses of being (sensory, emotional, imaginative and bodily flooding): absurdity begins from within this experience by realizing that our distorted orientations are without coherent grounds. This experience has already led me to open this book by asserting the fundamental philosophical problem is the problem of the western psyche. But if the subject of this chapter is the relationship between individual thought and evasion, it also implies, as I have concluded, the relationship between ideological collapse and the disorientation of our totalized worldview: the corporate, economic concept of life. And this train of thought yields only one experience: that of the absurd in the sense of realizing damaged life.
However we wish to describe the evocation of absurdity, the experiential contrast between the critical realities of experience and existing ideology: whether it is in the realization that a child dies every forty-five seconds due to malaria whilst billions of dollars are spent on the comparably superficial sports industry; or whether it is in the reality behind the mass production of certain goods brought about by cheap labour; or whether it is the homeless man on the corner, experiencing his last breath due to starvation and hypothermia whilst sitting across the street from an all-you-can-eat buffet; or whether it is in how the earth is gradually dying and we continue to develop destructive technologies; or even in the realization of the implications of the mass production of poultry, or even in the young men and women who die in the name of ideology behind some rationalized ‘badge of honour’ – the barbed wire, the rationalized concentration camps, the refugee, the rape, the plunder—I mean tyrannies, war, poverty, policing, the universalizing propensity behind dominant epistemology, this is the absurd.
Every one of these themes, however they take form, confront us as phenomena. The distortion of experience, the distortion of life, the distortion of society, of politics, of education, of the economy—experiential distortion as with the experiential identity of things is given to us in our experience. Whether good or bad social phenomena, they speak to us experientially. There is no need to resort or refer to any dominant frames of reference or abstract theories to justify our experiences. The point, rather, is to listen to our experiences first, to sensitively feel through them and through our awareness of them. Social barbarity, tyranny, poverty, injustice, the distortion of things—as phenomena which confront us in our experiencing the world, all we have in terms of our individual and collective power, at least to begin with, is the ability to do justice to these phenomena of experience by means of letting them speak and by means of reflection as they present themselves to us. The givens of experience, this is a vital lesson. Because, ultimately, that rot, that nausea we feel when confronted with the brutal reality of our times—this is the very real and concrete feeling of absurdity. We need not reckon it as a foreign experience. And there is no dominant theory that is needed to justify this social reality.
On the other hand, the most trifling notion is the belief that the existing historical social reality is not individually reflected upon or known, to whatever degree, in day to day existence. On one level, basic expressions towards society’s incongruity are not uncommon. A very basic psychoanalytical study of popular cultural language reveals, to whatever degree, an awareness of absurdity. Upon entering major city street, typical and elementary conversations express our sociohistorical-cultural absurdity. I have seen a wealth of people grow from this experience, from the belief that our social reality is absurd; because upon nurturing this plane of awareness, it began to dictate his or future conduct. The distaste became so sour that ignorance was no longer an option. What’s more, I know that this principle is established, at the very least, for the person who does not function on dishonesty or from within a state of self-forgetfulness. Understanding the self-forgetful nature of our times is to describe, practically, how it is almost easy to follow the logic of the epoch, and carry on living as usual even when staring in the face the horrors of such needless suffering. The absurdity of our social reality permeates a deep threatenedness. To awaken to society’s true form, this challenges the very sociohistorical-cultural values that we have engendered; it threatens the values that we have in our selves.
The self-forgetful nature of contemporary western society is best described in the form of this old adage: the shadows of truth are easy to block out when all becomes shadow. Evasive resolution, in other words, is employed for the benefit of being returned to the instrumentalization of self-deceiving and stunted simplicity. Ignorance is almost an unspoken rule today – that one must simply toe the line and become the thing of shadow. Such is the state of numbness in which we belong. Just as the story goes, when the greater whole of the western world learns about the tragedies in another region of the world: we see entire families eating breakfast, reading reports in the news about mass slaughter, and then going on about their day. Yet we should not be so extreme to place all of our judgement on the individual person, who submits to lethargy. One must ask: how much room for radical protest in self-awareness does the individual person have today? And by protest, I mean not the mere challenge against G20 meetings, higher taxes, a hungry Africa, the use of child soldiers. I mean the challenge for otherwise that poses itself against the western ideological (global economic) framework. We must ask ourselves, to what extent do protests succeed if they do not challenge the root causes of tyranny? But, then, this type of protest also means a protest against our selves. Thus it is not entirely uncanny to suggest that the greater whole of western society chooses to evade its own absurdity and continue with its own harrowing nine-to-five appointments as per usual. This is the self-forgetful nature in which western society, for the greater part, thrives.
The psychologist knows all too well that the desire for the absolute is so powerful that the anxiety it generates can begin to dictate a person’s life. Whether ultimately true or not, the experience of the world which isn’t up to the task of the absolute can evoke feelings so appalling that one can easily become overwhelmed. Adorno describes this problem as a matter of anxiety and the drive for domination; Sartre reflects on the dilemma through the experience of existential nausea; for Heidegger it can be considered as the problem of dread; for Kierkegaard it is a matter of ‘fear and trembling’; while Camus exclaims this problem as one of deep despair and a nostalgia for unity, wherein ‘eluding is the invariable game’. Likewise, Becker and Rank—as with most that follow Freud—describe the essential characteristics of evasion as overwhelmingly unavoidable.
Significant of the symptoms of existential fear, terror, trembling, insecurity, nausea, anxiety; evasion is indeed the bellowing cry of humanity. Of those who know the ‘truly terrifying nights’ when life is allowed to sink down into our awareness, when we lay sleepless as ‘time seems to contract and run fruitlessly through our hands’, we are all too familiar with the experience of such trepidation (Adorno, 2005; p.165). On those nights which are common to us all, when ‘as our thoughts run wild sleep’s healing store is squandered’, it is in the stillness of the hour, where without preoccupation and distraction—without obscurantism—one feels what one has long chosen to suppress come to the surface (Adorno, 2005; p.165). Those infamous nights of such ‘incalculable feeling which deprives the mind and body of the sleep necessary to life’ are significant, as we all know, of the very heart-gripping feeling that evokes questions about one’s life and ‘the act one commits to leave it’ (Camus, 1955; pp.5-6).
How we approach the world, ourselves and other people; the critical realities that confront us; the many varying situations of life—these can and often do become coloured by our insecure longing, our desire for supreme justification. But if we can discern that the principle of evasion is nothing other than a type of response that we give to the existential and experiential stuff of our most basic experiences, we can also discern that this response is not limited to how we fundamentally experience the diversity of the world. The diverse reality of our experiences is but the most concrete beginning when it comes to one’s initial act of evasion. Yet having come to understand the act of self-deceiving evasion for what it really is, it is also fair of us to determine that evasion can result as a desperate attempt to transcend various realities such as our emotional histories, difficult social situations or conflicts, or our difficult existential and social realities writ large, particularly as self-deceiving evasion drives toward a mode of ‘self-forgetting’ and ‘experiential blindness’.
In the next chapter we will broach the themes of ‘self-forgetfulness’ and ‘experiential blindness’, and describe how they are inherent to theme of evasion: for if evasion is the very desire to distort and suppress the world, this is what ultimately defines self-forgetfulness. The state of self-forgetfulness found in the widespread age of evasion is directed toward our desire to elude our concrete placements in the world; we know this. But it is also directed toward our desire to elude our social and existential suffering; socially engendered feelings of hopelessness and helplessness; the fact that we are our bodies; our basic dependencies on internal and external nature; our fear of the unknown; anguish, threatendness, forlornness; our emotional histories. All of these themes come to the surface as the historical stuff of human experience, existentially and socially speaking. And it has become increasingly evident over the course of history that we wish to flee these brute textures of life. For we know at this point that the theme of evasion amounts to how we drive to manipulate our experiences into a totalized framework that can be predicted. Yet, as we will see, the more totalizing our predictions the more we ‘self-forget’ the diversity of experience. Rather, the more the totalized perspective of contemporary society increases, the more we slip into the self-forgetting (repressed) nature of damaged life.
In sum, it is upon us throughout the remainder of this work to highlight how some people are more sensitive to the cultural lie of sociohistorical life, to the illusions of our contemporary social reality and its underlying project, while others are so thoughtlessly and trustingly caught up in it. The truth is that each and every one of us has trouble discerning at times the difference between cultural illusion and self-deception and concrete reality. For it is the paradigmatic decay of ourselves as subjects, which coincides with the mode of self-forgetfulness subject to great cultural evasion, that defines the type of damaged life principle to all ideology. Today, the hegemonic context of the global capitalist ‘method of life’ speaks of how certain sociohistorical fallacies are perceived as unshakable, durable truth. In other words, to live by our cultural deceptions in relation to the very stuff which makes-up experiential experience, this is how we lift ourselves up and out of the concrete realities of everyday life and live by perceiving the world through an abstract, untethered framework—through an active, self-forgetful engagement.
Evasion, then, for me, is just another way of describing how there is a seemingly inherent drive in human reality to want to elude, forget and likewise dominate over the sociohistorical reality of our present-day experiences. And irrespective of the dramatic amount of self-contradictory evidence with regards to our present day projects, in the most totalized sectors of society this evidence is merely suppressed by a deformed subject. Thought in the modern epoch is driven by a manifestly self-deceiving form of evasion. And the fact remains that the phenomenon of evasion can be, and ultimately is, filtered down to the most fundamental and initial aspects of our most basic experiences. How we perceive the world, ourselves and each other becomes skewed by the totalized ideological context of a social reality in which we are each sociohistorically embedded. But let us pause here.
To borrow a phrase from Baudelaire, ‘of a heart become its own mirror’. Or, in our case, of evasion become its own mirror.
In a manner of speaking, the consequences of unfurling evasion reflect its original and underlying attitude. If through the act of evasion one is driven by their deep yearning for an ‘ultimately certain’ method of life in the face of a world that does not offer an absolute orientation, the individual is ultimately driven to distort their experiences. This is the next step. It is a person’s experiential distorting that first leads to how they wrench apart their experiences in order to isolate and uphold a dimension of life or experience. From this point, upon one’s isolating a dimension of life or experience, that person is thus able to absolutize whatever dimension (or dimensions) and place their security in it. This is what constitutes the experiential relation between evasion and experiential distortion. Experiential distorting of experience is the natural progression of evasion which leads to the securing of a totalized experiential orientation.
The significance of this general process is vast. If we were to inquire into a historical analysis of evasion, there would be too many examples to list all at once. History, which can act as a voice for the broad narrative of human experience, is rich with illustrations of how human beings have sought security in some absolute thing. From the centuries of theological, philosophical, political, scientific, economic, technological totalities; through to the sociological, aesthetic, metaphysical, psychological, mathematical totalities; through to the rational and the mythic, the regicides and the deicides, the deified and even everyday superstition; evasion, the historical drive to find security in some thing, is a profound historical occurrence if not a fundamentally far-reaching one. And it is certainly true that this history of human yearning for the absolute can further enlighten us as to what constitutes the very modern commitment to the deified market economy. In fact, this is what we are working toward. History in its most general sense tells us how the human longing for a totalized experiential orientation, which is entirely significant today as it highlights the very definition of the modern belief in the market economy, is an existential and experiential theme riddled throughout the many distinctive historical periods of human society.
Ideology as a result of the evasive attitude can always be self-deceivingly inserted into the experiential world of experience as an absolute truth and explicate for itself an absolute assertion. Ideology, irrespective of its particular form, can always conclude a definition as unconditional, or a dominant worldview as a totalized principle, or even a policy as supreme and ultimate. But this is a matter of absurdity. Every ideology that has sprung from evasion is born of a play on words; it thrives in the shades of distortion, obscurity and illusion. The existential temptation to identify absolute security (in the name of a bad general) in a world of experience that is fundamentally rich in particularity is exactly that which contributes to the orchestration of the fundamental philosophical problem. In history, ideology undertakes various forms, measures, and degrees; but it is always driven by an objective tendency and aimed at totalitarianism.
In general, there are two different types of evasion found in the greater scheme of human history. We can in fact differentiate the phenomenon of evasion by the markings of two historical periods: Myth and Reason.
It is the case that both Myth and Reason – or instrumental reason, again not to be confused with all reason – are driven by the same underlying spirit which, as Adorno and Horkheimer declare, is significant of the historical cry of humanity in the face of the unknown (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 11). The overwhelming anguish and terror felt in the face of the world has in fact equally determined the path of Myth and the path of demythologization in the name of Reason. In all, both Myth and Reason inherently contain coercive elements. That is to say that they both enslave. Just as humanity was once imprisoned under the Gods, it is now enslaved by the economic Idol and its unholy Trinity. In either case, the objective tendencies of human assertion in the name of the absolute represent the paradox that is the decay of human beings as vibrant subjects; because these tendencies are by virtue what annihilates the subjective qualities of our experience. It is by virtue of the fact that by securing a totalized experiential orientation, the objectifying tendencies essential to that dominant worldview are performed through the eyes of the subject (Adorno, 1992). But let us reserve this point for a later time.
In the words of Adorno and Horkheimer, humanity has long been encouraged by the self-deceiving belief that we are ‘free of fear when there is no longer anything unknown’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 11), which is to say, in this work, that the method of evasion is precisely one that amounts to the onslaught of objective domination. Evasion, extended throughout history, represents in this way the genesis of humanity’s failure. Whether in light of Myth or Reason, both employ similar reductionistic, objectifying tendencies: that is, the reducing of the phenomenal world to one dimension or another, to one absolute identity or another, to one totalized worldview or another. Both result in the sacrificial denial of the self and the world (Sherman, 2007; p. 197). They both amount to increasingly hegemonic abstract sociohistorical circumstances, which spawn deep deformations with regards to our most basic self-actualizing processes.
In today’s world, the evasive attitude is magnified through the globalization of abstract and distorted values which are engendered in the name of the global market economy, and which are performed through the distortion of how we experientially relate with the phenomenal world. Means and ends are inverted. The result of the deification of the market economy is indeed a global subservience to the economic Idol, which is significant of the distorted manner in which we approach both life and experience. But, if in the present-day circumstance experiential distortion speaks primarily of how human beings have collectively sought security in the market economy, this necessitates the functionalizing of a reductionistic, objectify reason as a principle way of being. As I mentioned earlier, it was originally the deification of reason which lead to the spawn of global capitalism; but now it is the economic Idol which employs the services of abstract reason. Abstract and reductionistic reason, then, amounts to how in our surrendering to the economic absolute of contemporary life, we subsequently absolutize the integral dimension of human distinguishing. As we will discern a little later, the logical dimension of human reality gets pulled into being in the service of the economic Idol, whose inherent drive as expressed by the contemporary paradigm is to universalize, instrumentalize, and rigidify everything so as to better economize and, indeed, dominate everything. The globalized slavery in the name of the economic totality is therefore equally dependent on humanity’s subservience to the Idol of Reason or, better yet, to Scientism. In fact, scientism—abstract and reductionistic reasoning—mirrors the economic totality.
Contrary to the ‘age of Myth’ however, under the reign of the contemporary Trinity human beings become masters of nature. As when Myth sought to conquer to fear, the economic Trinity serves to conquer the phenomenal world. But it is the newly equipped power of what is typically perceived to be the result of instrumental reason – the opposite of dialectic or critical reason – which allows for human beings to realize a whole new method of domination wherein, rather than being a slave to the Gods, which results in the self-deceiving belief in a conquered nature (internal and external), humanity is subservient to its own principle of insanity in the name of the economic and strives to instrumentally dominate a disenchanted nature. Once humanity, in its evasion, becomes a master of nature, we paradoxically become a master of ourselves. The ‘mastery’ of nature is a confirmation of our drive for totality, which thus includes the mastery of our own internal nature – this trade-off is what satisfies the dominant ideology of our times.
It is no coincidence that the economic totality is connected to the distortion of the scientific method: where through the instrument of scientism and technicism, everything that has yet to be thought and conquered must be and by way of exploiting genuine scientific and technological practice.
Science, reified over and again, becomes the model of a twisted reasoning that is propagated as principle to ‘progress’. It is believed to be the only plausible (and best) form of explanation for humanity’s problems. The Trinity is celebrated as the saviour; and in the name of it humanity objectively drives to self-deceivingly explain everything. By doing so we believe that we obtain power over nature, tradition, fear, diversity—making us feel free of them. The economic Trinity, which is often advertised as a supporter of democracy, is said to liberate humanity from insecurity, from suffering and despair. However, this belief in freedom and democracy is really one of bureaucracy, technology and scientific manipulation wherein society, following the direction of its ideological worldview, strives for a rational and economic management of life. And the cost of this spirited domination of the phenomenal world, of the inherent diversity of experience, is a suppression of the ‘moreness’ in experience, where the experiential curiosity to discover—which is the base of genuine knowledge—is obliterated.
The economic Trinity is therefore the provider of security, progress and quality of life. But security, progress and quality of life are not actually realized; they are merely illusions of a cultural totality because security, progress and the ideal of a ‘quality life’ are restricted to definition within economic dominion. Therein lies the power of evasion. The belief in progress particularly as it is engendered under the reign of the economic Idol.
Much to a future discussion in a chapter on the economic Idol: abstract reason, technicism and scientism aim to highlight that the history of Myth is false. But the apparent historical break of the mythic age is actually a transformation of the same method that underlines the age of Myth. Just as the Gods once dictated the laws of being from above, just as Myth was a mindset in as far as it was a way of interacting with the world; the economic Idol and its governing Trinity today becomes a mindset. It disenchants the world, it distorts the manner in which we approach and interpret our experiences no different than under Myth, because in either case we surrender to a worldview and a total way of being. Today, the economic Idol and its twisted Trinity represents just such a total way of being; a total vision of life, a totalized worldview. Inasmuch that everything must fit within this totalized orientation, the ‘Iron Cage’ of increasing social bureaucracy is conceived along with the proceduralzing, technicising and categorizing of human beings and the world. This is simply an expression of the present state of affairs attempting to manage everything. Everyone and everything is said to have a reasonable economic function – i.e., the dawn of the ‘economic man’ – and that, as rational beings, our role is economic production.
Everything in the world of experience has its distinguishable side; but today, as we consciously surrender to the deified economy, we turn this experiential ability to discern and distinguish phenomena into a form of logical abstraction. As with the economic Idol and its instrument of Reason, the argument follows the same figure as every other historical totality: it is a matter of domination, whether through being a slave to the Gods or to the empire on the throne of Logical Positivism. In the name of Myth, we have long reduced and distorted the phenomenal world to fit that dominant worldview. Hitherto the savageness of scientism, then, is reflected in its principle aim to learn how to ‘wholly dominate nature and other human beings’ (Adorno and Horkhimer, 2002; p. 2).
Although the absurd outcome of the mythic age and the absurd outcome of the rational are subject to characteristics particular to their own condition, the basic, most fundamental actions which pertain to the historical search for existential and experiential security, and, in turn, which take precedence in the process of both Myth and the economic paradigm (engendered by Reason), are historically paralleled. They both involve experiential distortion. And they both involve particular situations which refer to the general manufacturing of a totalized experiential framework.
The historical account of how human beings have constantly driven toward establishing dominant security in the name of some absolute thing is, as can be seen, a most astonishing social phenomenon. If we were to consider an example of what constitutes general mythic distortion in comparison to a deified economy, I am reminded of how, for example, certain ‘nature religions’ whose concept of ‘fertility’ was made absolute while the other dimensions of life were perceived as inferior or secondary. Moreover, the mythic concept of fertility in the past was really an effort to control the phenomenon of pregnancy. By the act of evasion humans beings turned the phenomenon of fertility into the god of Fertility—into an Idol, an absolute, lifting the phenomenon of fertility above all other phenomena. The same goes with the ‘weather god’, the ‘sea god’, etc.
To go even further, the historical Idol of Fertility was actually subsequent to the human deifying of fertility. We can say more practically that the phenomenon of fertility was absolutized. And the very deifying or absolutizing of the phenomenon of fertility illustrates how an experiential dimension of life was turned into an Idol for human worship. Another step further and we can discern how the phenomenon of fertility was itself warped into being a totalized experiential framework. It was utilized as a dominant ‘method of life’. And in this securing of a ‘method of life’ through the absolutizing of the phenomenon of fertility, there occurred an invariable suppression of the fluid, dynamic, multidimensionality of both life and experience. This is especially so considering that one’s more organic orientation was pulled into being in the service of the absolute Idol of fertility.
Taken from an overwhelming list of examples, we can conclude without false pathos that the examples of both the deifying of Fertility and the Idol of the market economy share similar characteristics to the entire history of human evasion. Moreover, understanding that the very deifying of a dimension of life, in this case fertility, was manufactured through the type of experiential distortion that we see underneath any totalized experiential framework, we might go on to describe how one’s further experiencing of the phenomenal world became distorted due to the cult framework beneath that particular absolute. There ultimately manifested a distorted perspective toward the world. This totalized perspective toward the phenomenal world of experience, which was subsequent to the functionalizing of a particular method of life, is what ultimately contributed to the distortion and suppression of one’s sociohistorical experiencing.
In fact, this is what inevitably defines the overall absurdity of a ‘totalized experiential orientation’. One of the more concrete consequences of any totalized frame of reference amounts to the further warping of one’s interpreting and perceiving as one goes on to experience in the name of an absolute principle. Henceforth to the extent that fertility as a dimension of life was turned into an Idol and an absolute, in the process of raising the phenomenon of fertility (for example) from the soil of experience and into the regions of abstraction and absurdity, all other dimensions of life were thus utilized in the service of Fertility. One’s orientation, one’s value and belief systems, were coordinated under the guise of this absolute principle. For instance, the more basic experiencing of the weather, droughts, flood rains, locust plagues, disease, good or bad harvests, plentiful or few offspring of a herd, many or no children, death at childbirth – and in the end, prosperity and well-being or disaster and despair – all of these phenomenon became interpreted through the angry or benevolent gods or goddesses.
Indeed, one’s fear of the unknown was put trustfully into the hands of a dominant Idol, particularly as one`s experiential reality was reduced to the reality of Fertility. One’s concrete experiencing and acting as an efficacious agent therefore became bound up in the precarious service of the absolute principle of Fertility. It was believed that one’s experiences from within that totalized experiential orientation were ultimately subject to the angry or benevolent gods or goddesses who were or were not ultimately satisfied with both the family sacrifices and their devotion. The prevalent theme again is ‘ultimately security’. But what is most evident is the total submission to the Idol of Fertility. It overtook, if not entirely saturated, one’s living-in-the-midst-of-the-world. And this last point is what deserves greater reflection, especially if we are to work our way towards an analysis of the contemporary problematic.
The very strength and affirmation of the totality which is secured in the name of an absolute political framework is necessarily found in the company of other people. A totalized worldview is not dominantly secure without achieving unceasing albeit self-deceiving affirmation of itself. This affirmation is necessarily found in the security of others; for it is the collectivizing moment of evasion which is integral to one’s achieving a totalized orientation.
The entire process of surrendering to an absolute, as well as the most immediate consequences of this process, require a collective moment.
Keeping to the example of the Idol Fertility: the totalized experiential framework found beneath one’s surrendering to this Idol is ultimately a cult framework. This in turn can be said for every historical ‘totality’. Historically speaking, experiential totalities are not usually recognized as one individual’s over another. The act and the subsequent process of evasion is a matter of individual choice, of course. But the very forming of any totality is subject to how one’s evasive acting coincides with the recognition of the same yearning by a collective of others. Evasion becomes a social drive.
The individual who undertakes the evasive project isolates himself from within the protective albeit distorted collective. This is because one generally has to justify oneself from outside one’s self. Through an individual’s striving to feel safe from the threatenedness that he (or she) feels in the face of the world, ‘he can only achieve this by narrowing down his scope of the world, shutting off experience, developing an obliviousness both to the terrors of the world and his own anxieties’ (Becker, 1973; p. 178). It is precisely by narrowing down his/her scope that the individual looks to other people, as it is in the collective affirmation of other people that a totalized worldview might be validated.
Individual evasion and distorted collectivising are, in fact, coincidental. The question of insecurity turns into a question of a collectively dominant vision of life. Concomitantly, dominant security turns into a question of the functionalizing of a distorted collective. If the historical process of self-deceiving evasion necessarily becomes a collective gasp, this is because through evasion we create deceiving worldviews which require a type of ‘self-validation’ from other people. If I do not acquire validation from other people, my unreal project is more often than not destroyed. To put it differently, the collectivising moment of evasion is necessary because it not only quenches one’s thirst for confirmation and affirmation, but also because without it the individual would be left feeling isolated and lonely and ultimately insecure (Becker, 1973; p. 158). In a play on the analysis of Ernest Becker who considers a similar collective phenomenon in light of Otto Rank, it is understood that as social creatures ‘we cannot live closed upon ourselves and solely for ourselves’ (Becker, 1973; p. 158). Naturally, we are social beings. And so we logically surpass the analysis of an individualistic notion of evasion and distortion. From this point, one naturally takes the view of human solidarity. But we are only talking of the kind of solidarity that is born in chains (Camus, 1956; p. 17).
Distorted social collectives, whether as basic as the family or whether in the form of more complex social groups such as a corporation or greater society as a whole, very much consist of similar characteristics as individual evasion. In other words, distorted social collectives are analogous of individual evasion. At the point of collective evasion, however, the distorted collective becomes the social code for the supreme ideal—an object of dominant security in and of itself—that the individual was previously in search of. Following the supreme ideal, both the individual and the collective desire for ultimate security find affirmation. Even spiritual and moral needs find affirmation on behalf of the object of the distorted social collective. When a distorted collective comes together and forms around a dominant idol it offers the highest religious value, one which is conceived as being ‘supremely justified’ and which is driven by a collective sense of ‘we are’ (Camus, 1956; p. 297).
When collective affirmation is fostered, therefore, it is to the delight of both the individual and the collective, that the symbiosis of the individual with the distorted group consists of a mentality which is buried in a self-deceiving and dominant mode of collective perceiving and interpreting, as this is what supports the ‘ultimate justification’ of the collective’s system of beliefs.
Upon securing a distorted collective, one’s heart is immediately filled with what it was so desperately longing for: supreme direction. But what we find is that one achieves this at the cost of one’s self. In many ways, our upcoming analysis of distorted collectives will discern how each and every distorted group that forms around a particular Idol invariably succumbs to the suppression of not only one’s ‘self’ but also of one’s self-awareness. It is only natural that distorted social groups who functionalize systems of beliefs in the name of the absolute also strive to sustain that system of beliefs. Self-deceiving belief is as much a drive for ‘ultimate security’ as it is a drive for stability. The truth is that this stability is consequential to extreme suppression (and the enacting of deep social repression).
To put it another way, the actual turn of evasion towards the securing of a totalized experiential orientation also reveals a skewed ‘social moment’, particularly as our self (along with the community of Others) gets further twisted from out of its natural experiential being at the expense of our invariably conforming to a particular ideology. In my conforming to a totalized orientation, my experiential coherence almost experiences a vanishing moment, as I am no longer open to my intersubjective experiencing nor to my genuine self-development. My self, in turn, becomes misshaped, deformed, perverted and hypostatized in the name of a dominant ‘method of life’. My self is hitherto sublated upon the general moment in the process of my evasion, wherein I seek to dominate over other human beings and they seek to dominate over me, all at the expense of my internal nature (as well as the Others).
Instead of a free and certain self-determination of not only the individual but also the group, the individual and the group is in many ways determined by their Idol. The distorted collective is, in other words, bound to the Idol. Just as much as the individual had secured that ‘totality’, he (or she) and the greater collective also become captive to it. The individuals of the ‘we are’ confront one another for the sake of security with experiential codes of the moment. Tomorrow there might be new codes. Every distorted group, in its present form, always makes of the individual an individual of circumscribed nature. There indeed seems to be a great degree of codifying in the name of a totalized frame of reference. And yet considering that many of us could be a part of many distorted groups, this obviously gives rise to difficulties. If the relationship between a distorted collective and myself is such that I no longer genuinely determine the group but the group determines me, however directly or in-directly, then it is possible that I become divided within myself. It is possible that I no sooner consist of as many contradictory and distorted individualities as there are groups to which I belong, considering that neither I nor the collective is open to genuine self-expression (Van Den Berg, 1961; p. 168).
Moreover, and to paraphrase Adorno: the collective that, for the sake of its survival, justifies its demands of each individual in the name of dominant security, is at the same time unjust for each individual and, ultimately, for the collective itself (Adorno, 1993; p. 499). The point I am making here is that through the process of evasion we strive to secure a totalized orientation in the name of an absolute, which, in turn, requires distorted collectivising. In this collective we approach solidarity while at the same time undermining the particularity of experience in the name of the absolute, which ends up valorizing a new individualism behind the false security that we collectively achieve and alleges that it is tantamount to it. Bad generality inexorably fills the void of our deep yearning for an absolute orientation; but in the end we seek only our own particular interests—neither solidarity nor security is actually found (Sherman, 2007; p. 222).
In a distorted collective, not only do we turn one another into ‘objects’ that can be manipulated and controlled, but we also manipulate the Other outside the collective that we have secured. Due to the nature of a totalized experiential orientation, we assume a rigidified and closed landscape of experience out of our fear of diversity in all its forms. In other words, there is already inherent in a distorted collective a form of distorted subjectivizing. This collective subjectivity is functionalized by the collective commitment to a totalized worldview, which, instead of being the absolutely liberating experience that we were hoping for, it is a dominating and controlling instrument toward our everyday living. This is one deep contradiction of the collective dynamic. Moreover, it is quite practical to concede that the human commitment to a totalized framework, which requires that we surrender to being in the service of an Idol, transforms how we orientate ourselves on the most organic plain of experiential life into self-actualized distortion.
Each individual person is of course a diversity in and of themselves and yet, in this ‘we are’ there is no genuine ‘I’ in the ‘we’, only a ‘I’ distort you and you distort ‘me’ type of dynamic. If I alone, in a distorted community of others, support the common cause of an ‘ultimately certain’ method of life, I cannot allow either my self or other’s to debase by expressing the diversity inherent in both myself and themselves. Once diversity is expressed by another; they are no longer in uniform with the ‘we are’. That person must therefore be driven out of the ‘we are’. The attitude of the distorted collective is one that is, to varying degrees, authoritarian. The individual who expresses ‘otherwise’ runs the risk of being dejected from the ‘we are’, cast into the lonely forest of abandonment and insecurity, into a state that is now lacking that community and the security found in their acceptance.
Ultimately, the distorted collective, however it may take form, asserts an indifference to freedom. But this reality is of course agreed upon, implicitly or explicitly. Besides, our self-deceiving interests are being provided for, because we have our sense of security and this is the name of the game; even if that security comes at the cost of the paralysation of the interest of genuine autonomy, which we ultimately fear will leave us unprotected. The totalized collective must therefore refuse diversity at all costs or else it faces the disintegration of its totalized worldview. Herein, it is in the sacrificial denial of the experiential self that the distorted subject is engendered; but by rejecting the experiential self, and therefore ostensibly separating itself from the fluctuations of experiential experience, the rigidified self (subject) becomes like a thing that is isolated from the natural context of itself.
More practically, what this means is that the distorted collective formed in the name of a totalized orientation cannot allow for itself to rectify its own dilemma, because that would imply an alternation of its absolute principles and ultimately a threat to its ‘dominant security’. So it escapes itself. The social collective, that twisted sense of ‘we are’, is driven by evasion and has only to do what evasion did to bring its own existence into being. Besides, the distorted collective has come into existence through the very spirit of evasion. And we can recall that evasion itself is inherently self-deceptive, which, in turn, also refers to our ability to functionalize ‘a lie to oneself’. Analogously, the self is the collective.
And so it is in evasion and experiential distortion that the distorted collective functions. To this extent, evasion is the face beneath the mask of the distorted collective. The collective will keep evading, as it generates without embarrassment the type of self-forgetting social phenomena required to maintain its totality; which, in a certain sense, we can describe as the conscious suppression of the self by way of collective functionalizing of distorted social aims.
Collective evasion is not driven solely by the want to dominate internal and external nature; it also wants to forget it. Self-forgetfulness is characteristic of this skewed social drive. In the ‘experientially blinding’ functionalization and legitimization of distortion, which we will get to later, collective totality takes the form of a daily gesture with the aim of continuous deceit. In order to continue claiming that the commitment to a distorted collective is necessary, the collective itself is consequentially led to multiply its abstractions in the hope of avoiding possible ‘otherness’. It must ceaselessly suppress the individual and the phenomenal world (the internal and the external), which offer an inexhaustible representation of ‘otherwise’.
In sum, the experience of a totalized experiential orientation tells us that the anxiety embedded in the attitude of a distorted collective, of the ‘we are’, is one that inherently strives for sustaining a dominant security; because it is the kind of functionalizing of a false sense of security, of a dominant way of life, that has its being-to-be, and the distorted collective always understands this.
But at the same time, there is a disappearance of genuine or authentic experiential self-action and experience; because the actualization of the present possibilities in a distorted collective are often limited to the insecurity of the totalized orientation that is being-for-the-ends of the Idol. Distorted collective experiencing in the name of an Idol is characterized by the emergence of anxiety and terror over the possibility of becoming one’s self, even though this anxiety may be manifested precisely as its opposite in a dogmatic certainty over who one is in the ‘we are’.
‘If history is a succession of ideologies, then humanity’s dilemma and the truth of the fundamental philosophical problem can be read directly against those ideologies—how embracing they are, how socially convincing they are in their time, and how easy they make it for human beings to feel confident and secure in their collective self-deception’ (Becker, 1973; p.190).
The process of achieving a totalized experiential orientation is relative to the history of distorted social values. An experiential totality, considered as a method of life, almost naturally engenders distorted values and principles and at the cost of truth. Upon the securing of a particular ‘totality’, once this distorted orientation becomes functionalized, there is inevitably an ideological conception of the experiential world that is absorbed by that collective. An ideological conception that is, moreover, introduced into the world as a distorted code for one’s subjective perceiving and experiencing. At this point, the values and actions of a distorted collective movement can be justified on both an individual and a group level. Experiential distortion, violation, and savagery can be justified because it is hardly the collective or the individual that now takes concrete responsibility for one’s experiential means, choices, and efficacy. From the moment of the ‘initiatory act’, which can be anything from an act of distortion to berating some particular thing in absolute terms or an act of experiential violence onto another—the Idol, the absolute value that one has placed onto the world, absorbs the responsibility for one’s efficacy. One no longer takes responsibility for one’s actions, because all is permitted in the name of the absolute.
By coming to grips with the human craving for the absolute, we can also penetrate into the utter extremes to which a collective will go in order to guard their belief in the name of it. If we were to study all kinds of different distorted group dynamics, one of the more common characteristics that we would find would be the manner in which collective subservience to an Idol, to an absolute end or ideal, wipes out coherent, sensitive experience and permits the group to feel omnipotent. Experiential violation, from the distorting and objectifying of a multidimensional subject to an act of emotional violation or an act of physical violence—the critical realities of such engagement become suppressed. Concentration camps, mass extinctions, world wars and atom bombs are the unmistakable instruments of the type of experiential blindness inherent to the very social phenomenon of ideology.
What this experiential distortion and manipulation does, in other words, is open up the world to the most despicable of human destruction. Everything becomes ripe for domination; nothing is safe and every despicable act deemed necessary to sustain that ideology can be justified. The distorted collective inherently wants the impossible; it wants the absolute.
Let us consider the example of a white supremacist group. We can determine that the social collective of ‘white supremacists’ represents an extreme form of experiential distortion, which ultimately takes the form of an equally extreme ideology. On the other hand, what is interesting to note is that this account of evasion might also be discerned as a particular response to the phenomenon of ethnic-relations; or, for example, an even more general response to diversity. The phenomenon of mixed ethnic-relations becomes a signification, and this signification is representative of a certain terror or anxiety towards the diversity of human beings.
This collective, moreover, is being driven towards certain absolute principles in the name of a certain Idol. One’s experiential means are employed in the name of certain ends. We can rest assured of this fact. And here we reach a concrete experiential account of the very dawn of ideology. In fact, here we are led straight into the phenomenology of distorted collective transformation. Henceforth the very crystallizing of white supremacist ideology undertakes the evasive process of not only distorted collective forming in the name of a particular Idol, but it also engenders beliefs and values that are in the service of that Idol, which ultimately target the signification of mixed ethnic-relations and cultural diversity.
However not every ideology is born the same way. Not every ideology focuses so explicitly on an object of diversity, for instance. As Sherman writes in light of Adorno: in the case of Nazi Germany, it was the ‘otherness’ that the Jew represented which was one aspect behind the self-deceiving belief that Jews were the perpetrators of injustice (Sherman, 2007; p. 221). In the case of Stalinist Russia, it was the deification of history according to Marxist doctrine that drove that particular totalized experiential orientation to project itself into the future. That particular totality, that particular solidification of a totalitarian regime, was done in subservience to the ideal of Marxist Revolution (Camus, 1956). In any or all cases, it is the drive for security, which can take on any number of forms, and the universalizing propensity of that drive, which reflects the underlying dynamic of ideology. Likewise, it is the manner in which every ideology in history strives in its quest for dominant security to level the particularity of things, which makes them all similar. It is this coercive element represented by the attitude which functions behind one’s ideological experiencing, that is significant of ideology’s consistent failure to recognize, let alone honour, the particular.
What is also important to point out here is that the phenomenon of ideology itself must be considered as a social phenomenon. What I mean by this is that each particular ideology is an expression of its particular sociohistorical-cultural circumstance. In general, I would agree with Camus that ideology is ‘born of the spectacle of irrationality’. With regards to the ‘white supremacist’ movement, the culturally diverse subject becomes an object of hate, which is nevertheless a projection of the insecurity of the one who ‘objectifies’. But if this particular culturally diverse person did not exist or was clearly not justified to be an object on which one shall transfer their terror, the white supremacist would seek out and identify some other thing as responsible for his or her anxiety. Much to the respect of Sherman who highlights this point in light of Sartre: ‘As Sartre aptly puts it, “if the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him”. To sustain his object of hate, and thus solidify his own (reactive) self-understanding, the anti-Semite must close himself off to the richness of experience since the truths of experience tend to undermine the stereotypes that provide the very stuff of the anti-Semite’s identity.’
In the name of an Idol, which is merely symbolic of the drive for (false) universality, it is the essential task of ideology to solidify an orientation with the world which is significant of a form of interpreting and perceiving that wants only to lay claim to such universality. If the absolutizing of the experiential identity of phenomena is one of the many coercive elements of self-deceiving evasion—one which is often even limited to itself—it is thereby through this ‘objective’ measure that one in fact lays claim to a sense of universality. The paradox, however, is that by subsuming the particularity of things under an overburdened yet albeit securing general, one commits an act of unmistakable violation towards the particulars of experience whilst trying to honour one’s own particular interests in the name of a totalized worldview. The contradiction, in simpler terms, is this: in the name of a totalized experiential orientation, the collective solidarity founded in the name of a particular ideology destroys the particularity of experience on behalf of the universal order of one’s self-deceiving belief. To borrow the words of Sherman: one merely ‘valorizes’ the ‘particularity that stands behind this abstracting and alleges that it is tantamount’ to the totalized worldview that one has secured (Sherman, 2007; p. 222). By severing the dialectic between the general and the particular, a person manipulates particularity so that it ‘fills the void of an abstract universality, and by equating the numerous traits of his or her own worldview to ‘human nature’ or to what he or she sees as being natural to the world (Sherman, 2007; p. 222). By doing so one has deceivingly ‘sought to justify one’s own particular interests—and nothing more’ (Sherman, 2007; p. 222).
One’s ideology clearly chimes with one’s own self-interest. To offer a more relative example, this highlights how in the name of the idol of the global market economy, billionaires lobby for low taxation which suits the upper class more than the lower class, because it is the upper class that is more likely to reap the benefits of such an economic policy. It illustrates how under the contemporary state of affairs, politicians will lobby for deregulation which, in every sense, only benefits the corporations who of course have their hands in the politician’s back-pocket. It describes how the oil companies keep a stranglehold on the Environmental Sciences, as they tap in to their bottomless well of funds to financially support and encourage the denial of global warming science because such a denial is obviously advantageous to those who exploit the phenomenon of crude oil for the benefit of economic gains.
But a critique of the self-interest of every ideologue goes much deeper than this. It travels right to the heart of the bourgeois tendency to claim, for instance, that ‘it is human nature to be greedy’ or that ‘it is human nature to want one’s own’ while doing complete injustice to the particularity of human beings. In the same sentiment, the bourgeoisie declares that it is ‘human nature to objectify and therefore judge another person’ all the while negating how such despicable generality fails to do justice to the problem of humanity’s objectifying tendency and the manner in which it is born from a highly distorted social state of affairs. This drive to totally pin down the diverse world of subjects that contributes to this type of sociohistorical-culturally engendered reflection, is really only an expression of the ‘bourgeois equating numerous traits to human nature’ (Sherman, 2007; p. 222). Henceforth, such declarations are merely an act of self-interest on behalf of the bourgeoisie in defence of the ‘security’ of their distorted practice of life. In this respect, it is easy for one who has undertaken the bourgeois perspective to identify anti-capitalist protesters as ‘youth without aim’, or a homeless person as ‘being without self-decency’, just as it is easy for the anti-Semite to declare that ‘a Jew is without right to existence’, and so forth.
In a twist on Becker: fear or guilt comes from within the collective; it ‘binds the group together’. In fact, the collective recognizes that anxiety shall be used for ideological purposes. It is even consciously aroused if needs be, because that fear, that terror and insecurity is power in and of itself; it helps keep everyone docile and obedient within the group. No one shall stray the course or challenge the collective; and if one does, they face being terminated. As Becker reflects quite wonderfully: ‘we saw a classic example of this technique on the part of Nazi leaders. It was the same psychology that criminal gangs and gangsters have always used: to be bound closer together through the crime itself’ (Becker, 1973; p.140). It is a matter of the group being solidified for the sake of sustaining dominant security. ‘The Nazis called it blood cement (Blutkitt), and the SS used it freely. For the lower echelons, service in the concentration camps accomplished this loyalty; but the technique was always used on the highest levels, especially with persons of prominence and talent whom they wanted to recruit. These they induced to commit extra atrocities that indelibly identified them with the SS and gave them a new, criminal identity (Becker, 1973; p.140).
To reiterate an earlier point: the twisting of one’s self-image, the distortion of one’s self-formation, this is essential to ideology. Once the formation of the self is pulled into the hegemony of relations significant of a particular totalized framework, there is a great deal of truth in the fact that it becomes, as Sherman points out, increasingly difficult to ‘differentiate one’s self by virtue of the fact that it has been colonized by the institutional structures of society (bourgeois or fascist);’ wherein the self ‘not only cancels itself out as an agent, but, in the process, it also immediately transmits to the unconscious those social aims that would otherwise be subject to the critical capacities of a well-functioning, mediating self’ (Sherman, 2007; p. 226). In return to Becker, it is no wonder then that ‘as the Nazi epoch wore on and the toll of victims mounted, the leaders played upon the fears of reprisal by those who would revenge the victims the Nazis has made’ (Becker, 1973; p.140). Accordingly, this was ‘the old gangster trick’, except this time it was ‘used to cement together a whole nation’ (Becker, 1973; p.140). Thus nationalism for Nazi Germany, as it is for most Nationalist movements, was self-deceivingly perceived from within the collective as a ‘heroic mission’; but it was one which came ‘to be sustained by bullying and threats, by added fear and guilt’(Becker, 1973; p.140). And like most extreme ideological movements, ‘the followers found that they had to continue on with the megalomanic plan’ because due to the increasing difficulty in differentiating one’s self from that totalized orientation, one perceived that it was his or her ‘only chance of survival in a hostile world’ (Becker, 1973; p.140).
The point, then, is that the collective—its leaders and its followers—must do what is needed in the name of that totalized vision of life, that ideological practice, ‘which becomes what they themselves must want in order to survive’ (Becker, 1973; p.140). On one level, we can make this distinction practical by conceding the following point: when a person surrenders to a totalized worldview, when a person submits to an ideological perspective, when one fails to differentiate one’s self from the distorted institutional structures surrounding them; one’s present experience gets swept-up and distorted in the name of that worldview. The collective of persons who have therefore surrendered to being in the service of a totalized worldview, to a doctrine, only move towards employing a type of self-reflective experiencing in the name of that totalized state of affairs. The collective announces its aims as being tied to specific ends, and action can only be provisional to these ends. When the end is absolute, experientially speaking, and when it is believed certain of realization, it is possible to go so far as to sacrifice experiential life and genuine community in the name of it (Camus, 1956).
By penetrating into the phenomenology of distorted collective formation, we realize that whether the distorted group is merely a flash in the pan, assembled in the heat of the moment and disassembled shortly thereafter, or whether it is a more continuous collective social movement; there is always a measure of omnipotence amongst the group and a lack of responsibility towards inevitable acts of violation carried out on behalf of the group, particularly as the means of experiential violation are subject to longstanding or temporary moral codes in the name of an Idol. In turn, what this also implies is that by subjecting oneself to ‘greater moral codes’, they are immediately surrendering themselves to being under the ‘direction of a greater power’. The ‘we are’ must serve the ends of conquest and preservation of oppression in the name of dominant security, which almost always involves a parochial view of reality—a one-dimensional perspective of life and experience, a more or less static perception of the world, and the imposition of one worldview upon another. Henceforth we have irreconcilable violence directed towards the inherently diverse phenomenal world (including ourselves and each other).
If it is ultimately the drive for the absolute that colours humanity’s unfurling insanity, it is no wonder that the actual experience and recognition of truth has gone silent. Truth requires a great deal of sensitivity toward phenomena; it requires a ceaseless orientation toward, and sensitive awareness of, the particularity of experience. Truth today, however, is buried beneath the lie and the illusion of the absolute. The historical failure to understand the dynamic, multidimensional, experiential nature of truth is synonymous to humanity’s rejection of what is the basis for all truth: namely, experiential coherence. Saving the question of truth for a later chapter, we can at least determine at this point in our philosophical exploration that: ‘If absolute truth belongs to anyone in this world, it certainly does not belong to the human being or the party that claims to possess it’. When a belief in the idea of absolute truth ‘is involved’ in humanities dilemma, the paradox is this: ‘the more anyone claims to possess absolute truth the more one lies’. ‘In the final analysis,’ then, one ‘becomes the murderer of truth’ (Camus, 1961; p. 165).
But what is most astonishing about the notion of ‘experiential totality’, and about every ideology known to human history, is how in our very securing of a totalized worldview, by which we inherently engender distorted social values, there also coincides a collective functionalizing of ‘experiential blindness’. I think this notion of ‘experiential blindness’ is intimately connected to the generally impossible concept of truth popular today. Let us reflect on this. Upon securing of a totalized frame of reference, ‘experiential blindness’ is what naturally occurs as a result of the functionalizing of a distorted mode of being in the name of a particular Idol. Experiential blindness speaks indeed of an experientially stunted mode of being that amounts to how we smother not only the coherence of our experience, but also the critical realities of our experience.
Again, the bad general of our totalized worldview or of any particular absolute that we have applied onto the world does immediate injustice to the particularity of our experience. To put it another way, the theme of experiential blindness is actually a direct result of our experiential distorting. It amounts to how we stunt the coherence of experiential experience, and how we consequentially no longer wholly absorb the experiential moment of our experiencing a phenomenon. This is due to the manner in which our intersubjective (Subject to Subject) confrontation with a phenomenon becomes skewed (Subject to Object). Experiential blindness, in turn, amounts to a paradigmatic mode of being that functions through eyes that choose to ‘selectively see’. This ‘selective seeing’ represents a lack of critical self-reflection inherent in any totalized worldview, particularly as one surrenders oneself—dogmatically—to being in the service of a particular ideology.
Moreover, upon one’s securing a totalized orientation, the outcome of having secured that orientation does not amount to some sort of final result. One’s totalized orientation is never, irrespective of their self-deceiving desire, an ‘absolutely absolute’ framework. A totalized orientation is never, as we might mistake it to be, ‘a total totality’. It is not so because a totalized orientation requires that one relentlessly chooses to evade the realities of experience. This point must be clung to. It is entirely necessary, if not essential, that we take note of the fact that upon one’s securing of a totalized frame of reference, the notion of experiential blindness speaks of how one must undertake the task of ceaselessly evading one’s experiential reality in effort to constantly affirm one’s Idol and the values that particular ‘totality’ engenders.
The notion of ‘experiential blindness’ speaks of how it is required of the individual to perform a constant, conscious mode of evading. There is a choice involved—and a constant choosing. For if I self-deceivingly judge something to be absolute, according to my self-deceiving evasion I must continuously preserve it. If I attempt to evasively solve the problems of my innermost anxiety, I must by the very solution of evasion strive to unremittingly conjure away all of the experiential terms of that problem. Once my evasion matures, after all, the condition of my self-deceptive acting accepts a method of continuously and consciously preserving the very thing that I have deified.
For example, I am reminded of how many fishing villages today might surrender to the Idol or absolute framework of St. Andrew, who is believed to be the patron saint for all fishing related industry. The Idol, in this case St. Andrew, is regarded as the intercessor and advocate in heaven of the dynamic of the entire fishing village, of the very craft and experiential reality of the concrete act of fishing—that is, of the very ‘method of life’ surrounding the concrete act of fishing. This mythic Idol is even regarded as the watchful eye of the sea, a total form of security, and the guide to a continuous bounty. Whether out of terror or anguish, or out of a fear toward the unknown, the human yearning for a totalized framework is found in the human surrender to the Idol of St. Andrew.
St. Andrew represents a form of ‘dominant’ or ‘ultimate’ security. This Idol represents a deified conviction of ultimate safety at sea. It represents a totalized experiential orientation, which both the individual and collective surrender to so as to self-deceivingly secure an ultimate and supreme sense of certainty in the midst of the most uncertain reality of experiential life. Understandingly, this totalized experiential framework is what one inevitably comes to orientate oneself by. It is, as we have come to understand, one’s orientating oneself toward the world through an absolute framework, through a totalized worldview, that signifies the very spirit of self-deceiving evasion. In many ways, we can also say that the orientating or engendering of one’s belief and value systems, the very depth of one’s existential security nests itself in this totality.
Now let us take one step further. The submission to the Idol of St. Andrew, the very belief in the ‘patron saint’ for all fishermen, represents the self-deceiving belief in how this Idol might guard one against the experiential realities of industrial fishing. The absolutizing of this belief indeed becomes a securing framework for the reality of one’s experiences; it becomes the framework for one’s orientating oneself toward the world of experience. Such belief however, is a matter of evasion. It is a matter of evasion because of the self-deceiving nature of the belief. Moreover, to believe that the patron saint for all fishermen will guard one against the experiential realities of industrious fishing soon overwhelms, if not subsumes entirely, the diverse intersubjective realities behind the very experience of industrious fishing. Here we get a sense of ‘experiential blindness’.
When it comes to the notion of ‘experiential blindness’, this more or less pertains to both a lack of critical self-reflection and to the stunting of intersubjective experiencing inherent in most any totalized experiential orientation; because by absolutizing some ‘ultimate conviction’, one actually becomes blind to the destructive results of, in this case, industrial fishing. For example, we might describe how, when the population of fish usually found in the inmost bays becomes scarce due to the overfishing of that region; when the fishermen must therefore sail further outward and run the risk of experiencing more severe weather conditions; when the fishermen therefore face a greater risk in the performance of their tasks; or in the event of a ship capsizing and spilling toxic fuels into the water, polluting and even killing the marine life; or when due to all of these effects the fishermen have to raise their prices in order to sustain themselves while an indifferent economy refuses to pay more than the status quo; all of these events and manifesting circumstances become not only justified, but they also become distorted to the extent that their critical and diverse realities are not allowed to be wholly, experientially absorbed.
The critical and diverse realities surrounding one’s totalized experiential framework become suppressed in the name of the absolute. In the example of the fishermen, the complex experiential realities surrounding overfishing, pollution, and the corrupt and destructive economic policies attributed to the capitalist industry of fishing; in the midst of experiencing these realities, in whatever shape or form, the experience becomes distorted, suppressed, and ‘objectified’ in the name of the Idol of St. Andrew, and this comes at the expense of the genuine meaning and connectedness in the concrete experiential act of fishing. Thus we can again say that because the multidimensional and diverse world of experience succumbs to a form of suppression, that due to one’s elevating and isolating a dimension of life (or experience) over other dimensions, this amounts to a form of ‘experiential blindness’. Even further, we can discern that the dynamic realities facing the fishermen, from corruption and pollution to natural dangers in the face of extreme weather, to the meaningful and wholesome experience at the center of the concrete act of fishing, become distorted, suppressed, justified and even ‘objectified’ in the name of the Idol. All of these points get perverted through one’s functionalized mode of ‘experiential blindness’. And it is indeed the theme of ‘experiential blindness’ with its three tiers of distortion that is inherent in any experiential totality.
Yet another step further and we can discern that ‘experiential blindness’ refers to how we individually and collectively smother the experiential intricacies integral to coherent experience after they’ve been wrenched apart. It is in such a notion of experiential blindness that, in finally coming to secure a totalized orientation, we therefore successfully achieve a mode for the continuous conscious suppression of the ‘moreness’ and ‘otherwise’ of experience, and how we therefore collectively limit ourselves to experiencing from within a totalized frame of reference. This of course immediately implies both a lack of openness toward our experiencing, and a lack of our wholly absorbing or feeling the critical realities surrounding our experiences. The board of corporate executives, who consciously choose to open a factory in a ‘third-word region’ for the benefit of gaining capital on the sweat of a labouring child, is a good example of this.
Let us summarize as follows. The reason one’s ‘objectifying’ of the world seems consequential to one securing of a totalized experiential framework is because, by contextualizing absolute ends, one is already taking distance from the concrete world of experiential experience. This ‘objective’ distance (through our isolating the many dimensions of experience) from the concrete world of phenomena, provides the necessary space for one’s abstract conceptualizing of the world of things. This is again a matter of consequence. ‘Objectivity’ is consequential to experiential distortion, to the wrenching apart of multidimensional experience. Even further, my ‘objectifying’ of the phenomenal world—to turn a concrete multidimensional subject (phenomenon) into a mere ‘object’, into a mere thing that can be therefore controlled and manipulated—represents the ‘objective power’ of my evasion. It represents the manner in which I therefore manipulate the phenomenal world for the benefit of affirming the absolute ends characteristic of my totalized worldview.
In addition, we can also say that when I absolutize a particular dimension of experience in order to achieve a sense security, there is already inherent in this experientially stunting process certain instrumentalizing qualities that facilitate a vicious ‘objectivity’ principle to my ‘experiential blindness’. The process of evasion becomes instrumental to the extent that the deification of a particular dimension of life or experience necessarily involves the desire to self-deceivingly banish the experiential diversity (or ‘morness’) from one’s experience in order to better instrumentalize it. In one’s drive to achieve ‘dominant security’, whereby the experiential identities of phenomena are absolutized and subsequently phenomena are ‘objectified’, this is an expression of the universalizing, instrumentalizing impetus of the evasive project.
By reducing the phenomenal world to one of ‘mere’ objects, the collective moves toward achieving rigidified experience. The particularity of experience is completely subsumed by the type of grotesque generalizations that every ideology equips. Once it is found that the particularity of experience can be manipulated and consciously suppressed, the instrumentalizing propensity of ideology soon comes in to fruition. From this point, the reductionistic tendencies of a fully functional totalized orientation are aimed to seize the absolute identity of phenomena. It is, in other words, the human drive to capture the absolute identity of phenomena, which leads to the universalizing, objectifying, instrumentalizing and rigidifying propensity of the distorted collective.
Holding on to the understanding that the concrete phenomena of our experience is that which essentially confronts us in our experiencing the world, we can see that the contemporary method of evasion therefore amounts to how we, in the form of experiential distortion, drive to hierarchically classify the phenomenal world in the name of an Idol (distorted perceiving and interpreting). Thereby we pre-emptively stunt the truly experiential moment (the organic mediating moment in the process of experiential experience, i.e., intersubjectivity) in the process of experiencing a particular phenomenon. Moreover, if we consider the manner in which evasion becomes instrumental—this is almost wholly linked to the self-deceiving instinct of evasion; an instinct for instrumental functionalizing, which at certain moments calls for our doing injustice to the phenomenal world—or even to oneself and to others.
This call for doing injustice to the phenomenal world begins with a lack of intimate subject-subject experiencing. To be intersubjectively reflective of a multidimensional phenomenon implies a sense of insecurity and a threat to the idea of totality; for that ‘moreness’ behind our experiencing a phenomenon is a tension that threatens a rift in any absolute framework. Thus the functional instrumentalizing of evasion is matched, in variable proportions, by the anxiety for totalized security. On this point, we can discern very practically how any experientially coherent connection with experience becomes closed-off as the collective experiencing in the name of an absolute is functionalized, legitimatized and instrumentalized. (In our present-day social paradigm: we might also add that the phenomenal world gets conceptualized, technicized, and commercialized).
There are still several questions that have gone unanswered, particularly with regards to self-reflective experience as it relates to our experiential experiencing from within a totalized orientation. If my concrete ‘means’, if my continuous experiential acting in the world already implies a form of self-reflective experience; then what actually becomes of my self-reflective experiencing as I absorb a totalized worldview? The most immediate reply is this: my experiential, self-reflective means have been pulled into being in the service of a particular ends. In evasion one gives oneself to an absolute. And by giving oneself to an absolute, they inherit a particular totalized analytic structure as the basis for their self-reflective experiencing.
Of the process of evasion, particularly as it reaches the heights of an ideological totality, we can determine that one experiences a deep lack of critical self-reflective thought and intimate relating with respect to one’s experiential reality. Even with respect to absorbing the reality of one’s experience, and to contemplating the phenomenon of one’s awareness openly and coherently, there is obvious deficiency. To anyone who has a met a person that is so deeply embedded in a particular ideological worldview, they will know practically that their words had little effect in penetrating the other person’s view of the world. What appears dialectically true to me as I am open to experience, to critical self-reflection, simply proves not to exist for the other who is absorbed in a totalized worldview. And what we must call a grave error here, an error which must be recognizable as such to an experientially coherent and openly critical-reflective person, is to another so clearly the embodiment of absolute truth, and his or her life is characterized by it. In evasion one lives, as far as truth and critical reality is concerned, in another reality. And this deserves our attention.
The evasive act of submission or of surrendering to an absolute—this securing of a totalized framework, leads one to adapt or adjust one’s self-reflective experience to this totalized orientation, rather than seeking to integrate one’s self-reflective experiencing with the realities one faces in one’s present experiential experiencing. We have already discerned this last point to be true in our discussion on ideology. Once an individual has adapted to being in the service of some absolute thing they cease to critically or coherently dialogue with the world, as they have already stunted their intersubjective experiencing.
In an experiential totality, we continue to be self-reflective beings. There is no wholly non-reflective human person. Self-reflection is an organic mode of our experiential experiencing. Irrespective of one’s experiences might become distorted, they cannot not be self-reflective just as they cannot not experience. Experientially speaking, genuine self-reflection is tied to self-development. And development implies transformation. But as we have alluded throughout our discussion, there is an inherent suppression or a lack of critical self-reflective thought in a totalized orientation, because the ideology generally inherent in a ‘totality’ ultimately pervades and permeates into all aspects of one’s living; it tends to smother the experiential, mediating moments which essentially evoke the very course of critical self-reflective thought.
Due to the system by which most any ideology functions, the falsification of life multiplies not only from the base of individual experience in the midst of a distorted collective, but it spreads until it finally becomes the main stage for the historical actor—that is, the way we as individuals perceive and experience the very basis of life itself. The suppression of critical self-reflection from within a ‘totality’ is hitherto tantamount to the fundamental philosophical problem; because lack of self-reflection in day to day existence not only means a lack of coherent experience, but also a lack of genuine meaning and passion in our living. This is a point we must hold on to. To borrow the words of Sherman: a lack of self-reflection ‘on the meaning of our goals and activities pertains directly to the lack of any attempt to ascertain such a meaning that lies at the core of our unreflective and dominating ideological enterprise’ (Sherman, 2007; pp. 202-204).
Let us return to the example of the fishing village. The person who surrenders to the Idol of St. Andrew continues to be self-reflective. However, they are only self-reflective insofar as their self-awareness is contained within the absolute frame of their totalized worldview. The point, then, is that reflective thought in the midst of an experiential totality is still incoherent thought. To what extent we might describe coherent thought, or even ‘experiential coherence’, will come after. In the meantime, we can say that reflective thought in the midst of an experiential totality is not coherent thought due to the simple fact that the organic experiential reality of a diverse and multidimensional experience—one’s intersubjective openness toward the world—is still self-reflectively suppressed even in the course of one’s self-reflecting. If I choose to ‘spell out’ my experiential engagements in the midst of a ‘totality’, this does not imply the negation of my ‘selective seeing’ because this ‘spelling out’ is performed within the limited context, within the limited confines of my totalized frame of reference.
Quite practically, we can say that the ‘totality’ engenders one’s orientation. From this point we can conclude that it is also the absolutizing process that describes practically how a person, through his or her self-deceiving evasion, completely immerses him or herself in a totalized frame of reference with little to no critical recognition of anything outside that frame of reference. Self-reflective development, innovation, interpreting and perceiving—even general knowledge forming—is subject to distortion with regards to one’s immersion or absorption of a totalized framework. And it is this total immersion in a totalized experiential framework that, indeed, highlights how an individual person might become reflectively blind toward the diversity of experience outside his or her total framework, and how self-reflective experience can be confined to an ideological frame of reference. The extreme and dramatic immersion in a totalized experiential framework along with the simultaneous closure from the experiential reality of ‘moreness’ and ‘otherwise’ from within this framework, and the subsequent stunting of experiential coherence, is also another way we might describe the theme of sociohistorical absurdity. And what gives absurdity such a potent definition is the general self-reflective ‘frame’ that limits genuine self-development.
It is this collective frame enclosing one’s self-reflective experiencing that defines the very experiential basis for all ideology.
The severity of the contemporary totality, as we shall see, is due to its unceasingly pervasive and permeating global initiative; its unremitting drive toward universality; its utter and most disastrous method of distortion; and the manner in which, through its self-deceiving propensity, it both falsifies and reifies life and experience in the name of a totalized worldview. It seems that at the climax of contemporary disillusionment the dominant economic ‘method of life’ exists and, in turn, is propagated as the very concept of life. Everywhere global capitalist society insists in the name of its self-deceiving ideology, on the ‘erecting of truth directly amid general untruth, while driving to pervert the former into the latter’ (Adorno, 2005; p. 110). In a social reality where humanity is forced to exist within the ‘determinate system of the economy’, which has overcome the efficacy of humanity’s most basic self-consciousness, social-phenomenon that are little more than ailments of the totality become perceived as the cause, while the root of society’s ailments are reified again and again until damaged society ‘bears witness to a humanity that no longer exists’.
What is so often perceived of as a ‘life well lived’ today, sadly amounts to the twisted concept that has become life—a worldview sprung forth through humanity’s self-deceiving impulse. Distortion and the absurdity of an economic Idol, these are the central themes of our upcoming discussion. They are the stage for what has become a predominant vision of life, one which is equal to unbridled consumerism and the insanity of an economic lie. For it is quite evident that, on an everyday level, each and every one of us are pulled into being in the service of the economic Idol, of a totalized worldview which restricts our lives and in fact even reduces them to the bleak means of shallow economic production. Moreover, in the following chapter we will discuss how life and experience are, in every sense, economized: time; our existential projects; the ways in which we culturally relate; the manner in which we perceive the world and each other; the many various aspects of life and experience are reduced to their economic dimension. All the while life and experience are simply emptied of their passion and meaning, because if there is one unmistakable characteristic of contemporary absurdity, it is how each and every one of us is employed as an instrument of the system of capital. We each become a subject of the new historical master, one who wants only to achieve total domination over everything that constitutes our lives, this world, and our experiences with it.
But this is still not enough, because if we are to come to any sort of transformative conclusion in this work, we must penetrate further into the incongruity between our totalitarian society and the manner in which this actually emerges in the form of the sociohistorical-cultural belief in the utter necessity of privatization, consumerism, and economic dependency on behalf of the idea of ‘progress’. That is, we have to penetrate into the self-deceiving belief in limitless consumption and the maddening drive to control, reduce, manipulate and dominate the phenomenal world until it is perceived as nothing other than the source of endless commodity. Understanding ideological distortion is indeed the task at hand, as is our coming to understand the viciousness of society’s hegemony as well as humanity’s crazy reifying of social phenomena. To begin, Hegel’s master and slave parable at least circumscribes the central dilemma: the historical order of society reinforced by the phenomenology of social forces. One becomes the master precisely in the sense that, through evasion, one is made to serve. And of course much of this distorted social relating is mashed up within the notion of transference in which, as I have alluded in a previous discussion, the object, the absolute, becomes one’s locus for safe operation (Becker, 1973; p. 146). Moreover, the economic Idol represents the totality of the transference object. And the distorted collective that is born from out of this totality (i.e., our collective social functioning as a society) is for the greater part caught up in a relentless exchange between master and slave. For it is nevertheless the case that we are bound to the ‘we are’ of our nationalist pride for example, whilst all the while struggling with the problem of power and terror between ‘class distinctions’ and consumeristic barbarity. But let us not exaggerate this direction of thought.
The experiences that I am to call to mind in this chapter are those that speak of the increasingly codified rationale of our present-day society—the more extreme rationally reduced distortion, as it were—particularly as we achieve a more or less instrumentally economic mode of being that functions in what I have already described as experiential blindness. Rather than approach each experience in the spirit of our experientially coherent awareness, I argue that we govern ourselves by instrumentally smothering experiential experience through our rigidifying of the social bureaucratic process; by pulling our experiential means into being in the service of the economic Trinity; and through the proceduralizing and monetarizing of everything, which more or less affirms the existing global economic ideological façade. This is in fact the climate of the unillustrious life: the functionalizing and instrumentalizing of experiential blindness; of mechanical gestures and consumeristic barbarity; of machine-like impulse and repulsions; of distorted, reductionistic and abstractly rational functioning; of dramatic social extolment toward scientism and technicism; and of reified and falsified life. All of which is a matter of how we are pulled into being in the service of the experiential totality on behalf of the global economy.
These opening illustrations are of course far from impractical. Through the act of self-deceiving evasion, we have historically deified the ‘market economy’. But through our historical absolutizing of the market economy, we have also enlisted three inherent dimensions of greater distortion which span the broad scope of twisted, reified social phenomena that makes-up contemporary society. The first dimension of greater social distortion is, as we know, instrumental and reductionist reason, which is tantamount to the reducing of the phenomenal world to their abstract conceptual dimension—the absolutely reduction of the phenomenal world to its economic dimension of life.
The second is scientism, which is equally propagated by market ideology. As we concluded in an earlier discussion, global capitalist ideology propagates that our experiential realities are chaotic and entirely unknowable. Due to this absurd distinction, we employ science (or scientism) to be in the service of the economic Idol, which self-deceivingly imposes ‘order’ on the phenomenal world so that we can further technologically manipulate and economize it. In scientism is our trust; and through this trust we simultaneously believe that technology can solve all of our problems.
In sum, the three tiers of greater social distortion—the absurd Trinity of western society, as it were, is a matter of global capitalist ideology, which heads instrumental reason, scientism and technicism.
The result of this Idol and its coercive Trinity is the falsification of life. When life and experience is concentrated in the hands of a single owner, when our own self-deceptions are forged into a mode of collective distortion on behalf of the absolute—as global capitalism therefore reigns upon the existence of all things with its rationally reduced answers – falsification and reification are the result. The idol of our social reality, no longer of the mythic realm but of the rational, the human, has the ability to pull us in by force inasmuch as we might surrender to it. Whether by the force of social hopelessness or manufactured parecarity or existential indifference, or even through willing acceptance, we surrender to being in the service of the totality of capitalist Idol.
Already snatched from the evasive desires of a large portion of the populous, the market economy concentrates in one enormous mass of human individuals—a vision of life—which henceforth is made to pervade everything as being held in twisted universality. The totalized experiential framework of contemporary society is, as we are to discuss, determined to lay claim over the world in which all answers are brought into being in the service of global capitalism and its abstract reasoning, scientism and technicism. The human commitment to global capitalism aided by abstract and distorted reasoning, science and technology, is indeed administered among us in the name of historical progress and conscious calculation. Such progress and calculation is in fact made reasonable and economically determinable; and it is even self-deceivingly celebrated.
Absurdity, then, is not just in the process but also in the madness of the self-deceiving celebration of our own subservience. It is our security that is put into the trust of the economic Trinity; and it is therefore the church of the Trinity that we collectively worship, celebrate and to which we even ritually sacrifice. Altogether: abstract reason, scientism and technology are subservient to the totalized experiential framework that we have both secured and functionalized in the name of the economic absolute, which, for the greater part, is believed to be the ‘historical saviour’. The economic totality of western society, like every other historical totality, saturates the sociohistorical-cultural aspects of contemporary life and experience; because this is what the Messiah demands. Life and limb, humanity is chained to this Ideology, to this totalized worldview.
In general, the western spirit moves toward a lack of universal questions; there are only rationally reduced answers and rationally reduced economic commentaries, even in religious assembly. Everything must conform to the universalizing propensity of capitalist ideology. Whether it is the discipline of political sciences, economics, sociology, technology, psychology, biology, earth sciences, chemistry, history, physics, philosophy, mathematics (and so forth); almost everything is pulled into being in the service of the economic Idol. The global capitalist totality is, in this way, the vortex of contemporary distortion which applies to almost every sphere of life.
To sum up, then, what we are to discuss in this chapter is how the general economic attitude that we absorb is everywhere and in almost all sectors of society. On this point, I highly doubt that there are many readers who can claim without false pathos that they are not affected by the absurdity of our greater social climate. Our social reality represents the very landscape within which we all must perform our most basic, fundamental orientations toward the world of experience. This is why, even though we have gone on to investigate the distorting processes that essentially falsify life on the grounds of experiential experience, we cannot let go of the fact that these distorting processes ultimately magnify into what constitutes the greater spirit of our times. Consequently, the exemplary power of the economic Trinity, that totality which combines absolute reason, scientism and technicism, is the totalitarian flag that reaches beyond most boarders. And its capacity to intimidate can be counted on.
When nature is no longer perceived as the multicoloured and glorious world in which we live, as our habitat and our genuine experiential stage, but rather as an industry; when our lives therefore begin to feel existentially foreign to us and drained of genuine meaning; when all politics becomes reduced to economic games without genuine substance; when banks and institutions become the machines of human life; when technology is warped from out of its potential means and functionalized as a coercive instrument; when humanity is no longer seen as being in the flesh, but as profit; this is the type of absurdity that we are now up against.
It is clear that society today is not only composed of a sort of individualism; it is now a more grand economic institution: one that employs the very disciplines and dimensions of life; one that absorbs entire individuals and communities; and one that saturates our experiential lives and the stuff that constitutes them. When it comes to all of the concretized dimensions of life and experience, global capitalist ideology warps these disciplines and dimensions into individual declarations that serve the same purpose of the greater social oath. Inasmuch as we all participate in this vision and way of life, to whatever degree; we are all part of the fundamental philosophical problem which defines society’s lie. As a good friend and colleague of mine would say: ‘whether we are Christian, Roman Catholic or Protestant; Jewish; Muslim; Hindu; Buddhist; Humanist; Post-modernist; Existentialist; Absurdist; Native People or whatever else our convictions may be—we all live and are forced to live split lives under our contemporary state of affairs’ (De Graaff, 2000). This, again, is an expression of the climate of absurdity. ‘It means that we cannot just denounce corporations and banks and twisted politic as symbols of the economic totality, although it may often be tempting. For when we are critical of the corporate way of life, when we are critical of the corrupt banks and distorted politic—of the economic Idol writ large, we are by implication necessarily critical of ourselves. We all participate in the dominant method of life, and we all contribute to the reifying of the many dimensions of life again and again and again. In this respect, absurdity is our sociohistorical-cultural circumstance whether we like it or not. The transnational corporations may and certainly do embody today’s vision of life; but so do we in our addiction to consumerism, in our economic faith’ (De Graaff, 2000).
To this extent, the vision of life in contemporary society is, in its extreme, a religious belief system. It has to do, like any other religion or totalized system of beliefs, with reducing life: ‘reducing life and experience to the mode of producers and consumers. Whatever can be made must be made. Whatever can be reduced to its economic dimension is subject to exploitation. All of which is of course accomplished with little regard for the critical realities and consequences for the environment, labour conditions, our general health and well-being, the meaningfulness of work, of life, and so forth. Happiness, meaning, passion, lucidity, is then defined as the consumption of more and more and always new goods and services (De Graaff, 2000). It is truly a one-dimensional view, a totalized orientation in which life and experience has no other value than the economic. And this cannot be said enough, because today’s paradigm involves the economizing of everything; it involves, again, the way we perceive life to as a massive economic stage. It involves the commercializing, instrumentalizing, computerizing, technicizing, and reducing of everything in the name of the economic Idol. Nothing can be excluded. The ‘free’ market, the greater distorted social collective, must reign supreme and secure. The Idol must be safeguarded on his golden throne (De Graaff, 2000).
All of this of course sounds historically familiar. Continuing in light of Arnold De Graaff, we can determine that this dominant method of life secured in the name of the economic Idol involves intense and barbaric competition; inhumane and ruthless takeovers; the self-deceiving propagation of a totally ‘free’ cultural project; and the further reifying of law, education and so forth’ (De Graaff, 2000). It involves the view that humanity is ‘granted’ its emancipation by way of the distorted, reified and falsified. It entails the cultural and social promotion of enslavement; the governance of pseudo-autonomy in the name of an absolutely ‘free’, deregulated market and the elimination of all barriers to the free flow of capital. It requires a certain functionalizing of greater social means—a certain distorted collective functioning by way of privatization and restructuring. Public institutions and agencies, non-for-profit awareness and genuine social diversity stand in the way of the ‘free’ market. Public assets must be sold off. Experiential freedom as a dimension of experience must be manipulated. Choice is warped and now pertains to a consumeristic definition (De Graaff, 2000).
We could call this absurd social climate a new form of Social Darwinianism—a survival of the fittest, a savage game wherein each and every one of us is subject to the extreme isolation of a whole new individualism (De Graaff, 2000). ‘The truth is that there is no such thing as society under this state of affairs; just a distorted concept of individuals and an equally distorted concept of families.’ That is, we are all ‘utility maximizers’. There is no room for altruistic or community motives unless we as experientially free and open people, initiate them in the face of the threatening and indifferent system (De Graaff, 2000). It is no wonder so many of us feel a lack of, or at least feel forced to wean away from, community commitments; cooperation and care, emotional sensitivity and collective well-being. Our absurd social reality makes for a harsher people, a closed people, a rigidified people, and a desensitized way of experiencing and perceiving. It makes us less compassionate and less responsible for each other. It is the opposite of a multidimensional view of life and many sided values. Today’s socially dominant vision of life is the opposite of coherence, openness and emotional sensitive function, for its experiential blindness is obvious (De Graaff, 2000).
On the other hand, society, which is rationally impressionable as it is in the service of the economic absolute, can very well put up with such details about the reality of its own barbarity because its reality is only reasoned further in the self-deceiving faith of the economic absolute. Herein lies the rub. This is in fact a representation of the ferociousness of the contemporary state of affairs. And here we must ask ourselves the important question: it is no secret that western society was specifically designed to be a state of ‘economic interest’—a government by, for, and of the rich. One need not look beyond the western university, and our many social and educational institutions, to gain a sense of this absurdity. When it comes to western society’s institutions, social power (political power, even) is given to those with money, the best resources, and those who achieve the highest standards in an economically dominated and distorted curriculum. The role of the social scientist, of the economist, of the philosopher, of the student, who strives for an academic place in the social totality, is simply advocated upon to prevent the public from discovering how the western political and economic system actually works (directly or indirectly) by conforming to the standards of having to work within a strict framework that, although it continues to generate thinking, provides only an ‘umbrella of protection’ over the absurd concept that is the western method of life (Hanson, 1998).
The social totality is driven to rationally engender all aspects of social space so as to qualify itself in its own terms. All must put up with absurdity so that no one will be ignorant of the economic way of life and the rationalized and instrumentalized population. Hence ideology springs forth in the totality of the western world and it terrorizes once and for all; it applies that extra seal of approval toward the very basis of our economic being, which with its abstract reasoning for example, becomes the basis for all truth in the world. Besides, to say that the whole of our social reality ‘must put up with’ the economic Idol and its rationalism is an overstatement; the economic absolute is already qualified to the extent that its origin as a dominating principle is born of experiential evasion.
If it is true that the market economy is a deified concept; then it is a mystified and unreachable concept, which, in the end, powers the democracy we think we know. Contemporary economic theory once began with the political claim that ‘the market’ is the best and most secure means to manage society, and has spent over two-hundred years working backwards trying to prove it. Many would say that economic theory has failed. But has it? Aside from the fact that global capitalism has been absolutized as a dominant ‘method of life’—an equally bizarre result of two-hundred years spent reverse-engineering this distorted theory of economics, and the absurd belief toward the market economy as the new Idol, speaks of how the self-deceiving belief in such a dominant method of life must only reference itself to be self-deceivingly coherent as belief. Economic theory has achieved its skewed ends. This constant self-referring, which is an experientially blind mode of belief, is nothing more than a characteristic of evasion. It fits indeed with the characteristics of evasion and the historical tendency to secure and functionalize a dominant totality. In other words, economic theory is about economic theory; it is an experiential totality that has come to pervade so many integral aspects of our lives—and it has done so successfully.
But economic theory at the heart of our distorted social reality works only so long that critical thought continues to remain outside the centre of discussion, like a disease sheltered from a cure—or like evasion sheltered from ‘otherwise’.
The problem is that society and social phenomena have become so reified that the source of our many social problems are moving further out of reach. Today, we even work and live on the assumption that people make ‘rational’ decisions – the assumption of ‘revealed preferences theory’. In the increasingly distorted and reified form of knowledge predominant today, choices are thought to be based solely on preferences that are known through the choices that are made. In other words, the entire logic of the current system resorts to entirely meaningless, circular arguments, mathematical conjuring tricks, the exploitation and manipulation of our existential and experiential realities, so as to justify the economically dominant method of life (Hanson, 1998).
All of this is of course deemed satisfactory to the thought of the present epoch. Evasion, in the sense of contemporary social banality, has only to continue so long as the economic Trinity continues to offer what is so deeply yearned for. The market is, in many ways, historic culmination pf evasion; it speaks to the yearning for utopia, and this comes out precisely in the thought that nothing needs to actually change. So long as the market economy, global capitalism, is perceived as an absolute without alternative, the longer such self-deception will continue.
The peculiarities of evasion suffice to explain, then, why capitalist ideology, which from the outside seems calculated to frighten and suppress everyday minds, is altogether related to the ideology of everyday minds. This is perhaps one of the more dramatic points offered in this work, particularly when it comes to the theme of a totalized experiential framework. All sociology which concerns societies that have sought to undertake an abolishment of ideology, without exception, fails to concretely show that there is a connection between individual thought on such a deep, intimate level, and its satisfaction in ideology. This underlying satisfaction, however ephemeral it may be in the greater context of the sociohistorical-cultural plot, is customary of every type of Fascism and Totalitarianism known to human history. Nevertheless, the point is that today it does not suffice to merely set out a course for the elimination of ideology; because this course guarantees a new form of, indeed, ideology. One must undertake an examination of evasion, which in its experiential distorting can always bring ideology into being. Human evasion exists, and so does ideology. Between evasion and ideology there is an obvious historical connection. A connection that when deduced from experiential distortion and the securing of a totalized orientation, goes beyond the theory of state control (all the while recognizing state control). It also amounts to less than a theory of passive people, because there is no ideology without a conscious and calculated collectivising of human persons. Ideology itself is born of the collective forming of a totalized experiential orientation.
To sum up, is it too much of a stretch to consider that the history of evasion is therefore the marker of contemporary self-deceiving life? The absolute principle that has been secured in the name of the ‘market economy’—that dimension of life which has been collectively deified—this becomes an object of self-deceiving faith. The preoccupation of evasion, as is evidenced through centuries of time, is to transform a phenomenon into a dominant faith. But to transform is to act, and to act through evasion, will be, tomorrow, to distort. Furthermore, the history of the experiential act of evasion and of the human drive toward the securing of an absolute, discloses to us the manner in which any particular period of evasion engenders the actions of a distorted collective faith that it strives to make legitimate and secure. And it is almost always necessary that evasion finds its reasons within itself in order to justify the actions one carries out in the service of the particular absolute, since one concedes to consent to the absolute in order to know ‘how to live’. This absolute, which has been consciously brought into the world, becomes belief just as much as it becomes a matter of credence, doctrine, and exaltation.
With the shift of western capitalist society into its monopoly form, democratic initiative crumbled into a deeper state of economic subservience. Then from the historical shift of capitalism into its present global form, capitalist ideology has blown wide open a world now ripe for exploitation. That is to say that the political sphere as well as the general public sphere has become increasingly and ever so drastically functionalized by the market and its reified social relations. Such distorting power is what in fact contributes to the very definition of totality today. With respect to the Hegelian tradition, this amounts to how global capitalist society, which has historically mutated into a tight integration of affairs, threatens to choke any remaining, genuine free space (transformative space) left in the public sphere. This is especially so considering that contemporary culture itself continues to permeate in absolute belief toward the Idol of the market economy. While society acts according to the principles of the global economic totality, it abstracts from life a concept of life, and makes a mockery of everything else along the way.
What better example of the present age and its struggle than what we might find in an everyday grassroots community. Most every community today is influenced by global capitalism and pulled into being in the service of that dominant Idol. In the manner in which the global market economy has become the Idol, the very concept of life, no church or lesser Idols are free of it. One must always ‘think economically’ and undertake the project of our present economic reality and its distorted exchange relations or else one faces being put to the rack. Besides, what basic necessity of life does the market not have control of? The answer says it all: a single step forward and we penetrate into the psychology of society, one which speaks of action and conformity in terms of pure terror. That is to say that western society has definitely entered an era of corporate fascism. The economic totality, which is simply the most recent symptom of humanity’s self-destructive evasion, has engulfed the very notion of democracy in the name of corporate excess.
Domination, distortion, experiential violation—these central themes of damaged life begin on the grounds of experience: how we self-deceivingly approach, relate with and interact with phenomena. Experience and knowledge, which are experientially anchored in the intersubjective relation that we have with phenomena, are therefore warped into instruments of ‘objective’ power. In a play on the words of Adorno: ‘the notions of subject and object have been reversed’ (Adorno, 2005; p. 69). Simply put, the ‘objective’ has been pulled into the self-deceiving administration and application of global capitalist society; it is significant of what is now considered to be the ‘non-controversial’ approach to experience, the foundation of how we experience the world and thus the façade which we render as being lucid (Adorno, 2005; p. 69). This is how utterly real and gripping global capitalist ideology is: it manifests as an objectifying perspective in behind one’s subjective experience. Henceforth ideology today manipulates how we perceive, interpret, and approach the world of experience. The objective is, in another way, the standard method of practice when it comes to the way in which we approach the world of phenomena. The objective is believed to form what is commonly held in the name of capitalist ideology to be ‘unquestionable impressions’, the façade made up of ‘classical data’ which is little more than self-deception insofar that ‘objective data’ is necessarily anchored in the (inter)subjective (Adorno, 2005; p. 69). And yet today ‘we call the subjective anything that breaches the façade,’ anything that breaks the golden rule and actually intimately engages the specific experience with a phenomena by realizing the meaning of autonomy and ‘casting off all ready-made, objective judgements’ (Adorno, 2005; p. 69).
In short: abstract reason devalues the very lifeworld that makes our experiencing possible. Having understood the reality of evasion, we can say practically that experiential distortion amounts to the smothering of experiential intricacies integral to coherent experience. And when deified reason becomes fused with the historical method of distortion, it is in such a compound that, when exploited by the type of abstract ‘exchange principle’ that is essential to global capitalist practice, we look to ‘objectively’ dominate over the stuff of our experiences to the extent that now not even a tree is any longer perceived as a tree in all its dimensions and richness. Practically, a tree is no longer perceived as the uniqueness of each tree, as the multidimensional subject of the particular tree. A particular tree today is more likely to be perceived as a mere and almost lifeless ‘object’ of lumber, as a rotten general category that subsumes the trees particularity—as something to be reduced to a commodity rather than seen as a unique living thing.
Trees, water, people—all phenomena are experientially distorted, warped from out of their integral coherence. A tree is perceived as a tree like all other trees; a culturally ethnic person like all other people of that ethnicity. False generalisation runs rampant. Everything, as has already been noted, is objectively ripe for domination. Of course, the evasive attitude in the midst of its economic endeavour may pass a tree and in this course of experience may still experientially distinguish a birch tree from a willow tree; but overarching this distinguishing is the manner in which one pins down an absolute identity so that all trees are but trees; so that all trees are but the reified object of lumber, for example.
Under the present-day cognitive paradigm, phenomena are perceived more as things which can be dominated as opposed to subjects that should be intimately and sensitively experienced. That is why, when Adorno and Horkheimer write that: ‘Knowledge,’ which today is twisted into a sick game of power, ‘knows no obstacles: neither the enslavement of men nor in compliance with the world’s rulers;’ he is speaking a great deal of truth (Adorno and Horkheimer. 2002; p.2). ‘Power and knowledge are now synonymous (Adorno and Horkheimer. 2002; p.2). In evasion, under that utterly ruthless and destructive Idol of the market economy, ‘what human beings want to learn from nature, from the phenomenal world, is how to use it in order to wholly dominate it and other human beings. That is the only aim.’ ‘Ruthlessly, in despite of itself,’ in despite of humanity’s technological and scientific potential, the contemporary totality ‘has extinguished any trace of its own self-consciousness (Adorno and Horkheimer. 2002; p.2).
But it is precisely in what we will later consider to be my experiential revolt, where I know that to experience, for example, the rain fall onto my skin—this experience is not limited to the mere fact that rain is rain and, in turn, that rain is that which is being felt on my skin. Nor is my experiencing rain limited to my discerning the phenomenon of rain through some deforming, reducing objectivity, as being the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that forms drops of water heavy enough to fall onto my skin. Nor is my experiencing rain limited to another possibility for future economic exploitation, to conceiving of some contraption that exploits the phenomenon of rain solely for the benefit of economic gains, for example. In other words, the experience of rain is not merely limited to my experientially discerning the phenomenon of rain. Nor is rain limited to the rationalized and preconceived concept of rain, by which I mean how one’s experiencing the subject of rain might not be looked at, let alone thought about, because the phenomenon itself has already been subsumed by a nullifying, subsuming general identity. The phenomenon of rain is not merely something to be abstractly rationalized, reduced, and isolated as a hierarchical classification even before I actually experience it. The experience of rain is both more than what I can experientially discern it to be, and is more than what abstract reason (in the form of rational identity thinking) absolutely defines it to be from an analytical or objective distance. And this is precisely the point.
I a play on Adorno’s idea of mimesis: ‘to be an object is part of the meaning of subjectivity’ (Adorno, 1992; p.183). The coherence of my experiencing the phenomenon of rain is a matter of how I might surrender to the dynamic of the experience of rain, how I might abandon myself to the intersubjectivity of rain. My experientially experiencing the subject of rain is, indeed, dynamic as well as rich in its own dimensions. All of this goes on to suggest that we can never absolutely know the phenomenon of rain in our experiencing it. For the water that I feel and the water in which I can discern in my experiencing the phenomenon of rain, is also a multidimensional subject. The next time I experience rain, my experience with the rain will be different to my previous experience with the phenomenon of rain. Although the phenomenon of rain as a regularity is likely to remain similar to that which it was in my previous experiencing of it. In other words, the multidimensionality of rain might stay the same; its biological-chemical identity is in fact a regularity. But the dynamic of rain and the different moment in my experiencing the phenomenon rain confronts me in a new way each and every time. Each time I experience the concrete phenomenon of rain, then, in my ‘immediate awareness’ towards it, different dimensions of rain are evoked. The dynamic in which I experience rain will have changed, as will have my subjective state. Even my focus on whatever dimension of the phenomenon of rain that is presently evoked might well be different from one encounter to the next.
On the other hand, we are not to suggest here that one can always be ‘wholly in the present moment’. Experientially speaking, we do not function this way; and to suggest this goes well beyond the point. But to entertain the notion at least for a moment, we can determine firstly that, as human beings, our self-awareness is always unfolding so long as we are open to our experience. Our self-awareness is built through a type of historical continuity of ‘self’. Hitherto there might be the occasional tension when it comes to allowing myself to feel into my experience of rain, to let myself down and relax in my experiencing the phenomenon of rain. There is a difference, however, between being or feeling emotionally closed or preoccupied, and rationalistic reduction. Besides, it would not be very coherent of us to negate, on an emotional scale, the fact that our social realities are often very hardened; they are filled with suffering, plight, and violent and despairing images. A common description of experience in the midst of an absurd social reality, even if we keep to the ‘middle class’ experience, is how one might feel as though one must necessarily harden oneself—not to feel, sense, emote—and become almost like an emotionless stone.
To think of the countless human beings who are treated in society as if they’ve been spit out of the bottom-end of a fierce and unsympathetic economic system, defined as the ‘waste product’ of an inexplicable and insane state of affairs—how open can one possibly allow oneself to be in such a circumstance? Thus it is understandable, in the very least, that we might not know how to manage or confront all of the suffering, fear, anger, and tension that lives and breathes in the everyday, economically dominated and ravaged city. We must not forget this. In the midst of extreme circumstances, for a human being who has been left by the capitalist system to rot on the cold and hardened streets, it is too much to ask of this person to be open to their experience. But collectively, and this is important, if we are open as a community; solidarity ought not to be far from this person whose life has been left to rot in a state of existential and social decay. Through experientially coherent and prefigurative solidarity, we might as a community reopen the possibilities of the world for one another. Nevertheless, and keeping to the immediate path, the difficulty to ‘let ourselves down’ and absorb the experiential realities of our experiences; to be ourselves in spite of emotional and social tension; this is a common human struggle. And it is up to us to collectively actualize experiential coherence.
Let us summarize as follows. To reason the experience of a flower is to not wholly experience the smell, the shape, the texture, or the experiential ardour inherent in experiencing the subject of a flower. To isolate reason as the sole principle of being, to rationally reduce the subject of the flower to its economic dimension, which is but one of a plethora of dimensions—this turns our experience into a hollow mass of distortion. It opens up a ‘free reign’ of abstract and economic domination which is fuelled by an extreme method of self-deception. By this I mean to say that, because reason is thought of as principle for the benefit of pure reflection in the midst of the economic totality, this belief comes into fruition on the grounds that we fundamentally misinterpret reflection to be a form of rational objectivity.
When it comes to the manner in which abstract reason typically perceives the phenomena of human existence as mere organisms driven by an assortment of needs, drives, instincts, complexes, or other dehumanizing forces, my revolt wants to resist against these analytical obscurities of western thought. I want to have no truck with the way in which reason assesses behaviour and objectifies experiences as merely things to then be rationally conceptualized in terms of mechanisms, discrete and disjoined elements, struggles between irreconcilable forces, and a number of dehumanizing metaphors. It is not my interest here to participate in the process of assuming both phenomena and human beings as things-in-themselves- i.e., as ‘objects’, neurotics, psychotics, ignorants, and so forth (Fink, 1972; p. 2. Such a rationally engendered objectivity proves more destructive than beneficial, and it is that which we ought to rally against.
If it is true as I propose that coherence, in the end, amounts to my remaining anchored in the experiential world of experience, in the experiential position which consists of drawing all conclusions in an open-ended context, then it is true b I am faced practically with a world that does not entertain a desire for absolutes. Contrary to abstract reason that wants to make static and totally familiar the world of phenomena, that wants to govern the world for the benefit of a dominant economic ‘method of life’, my revolt points only to the discipline or awareness of experiential limitations. These limits are not only those which the experiential attitude of mind imposes upon itself; these limits are also what speak of experiential coherence. For in being coherent with the world of non-identitarian experience, the experiential attitude, my revolt, will insist on abstracting nothing and confronting solely the day-to-day struggle of being faced with ever unfolding experience. This is the grounds for all knowledge. Understanding that the world is not made of absolute properties but rather of fluid, unfolding, (multidimensional) dynamic relations—this is essential. And, likewise, my revolt (my coherent awareness) is only so, so long as I stare in the face the complexities and multidimensionality that is the basis of all problems, all phenomena, and all experience. Being able to remain on the dizzying crest which is the value of no absolute premise, no abstract evasion, and no instrumentally rational manipulation—this is integrity and the rest is subterfuge (Camus, 1955).
Thus I know that if I jump the gun and abstractly rationalize and distort the various images of my experience, these images; the suffering person who kneels before the walking crowd; the flower; the wind that splashes across my face; they will have become but another silent injustice in a world which is becoming more and more unjust—and more and meaningless in its falsified state. On the other hand, if it is coherent in my revolt to resist against regulating my response to both the resplendent ardours of the world and also its genuine horrors; this begins, firstly, with my staying open to experience. For I know that in my revolt, if I really listen to the multidimensional response, the evocativeness when witnessing a girl on the street with her face all beaten or the sun glowing in the topmost sky; then I am moved to respond—to whatever extent. And this is, as we will see in a later chapter, where everything in relation to our concluding the fundamental problem begins.
Unlike some of my well-known contemporaries, I do not think that human beings are by nature or by ontological device, a self-deceiving or a predominantly rational species. To tell the truth, and without getting ahead of myself, I think quite the contrary. I believe, and this is quite different, that human beings are a multi-dimensional species, whose multifariousness is integral to our own physical survival. Economic society, on the other hand, is structured not to allow for living outside of its socially engendered and dominating framework. But at the same time, this closure from the diversity so integral to our living contributes to deep existential rot. In another way, today it is said that all experience must be applicable to procedural, instrumental reason. Hence all phenomena, all experience, and all policy is made rational and must be established in accordance with rational logic. Everything that does not fit on this scale is hitherto deemed unfit and is either annihilated or forgotten. For years I have been unable to see anything in this poisonous and disturbed logic to be either practical or endurable. It is a disorder. And it is a disorder solely on the basis that even ‘lived experience’ has been subject to distortion and gradual emptying.
If I were to ask practically: what is the one particular that we immediately identify with when it comes to the very concept of reason as it has been justified in the name of global capitalist ideology, the answer would be, interestingly enough, its unique scientific perspective. In other words, when we think very practically about the concept of reason—which today is analogous to scientism—we immediately think about its ‘objective’ distance from the experiential and phenomenal world of things. Indeed the ‘objective’ distance found at the heart of rationalistic distortion has become cemented in our formal belief in the economic Idol. But the western rational enterprise, its rational manipulation of phenomena, its general perspective toward both social and natural phenomena and even toward existential matters, mistakes its objective perspective for a form of experiential lucidity. Really it is a matter of distortion; and it is inherently destructive. What is so truly profound, however, is the fact that fawning abstract reason is the very means of a distorted economic principle, of evasive thought. And the evasive drive of society so obviously propagates the rationalization that all of the characteristics of abstract reason are, in all actuality, the integral characteristics of a coherent perspective. Abstract reason is justified simply because western society, in its functional mode of self-deceiving evasion secured in the name of global capitalism, believes that its abstract and distorted perspective is a universal principle.
In the modern age, the worm is truly in human thought. And this worm leaves behind a trail of economically engendered absurdity. We surrender to a persistent drive to seek final, rational, economic ends. But in seeking final ends, we must suppress the intersubjectivity of our experience because, on one level, our phenomenological constitution is distorted as we take an ‘objective’ distance from the world. Experience today is dominated just enough for us to allow ourselves to take an objective distance between ourselves and the reality of our experience, and the experiential nature of consciously absorbing those realities.
The dominating impulse to suppress the ‘moreness’ of experience and to control and manipulate the concrete phenomena of experience, is undeniably an existential and experiential account of the human surrender to the economic absolute. Under the economic Trinity of western society, we strive to dominate the experiential world of experience by ascribing absolute rational principles and concepts onto phenomena. But to rationally reduce the concrete phenomenon of one’s awareness to an abstract concept or theory, even if this abstract concept or theory becomes functional, is a matter of self-deception. By instrumentalizing the rational account or method as the basis from which we are to apprehend the world, this totalized experiential framework amounts to nothing other than how we systematically create an ‘umbrella framework’ in our present state of affairs for the extreme suppression of experience. By ascribing absolute identity onto things, by abstractly conceptualizing the world of phenomena, by constructing a totalized experiential framework on the basis of distorted experience, and by wrenching apart the coherence of our experience, we also choose to close ourselves off from wholly absorbing ‘lived experience’. We cordon off experiential experience and ultimately functionalize distortions and absolute concepts in refuge from concrete reality.
Even further, it is the human commitment to the economic Idol that has become principle to our being-in-the-midst-of-the-world, which nevertheless establishes the necessary context for our sociohistorical absurdity. It is the age of the economic Trinity that speaks of how we surrender to absolute reason and put our experiential and existential trust in our being in the ‘rational’ service of the economic Idol. Abstract reason is, in and of itself, a mode of absolutizing. The very servile nature that defines the human commitment to abstract reason speaks of how we not only strive to absolutize concrete phenomena as ‘nothing but’ mere ‘objects’ that can be manipulated, controlled and dominated, but of how we also employ our experiences in the rationally reduced service of economic ideology. The whole science of instrumental reason is based on a certain form of selective seeing in this way. It is based on a certain method that turns the most wondrous floral gardens into inert economically exploitable things-in-themselves.
There is perhaps no more of a perverse belief, no more of a greater misconception toward the notion of reason than the belief of what actually makes human reason possible: namely, the belief that the supremacy of reason, the very purity of all reasoning, is principle to the ‘fact’ that reason is born of the distinctive nature of human consciousness. Moreover, it is said today that the very human capability of self-consciousness therefore qualifies, in some way, the very concept of western reason which is necessary to the economic totality. I am even told that the very mode for purified reflection is one which is invariably born of an objective rational perspective—a perspective that has nevertheless been reasoned into the principle that one cannot reflect without being rational. But, on the other hand, I know that this is simply a matter of reason talking reason. If the human commitment to reason speaks of how we place our security in our abstract rationalizing, then it is more than easy to envisage how western society will go to great lengths in order to defend it.
A few thoughts on the problem of identity, positivism, objectivism, reductionism and the ethical questions they raise.
When Adorno discusses the notion of non-identity in Negative Dialectics (1992), his point, in practical terms, is that one should interact with a phenomenon without assuming the judgement of absolutely knowing that phenomenon. Non-identity is another way of describing the (non-conceptual) ‘moreness’ in behind our experiences (Sherman, 2007), a notion I already introduced much earlier in this work. In another way: non-identity gives expression to the experience of not being able to absolutely capture or possess a phenomenon in an abstract theory or concept. This ‘moreness’ in behind our experiences, wherein each experience we have with a particular thing is always new, unfolding, dynamic and multidimensional, resides between the experiential identity of a (multidimensional) phenomenon (i.e., our ability to discern that this tree is a birch tree) and our own (inter)subjective limitations in terms of consciously orientating toward that multidimensional phenomenon (i.e., the experiential identity of a phenomenon which we can discern but which is never absolutely identical with itself).
There is an example I will consider later in relation to two phenomena, X and Y. In this example I discuss how one can discern the experiential identity of X and Y. One can assess both of their particularities, even amongst other X’s and Y’s. One can also generalize, that most X’s have similar features while most Y’s have other similar features. For instance, birch trees have white bark. Willow Trees have brown bark and unique, hair-like leaves. The idea that I will present later is how, then, all X’s are not like all X’s – that is, all birch trees are not absolutely identical to all birch trees. Though appearance may be the same or similar, and though birch trees share an experiential identity, upon closer inspection there are often dynamic differences: i.e., this one is older than that one; this birch tree has unique patters in its bark, while this other one appears diseased. The issue, when it comes to conceptual subsumption – that is, the false universalizing propensity of human thought, the drive toward the absolute – is that such bad generalizing inherently violates the particular phenomena of our experience. The false universalizing propensity, the absolute character of dogmatic thought, subsumes the particularity of our experience under a bad general category. This, I argue, in taking from Adorno’s negative dialectics, equates to little more than a conscious suppression of the very realities of our present experience. It is a cognitive maneuver tantamount to experiential blindness.
Though my language may appear to present an over-simplification of one aspect of Adorno’s negative dialectics in practice – it nevertheless contextualizes in a concrete sense how his theory of negative dialectical thought is ‘a philosophical attempt to conceptualize the nonconceptual without subsuming the nonconceptual under a system of concepts’ (Zuidervaart, 2007). While there is some similarity to Kant for example, where noumena are transcendent things that forever elude our grasp, Adorno’s argument is more in line with that of Sartre: that via conscious intentionality we must forever strive toward obtaining a general understanding of the particular (i.e., to conceptualize phenomena and gain a general orientation with the world) whilst never being able to absolutely capture it (Sherman, 2007).
The intersubjective gap that separates our obtaining a general orientation with the phenomenal world and our lack of an ability to absolutely capture the phenomenal world as a static knowledge or totalized experiential orientation, is not only an important epistemological point (one which both Adorno and Sartre share in common) – it is one that also carries practico-ethical implications.
It are these implications that I would like to discuss for a moment. For if what inspired Adorno’s critique of identity was the systematic elimination of the Jews, wherein the subject of the Jew was reduced to an object of hate in the name of a particular identity politics – this is because Adorno sensed, I argue, that there was something profoundly important in the very epistemological context of the unspeakable barbarity at Auschwitz.
If the Jews in Europe had been exterminated in the name of “identity” – that is, if they were identified as “the Other” and systematically categorized through their yellow stars – then the epistemological question of identity thought (likewise instrumental reason and its positivistic logic) becomes one of the most urgent ethical questions of our time (Willette, 2012). It is one that I believe is an integral dimension to the fundamental philosophical problem of human history, and one which I will attempt to elucidate in the remaining sections of this book.
If every instance of ideology possesses a dimension of belief in the (false absolute and abstract) identity of a phenomenon, then Adorno was correct to suggest almost fifty years ago that the only way humanity can move on from the horrors and unspeakable atrocities of Auschwitz is to question the very status of those horrible and unspeakable atrocities from a fundamental perspective. We must look to how, in the example of the Nazi persecution of the Jew or even the nationalist persecution of the immigrant, the very negation of the individual subject as a ‘mere object’ (i.e., the negation of the Jew as a human being on behalf of ‘the object of the Jew as vermin’) is tantamount to a fundamental shift from the subject-subject paradigm to the subject-object parable and is directly significant of an inherently violating structure of thought – the same inherently violating structure of thought I have set out to critique in this work.
On my reading, it is this reduction of the Jew to the status of a ‘mere object’ to be dominated and the shift from the intimate subject-subject paradigm to the subject-object parable (i.e., what I describe as a stunting of ‘experiential coherence’) that ultimately forms the basis for the “coldness” that Adorno circumscribes throughout Negative Dialectics.
The basic epistemic conditions that form the basis of this “coldness” can be described in how the ‘self’ relates to the Other in an instrumental way. In Adorno’s critique of instrumental reason we read for example how the Other, the individual reduced to the status of mere ‘object’, is manipulated to serve the self. As a result, I claim that the individual undergoes a series of disassociations or what I occasionally describe in practical terms as ‘experiential stunting’. One example of disassociation or experiential stunting can be found in how the Nazi guard at Auschwitz almost compartmentalized his ‘self’ in two ways (Lifton, 1986). In the morning the guard could sit at home with his family, listening to Beethoven and playing affectionately with his children. Yet, only hours later, he could go from playing with his children, from sensitively listening to Beethoven, to overseeing the death of hundreds of human beings and without necessarily experiencing the reality of the violence as such.
Another example can be found in a completely different ‘everyday’ context, wherein a man or woman becomes angry at another man or woman and begins to act violently. I think we can take from Adorno’s negative dialectics an analysis of how the very reality of one acting violently toward another person isn’t necessarily reflected upon within oneself – the subject is closed down – because it is the objectivity in behind the subject, the reducing of the other person to an object of hate, that opens up the possibility for a moment of barbarity. In an overly simplistic sense, I argue that this state of psychic division, disassociation and reductionism – this closing down and hardening of the subject – is what Adorno meant in his dissection of the problematic status of the (modern) subjectivity:
“What transmits the facts is not so much the subjective mechanism of their pre-formation and comprehension as it is the objectivity heteronomous to the subject, the objectivity behind that which the subject can experience. This objectivity is denied to the primary realm of subjectivity experience …/ The superiority of objectification in the subjects not only keeps them from becoming subjects; it equally prevents a cognition of objectivity …/ It is now subjectivity rather than objectivity that is indirect” (Adorno, 1992).
This critique of the epistemic foundation of violence (i.e., epistemic violence) very much aligns, on my reading, with Max Horkheimer’s account of the historical genesis of “bourgeois subjectivity”, which we should note is also a central theme in Dialectic of Enlightenment (2002). It is also a significant part of what I refer to in this book as the ‘transhistorical ideology of domination’. This historical genesis can be made even more concrete, however, if we consider what I have argued in several other places that, what primarily tends to set this process of hardened subjectivity in motion is ultimately a very existential reality. In other words, similar to what Adorno and Horkheimer allude in Dialectic of Enlightenment, the original existential impulse to dominate over internal and external nature, which is a sort of irreducible existential dimension to unfurling violence, is ultimately rooted in the most basic experiential dimensions of human experience (i.e., my thesis in this book sets out to analyze these trends).
Nevertheless, the point that I would like to strike here is that the anti-Semite’s predilection to ‘level the world of the Jew as Other’ is not so different to the white supremacist of the 20th Century who leveled the world of the black man as an object of hate, or the modern anti-immigrant right who today levels the world of the diverse ‘Other’ as the culprit to be blamed for the crises of capitalism.
In either case I argue that all three parties are an example of the extreme heights of “bourgeois subjectivity”, because the universalizing propensity inherent in each of these examples is a direct expression of a type of thought (systemically speaking) that has deep roots in the historical (ideological) traditions of Western society (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002). These traditions of thought – or better yet, this (ideological) analytic structure – resides at the very heart of modern ideological society and how we perceive, interpret and interact with the phenomenal world, ourselves and each other.
But if there is one profoundly simple lesson as a result of this analysis, it is that the epistemic foundations of violence almost entirely concern how one does not honour the particularity their experience – how one doesn’t orientate toward the object qua particulars through structures of inference that enable the subject to name the object materially, albeit in a non-hypostatized fashion that allows the subject to keep open to the revealing generality of phenomena (Cook, 2004).
In some sense, what Adorno is actually arguing toward is an alternative cognitive paradigm, one set against the violence and barbarity of existing modes of cognition. Though I am focused in part on the notion of conscious evasion, my analysis is inspired greatly by Adorno: that in one’s conscious evasion the general-particular relation becomes severe, and it does so due to the fact that, according to the principles of identitarian thought (Adorno), the particular gets subsumed by a false general (i.e., absolute, abstract identity). It is on the basis of this false generality that distortions begin to overwhelm one’s experience and epistemic violence begins to unfold in the name of false universality. This epistemic violence can remain subtle and implicit or, eventually, enter the field of practice in the form of political ideology.
But it is also important to point out that this process of experiential distortion is not limited to the grounds of subjectivity. It also has systemic qualities. If the very processes of historical society are a culmination of certain epistemologically distorted structures of thought (i.e., a distorted analytic structure), the systemic distortions of the historic unfolding of capitalism’s institutional structures express a direct link to the social and historical emergence of the authoritarian personality, which is inherently epistemologically violent. (Flannery and Marcus, 2012). In this regard, we can determine that authoritarianism in all its forms is implicitly and explicitly violent, because we can trace the roots of this violence back to the psychic and relational structures of the authoritarian personality and its particular analytic structure.
In other words, the subject that plays out the authoritarian personality does so according to certain specific objective conditions. These conditions, which are epistemologically violent, manifest socially in inherently violent ways: i.e., as hierarchical, authoritarian, exploitative social-relational dynamics of power and coercion, which are both contradictorily recognitive and instrumental.
To put it another way, ignited by existential anxiety in a world which does not offer ‘ultimate security or certainty’, the distorted epistemology deeply engrained in the ideology of historic and modern society promotes implicit and explicit forms of violence that are both institutionally prescribed and socially legitimated. In this way, if the anti-Semitic phenomenon is the climax of the historical and social processes of modernism, this is because, as Adorno would say, the anti-Semite is a culmination of the authoritarian personality which is born from out of the epistemological conditions of these processes, whose drive for domination is motivated by a certain specific false universalizing propensity, which I consider as being rooted in existential anxiety.
On the basis of this understanding, the link between the social culmination of the barbarity of Auschwitz and the typical authoritarian methods of everyday society is exposed. This link is expressed in the outburst of many different forms of socially violent activity, which, as I claim in this book, are rooted in the ‘transhistorical ideology of domination’. Take for instance the recent massacre in Norway. Rather than responding to the Norwegian tragedy with an identitarian politic equal to that which drove Anders Behring Breivik to reduce the Norwegian public to political objects ripe for domination in the first place, we need to challenge the social and epistemological origins of violence in society by looking at the inherently violating trends that operate on a fundamental level, as well as demonstrate a foundational and multidimensional understanding of distorted social collective dynamics that help fosters these trends.
Let me be clear: the indescribable violence and horror that unfolded in Norway is not solely limited to what Thomas Kvilhaug recently described as a murderous rampage which flowed directly from a fascist politics. Indeed, there is an obvious element of fascist politics behind Breivik’s ideology. But we must not limit ourselves to laying all the blame on his fascist political motives. We must also come to understand the origins of the authoritarian and fascist phenomena on a foundational level, and look to the very roots of his fascist politics as a symptom of a far greater contemporary social problematic (systemically speaking); because the fact is that fascism itself is a social phenomenon rooted in the context of ongoing social processes and trends.
By beginning on the epistemological level and working all the way toward socioeconomic-political critique of violence, my claim is that we should strive to establish a general historical outline or model of social violence in the context of the historic unfolding of capitalism’s institutional structures and the fundamentally violent (implicitly and explicitly) element that resides in the very way we conceive (epistemologically) of human organization and social collective practice in the midst of those structures (in the very way we conceive of our fundamental relationship with the world).
Building off of this analysis, the final result intended would be to present not only a multidimensional understanding of violence from a foundational perspective, but also to contribute to a social philosophy that promotes a fundamental critical theory of society and which works toward understanding further the social, historical, economic, political, relational, psychological, epistemological and anthropological processes that result in the climax of social barbarity. For me, the aim of this social philosophy should ultimately be about formulating alternatives: a form of reconciliation which, I argue, relies on a transhistorical account and is contingent on the realisation of alternative social structures and systems rooted in a shift to an alternative anthropology, epistemology and cosmology and a phenomenological (‘lived’) ethics (i.e., an alternative cognitive paradigm). In my chapter on experiential coherence, I will introduce such a vision of an alternative anthropology, epistemology and cosmology – that is, of a ‘new sensibility’ (Marcuse) which may lead to a less dogmatic concept of truth and the formulation of the basis for a ‘lived ethics’.
Throughout the better part of contemporary social philosophy, particularly the works of Adorno (and those who work on the basis of Adorno’s critical-theory), we read some truly penetrating accounts of the rottenness of our social reality. Critical theory as a whole is geared towards illustrating an analysis of the needlessness of social suffering, of destructive and ideologically distorted social phenomena (the type of social phenomena now rampant in western society), abstract rationalizing, and even the material causes of this process.
As with Adorno’s critical theory, the aim of this work is to testify to the extent and ultimate causes of the calamity of our present state of affairs. Central to my analysis is a study of the causes of needless social suffering as being located in the material, political, economic, and social conditions which we as human beings simultaneously produce and are exposed to.
The essence of social philosophy pertains to the argument that suffering and domination are maintained, and to a significant degree, at the level of conscious experience and the various cultural institutions and phenomena that sustain that distorted mode of conscious experience. It therefore wants to contribute an unequivocal, normative critique of what is integral to the contemporary social malaise based on this fundamental understanding of society’s ailments. As we have already discussed, at the core of social suffering is the process of such themes as: cognitive abstraction, experiential distortion, and the reifying and falsifying of life. What this means, as I have alluded throughout, is that within contemporary society, which has secured a totalized method of life in the name of global capitalism, there exists a functional mode of distortion and self-deception which, in turn, excoriates the richness of the phenomenal world and particularly our experiencing of it.
Everything indeed becomes subject to abstraction and rationally reduced economic distortion. In this respect so much has already been said of the absurdity of contemporary society, but in truth we still have yet to wholly realize the definition of this term. It is therefore upon us to consider, before moving any further, a direct series of reflections on Adorno’s (and Horkheimer’s) seminal thesis in Dialectic of Enlightenment, which describes quite wonderfully how the historical deification of reason (or enlightenment knowledge) turns into economic power and thus translates into the realm of nature being reduced to ‘a substratum of domination’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p.9). As Lambert Zuidervaart (2007) suggests: in Adorno’s (and Horkheimer’s) account, blind domination occurs in three tightly interlinked modes: as human domination over nature; as domination over nature within human existence; and, within both of these modes, as domination of some human beings over others (Zuidervaart, 2007; p. 121). In this way, the Dialectic of Enlightenment claims something similar to what we have already described in our present analysis: that an individual’s domination over his or herself, on which a distorted sense of self is founded, and which is a result of the evasive desire to achieve a false sense of ultimate security, is almost always equivocal to the destruction of the subject in whose service that drive for domination is maintained. For the subject which is dominated, suppressed, and dissolved by virtue of self-preservation is none other than that very life as a function of which the achievements of self-preservation find their sole definition and determination: in other words, the drive for ultimate security destroys the very thing which, in fact, is to be preserved (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p.43).
David Sherman offers a wonderful illustration of this last point when he reflects on the domination of nature and the phenomenon of self-denial. He writes: ‘this form of self-preservation, which exemplifies enlightenment (enlightenment reason; or what we consider as the greater process of evasion) self-assertion, does not relate to biological self-preservation but to the preservation of the particular ego structure that separates a human being both from nature and other human beings. And, when taken to the extreme, it not only destroys its bid for self-preservation, but ultimately threatens its self-preservation as well’ (Sherman, 2007; p.185). The domination of internal and external nature is of course something that we have already identified insofar that it is one source of evasion’s inadvertently destructive effects. To play on the words of Adorno: the very disease of evasion ‘lies in its own origin, in the effort of human beings to have dominion over nature.’ Evasion, or what Adorno refers to as enlightenment reason, ‘has always aimed at liberating human beings from fear.’ The domination of nature, therefore, which is inherent to humanity’s evasive drive, can altogether be understood in how the very concept of an Idol essentially arises under the sign of domination (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002).
For Adorno, what is considered as ‘deified reason’ in this book is understood to have arisen in history as a counterforce to myth, as an opposition or reverse image. As Adorno would say, instrumental reason essentially contradicts myth. On the other hand, the basic properties of Reason are now but an integral aspect of the economic Trinity, which entrenches the knowledge of scientism (and abstract reason) that does not work anymore ‘by the fortunate insight’, but which settles into exploitation and domination ‘over a disenchanted nature’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002). In a play on words, it is possible that we momentarily substitute Adorno’s critique of instrumental reason for a critique of evasion, which encompasses both the historical periods of Myth and Reason and penetrates directly into the heart of the contemporary economic Idol. On this point, the motivation for the triple domination that manifests in economic dominion is, to a greater extent, an irrational fear of the unknown (existentially speaking), just as the motivation for both Myth and Reason was for Adorno. It is because evasion today has been structured on the historical deification of reason that it has become a process of demythologization, and thus, in turn, strengthens the development of the economic Trinity through the fundamental justification and internal recognition of existential terror.
Furthermore, the abstraction and the reduction of the phenomenal world (as discussed early) continues and increasingly permeate under the economic Idol. It continues to permeate in the very hope that the economic Trinity, the child of Reason, is a liberating process. Altogether, in the current social circumstance, internal and external nature is perceived as an instrument that can be manipulated, which is to say that our notion of nature is mediated by a nature-dominating history and a nature-dominating society. Based on the understanding that reason has been deified as servile to a deified economy, we can interpret how inherent beneath the economic totality are the techniques which are driven by an internal yearning for an absolute-objective perspective. Or, to put it differently, there is a fundamental desire in the name of the economic paradigm to achieve some sort of absolute framework. (An interesting example of this can be found in society’s belief in the ‘limitless potential of the market economy’).
To limit ourselves to Adorno and Horkheimer’s understanding of things: The development and differentiation of cultural spheres (science and technology, economics and politics, for example) has become exhausted to the point of near if not succeeded collapse of substantive reason (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; pp. 217-218). To put it another way, the process of demythologization, which is actually suspended between myth and enlightenment rationality, leads us into a state of confusion which is ‘caught between nature and culture, where the external world is differentiated into the objective world of entities, identities, and the social world of norms, and they both stand in contrast to our (the subjects) internal world of experiences’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; pp. 217-218).
Although Adorno`s critique is often very general, we can slowly make more practical many of his distinctions. We shall do so beginning with the notion of scientism, which is of course one dimension of the economic Trinity. Science, which is analogous to humanity’s potential striving for ‘the good life’, once sought to overcome needless suffering, brute dependency on nature, and mythology; but it has been since warped on behalf of the economic totality, wherein science is now analogous to abstract reason (scientism). Henceforth science is no better than mythology (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; pp. 19-25). Scientism (not all science), which is regressive science, has no other interest than to reproduce ‘the givens’ (especially in an economically dominated orientation) and subsequently ‘narrow a paradigm of possibility through its desire to absolutize the totality of the economic scheme’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; pp. 217-218). The implications of this will become more clear in a few moments. For now, we can say that the crisis of our time lies in how scientism – instrumental reason – and myth mirror one another (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; pp. 217-218). Just as myth pursues many of the same themes as abstract reason, it does so in the form of self-deception.
In everyday language we can consider that Myth itself has always been humanity’s existential sponge; it absorbs the concrete phenomenon of experience, and it takes regularities—the historical continuity of phenomena and the giveness of phenomena—and ascribes onto the phenomenal world absolute symbolism or symbolic significance (phenomenologically). In addition, the subsumption of the particular in mythical prehistory amounts to the symbolic relating of present experience to the mythical event in the rite (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 21). What this means is that Myth essentially takes phenomena and pretends that they are predetermined. Historically however, at the turn of abstract reason, humanity declared to itself its refusal to be deceived by Myth any longer. Yet Reason has only replaced Myth as a central character of the same game: that of evasion. The subsumption of the particular today into abstractly rational categories or concepts, amounts to the symbolic relating of present experience to an abstract category on behalf of scientism (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 21). Historically, humanity revolted in many ways against being susceptible to symbolic significance (despite our want). Now serving the many Idols of the abstract rational paradigm, which is presently significant of the economic paradigm, we function through the power of a fashioned and so-called factual reality. The problem, here, is that abstract reason’s factual reality functions in the same way as myth’s symbolic significance. They both attempt to claim and explain absolute accounts for reality. Abstract reason, the principle version of science under the economic Idol, becomes its own antithesis (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 28).
The idea of dominant security has been latched onto in the name of the economic Trinity. The idea of ‘progress’, which could have potentially been found in coherent science, has been spun into the very antithesis of economic (or abstract rational) progress, which, in many ways, is synonymous with a new form of cultural barbarity. This cultural barbarity, as Adorno points out, is all the more brutal than that found in mythic society because of its use of modern technological control. Scientism therefore, rather than being an unequivocal force for human betterment, proves to contain seeds of a new form of dehumanization that reaches back to what Zuidervaart previously described as a blind and triple domination. The process of western civilization is intertwined with a separation from nature (both internal and external nature), because via its underlying evasive project, contemporary society wants only to achieve the human departure from the immediate restraints imposed by experiential experience. It is through the domination of inner nature (desires, needs, and the many dimensions of being) and outer non-human nature that we believe that we might be able to escape once and for all the restraints of the experiential. This principle mode of domination, however, is not accomplished without grave repercussions for the individual human person. The increasing economic exploitation of nature, of the phenomenal world, has led to a society that is even more controlling than nature itself; it has become the Idol of total mastery (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; pp. 31, 41-43).
We can discern through Adorno, moreover, how western capitalist society has become almost like a ‘second nature’, which, in turn, exploits the first. This second nature is like acting in a life within a life. According to Adorno, this is so because we aspire toward achieving human sovereignty over nature – that is, over the phenomenal world of experience. The economic Trinity culminates in an increasingly functional mode of abstract reason, which is bound to the absolutizing of the experiential identity of things and the accumulation of absolute facts. This of course inherently restricts the perceived value of the phenomenal world, especially as the subject becomes the very exercise, the very instrument of the economic Idol. But all of this occurs without saying how finally global capitalist ideology aims at the assimilation of all nature under a single, universal representational order (i.e., the globalization of the market economy). In another way, the economic Trinity is driven, as we have seen, by the desire to master nature (to reach god-like ultimate dominion), because if it is the evasive attitude that precedes the economic Trinity, accordingly then, by bringing all of material reality under a single representational system, this signifies the very purpose of abstract reason being transformed into a self-deceiving tool for the purpose of achieving a purely religious form. ‘Second nature’ is hitherto really just a manifestation of the evasive drive, especially as the global market continues to dominate and distort the experiential world, to functionalize what we have come to know as a totalized experiential orientation.
As I have been arguing throughout, our social reality is falsified; it is so because it relies heavily on the deformation of experience and the increasing reification of social phenomena. It takes very little effort to observe that one aspect of our social reality is the commitment to the economic Idol which thus strives to achieve a perfected methodology for the exploitation of the animal world. All one has to do is look to their immediate environment and question the application of methods that initially lead to its production, and how the absurdity of our present state of affairs crystallizes over every reified social phenomenon which, in the end, amounts to the entire city at work. To strike an illustration, there is a nauseating intuition upon coming to realize the economic, rational dominion when experiencing the local Zoo (or when perceiving animals displayed in advertisements or on billboards, or even in cartoons). A peculiar sense of abstraction, reductionism, reification and finally absurdity arises when experiencing this rationally justified and economically influenced ‘educational environment’, which really appeals to the psychology that desires the feeling and the power of some sort of superiority, especially as it upholds the status of the detached and observational ruler, more than it does any genuine educational need. Come to think of it, what greater example of objectivism and capitalist logic than our experiencing the local Zoo?
Today, the zoo is analogous to the city; for what we do to nature, to other animals, we also do to ourselves. The cage encasing the monkey is similar in greater magnitude to the encapsulation of human consciousness in the standard mode of instrumental reason. A very practical sociological example of this can be found in how we reduce people and things to ‘popular labels’. On a greater level, this amounts to how we reduce and even compartmentalize people into a certain set of preconceived standards. In greater society this comes out in how we cognitively function within general social sites, in how it is deemed ‘rational’ to compartmentalize and reduce people or things to a certain (seemingly prescribed) set of ‘acceptable standards’. It is by virtue of this distinctive nature of the economic totality that we objectify the world, and as a result risk estranging ourselves from it.
Furthermore, what happens as another result of this process is that people who do reduce themselves or their subjectivity to popular labels actually reduce their subjective apprehension to the confines of those objective labels. In other words, one’s subjectivity becomes drastically limited. The way in which one experiences the world also becomes drastically limited. What I am alluding to, of course, is the fact that our standard means of experiential impulse and repulsion are governed through a process which has now become an instrumental means for the unification of absolute ends. Subsequently, through this process of reductionism, we become detached from the immediateness of our experience. For many of us it seems that what this equates to is our desire for security. We merely want to know the whole identity of a thing so as to feel in control of the thingness of our experience. If we consider that the fear of the unknown straddles our experiential endeavours, in insisting upon familiarity, an immediate appetite for absolute truth is evidenced. Here again we meet the culprit of evasion in how we seek to unify or make semblance familiar under the guise of a major principle.
In sum, this matter can be spelled out, as I have alluded, in how the subject and the law of equivalence become fetishized. Nature, just as with concrete experience, becomes surmounted by the scientific instrument of control. Nature, like concrete experience, becomes bound to servitude—as a slave to a master. Nature and the vast array of qualities inherent to experiential experience are almost wholly disqualified by the dominating turn of the human impetus. And it is because we seek to overflow experiential experience and its distinctions, its uniqueness or peculiarities, and thus render the world open for limitless control, that both internal and external nature are therefore reduced to inferior things which are then seen as mere examples or specimens, or sometimes even perceived as nothingness substances which are dependent on the very concept of the economic Trinity.
In another way, we can again emphasize how all phenomena are sought to be given their absolute identity. The very systemic enterprise of global capitalist society is to make absolute the phenomenal world under the principle of false ‘universal exchange’. Let us consider, for example, the instance of a phenomenon only being permitted as something totally defined (via a limited subjectivity) insofar as it is identical with itself. In the course of our experiencing a phenomenon, there is a moment that we can flesh out phenomenologically in which the systemic nature of capitalism is played out through a standard mode of thought that is tantamount to how one opts for the classification of the experience itself, to infer a ‘bad general’ or ascribe a (false)totalized identity onto a phenomenon, and to reduce that phenomenon solely to its economic dimension. As a result we never fully experience the actual phenomenon that confronts us. Here, the previously illustrated example of an experience with a tree holds well. But if it is true, on the other hand, that we unify identities in a spirit of reduction, which is driven by the human fear of the unknown; then we can take this to mean that, in such an attitude toward experiencing, the existential and experiential stuff of life is only dealt with in severe restriction to a formal framework. The emphasis on concrete predictability or repeatability found in such an attitude is an insistence on the principle of non-contradiction, on absolutes or, indeed, on the principle of identity.
More simply, in our everyday experience we have the tendency to interact with the subject of our experience through a type of negation. The authoritative forms of knowledge have become largely conceived of as synonymous with abstract reason and capitalist logic, to the extent that the phenomenal world (internal and external nature, even) has come to be conceived of as identical with its representation, which is nonetheless found within the economic totality. Reality is thus deemed discernable only in the form of ‘objectively verifiable facts’, and alternative modes of representing reality are thereby undermined in their potentiality. Radical academics, for instance, are suppressed. Even more dramatically, the experiential plane of living (experiential coherence), and the actual experiential experience with a multidimensional phenomenon is negated, because abstract, rationally objective ‘factuality is what becomes validated’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 20). Knowledge is therefore limited to repeating the absolute identity that has been ascribed onto things, whilst thought itself ‘becomes mere tautology’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 21).
In other words, we appeal to the reductionism and instrumentalization of abstract reason, and the epistemological supremacy of facts serve to establish a single totalized order, a single mode of representing and relating to reality that is constructed via the desire to dominate over the wholesome, fluid and unfolding world of experience. This is further magnified by society’s belief in ‘limitless economic gain’. The economic totality cannot live with the different and the unknown. In the words of Adorno and Horkheimer: what was different is equalized. Or, when there is no longer anything unknown that determines the course of evasion, abstract reason in the service of the global market reduces everything to pure immanence (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 11). In addition, ‘the pure immanence of positivism, its ultimate product, is nothing other than a formal universal taboo. Nothing is allowed to remain outside, since the mere idea of the ‘outside’ is the real source of fear’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 11). The economy speaks as the general, directing the falsified cognitive paradigm; and everything is under threat of becoming rationally reduced to an abstract equivalent of everything else in the service of its principle of universal exchange. This is best highlighted by the very globalization of the market economy itself and its overwhelming, totalizing ideology of value.
For Adorno and Horkheimer, totality is evolved on the basis that abstract reason ‘stands in the same relationship to things as the dictator does to human beings’ (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2002; p. 6). Under the reign of the economic Idol there is a displacement of power, which turns into the ‘principle of all relations’. This is why we can determine that the principle of abstract rationalism, which can be understood as an aspect of the economic drive toward ‘the principle of all relations’, is evasive reason’s abstracting and reducing disease; one that navigates the very course of western society. The age of reason once sought to free thought from a reliance on mysterious rumours and power, it sought to transcend myth, and by doing so it orchestrated a featured growth of cognitive techniques. These techniques, twisted to accommodate the economic dominion of thought, are what we are all familiar with and exercise today in the name of the economic totality—techniques that were once designed to understand are now designed to ‘absolute know’ and therefore control (i.e., enlightenment and counter-enlightenment). The implications of this process historically lead to most technologies and instruments, such as computation-simulation, and even the pursuit of utility. One can argue that these aren’t necessarily harmful, but one would nevertheless miss the point of this thesis: these techniques are extended and absolutized to produce a (false)totalizing scheme, and to henceforth affirm the production of an ideological outlook that is structured around the economic perspective from which they are born and towards which they are simultaneously geared to affirm.
In addition, the economic Trinity is undeniably totalitarian at its core. In the economic pursuit for human sovereignty, we essentially bewitch ourselves as predicated upon by a mode of abstract reasoning whose function necessitates the subsuming of all nature within a single, representational framework. The process of knowledge which manifests as a result of this paradigm, of that drive for the accumulation of abstract facts, now faces the risk of referring back to the abstractions from which it was born. Reification is indeed a consequence of contemporary evasion. The problem, then, is that knowledge is assembled within a classificatory scheme, which is untethered from the world of experiential experience and employed in the service of the economic Idol. But these rationally reduced facts, these utterly abstract concepts, are not, and cannot ever be, a direct expression of that to which they refer; because no aspect of such thought, by its very nature, can ever legitimately be said to possess experiential qualities. Everything that is coherently knowledgeable begins on the level of experience and is born from direct, intimate engagement with phenomena. The type of objective knowledge injected into our institutions today is consequential to a detached perspective; it loses all coherencies. The predominant model of knowledge, of education, is now but a matter of distortion.
While facts form the principle constituents of abstract reason’s classificatory scheme which it functionalizes on behalf of global capitalism; the scheme itself, that mode of configuring reality, is founded upon a common, single cognitive currency, one which necessarily holds that the essence of all phenomena can be known as reducible to a single, inherently quantifiable property. There is little wonder, then, why the economic paradigm must be condemned. The biggest difficulty in discerning the fundamental problematic, however, is that the mode of evasion is now so deeply embedded in the current state of affairs that people will often opt to fight to defend it. The systematic misrepresentation of reality means the actual subsumption of specific phenomena under general, abstract, classificatory headings within which, therefore, the phenomenal world is cognitively assembled, and the (false) security which this assemblage provides is not something that people seem willing to give up. Ideology, in other words, is a principle that will be died for.
If we consider that the contemporary mode of representing reality (fervently believed as truth) facilitates the manipulation of the material environment, it does so at the cost of failing to attend to the dialectic between the general and the particular, and therefore to the specificity of any given phenomenal entity. Everything becomes a mere exemplar. As we individually and collectively partake in this process, society becomes the epicentre for a falsified vision of life insofar as the abstract rationalizing of what ‘life is’, is constituted by ‘the facts’. What we witness, on a practical scale, is that the very notion of ‘what it means to live’ in society becomes a form of self-forgetting and simultaneously self-affirming bureaucracy. Such ideological bureaucracy assembles human beings in different classes and categories. A person today is usually considered as a ‘worker’ or a ‘consumer’, or, on the contrary, ‘a burden to the system’. What absurdity! And the outcome: the bureaucracy can only be said to ‘know’ any specific unique individual as an exemplar of the wider category to which that individual has been assigned. The uniqueness of the individual is thereby lost to classifying and indifference. The person simultaneously makes-up, and fears being squashed by, an indifferent state of affairs that is the very spine of contemporary bureaucracy.
One is even liable today to being treated as a number and not as a unique person. Our present state of affairs, in this way, obviously carries severe implications, especially concerning the amount of power that the economic totality obtains insofar that our present state of affairs determines how a person ‘fits’ within the current objective system. For instance, to be homeless is seen as ‘unfitting’ in the social paradigm and not necessarily because of the suffering that comes with homelessness. The homeless person is labelled and he or she as an individual is charged as merely an ‘impure anomaly’ in our economic social reality. Society has become increasingly conformed to bureaucratic patterns not only due to the effects of instrumental reason, but because global capitalism functions on the type of bureaucracy that necessarily pressures people conform to the concept of ‘what it means to live’. It goes without saying that apprehending reality by way of eliminating qualities or properties that may inhere within any given phenomena but which are conceptually excluded from view, so to speak, is a result of the imposition of society’s present classificatory framework.
There is a particular irony to the totalizing representation of experience, however. Since human sovereignty over the phenomenal world (over internal and external nature) amounts to the actual pursuit of the accumulation of hard, objective data which purports to accurately catalogue reality; the designation of ‘legitimate knowledge’ is thereby restricted to the very thought of it as being (absolutely) ‘factual’: legitimate knowledge is that which purports to accurately reflect how the world is. But we already know that the experiential model of knowledge requires experiential coherence, the organic intersubjective tension between subject and phenomenon which a totalized orientation nevertheless destroys. The very constituents of absolute (or factual) thinking are, however, inextricably entwined with heteronomy. For the absolute facts that are strived for in today’s economic totality come to inevitably take on the same extreme functional properties of a belief as do the forces of myth: they represent an external to which one must conform.
On another level, experiential knowledge toward any particular aspect of the material realm does not, by itself, promote the cause of human freedom from this intensely rigidifying process. It may, however, directly assist to facilitate the exercise of freedom (freedom being a component of self-reflection) by providing sufficient and genuine knowledge (that is not subject to the epistemology and pedagogy critiqued above) upon which a person may exercise discretionary judgement concerning, for instance, the viability of any particular act. Therefore, a certain freedom is realized on this plane—that is, the freedom to reflect. And as we will see later, it is on the grounds of self-reflection that is embedded in experiential coherence that the concept of social freedom in the form of social transformation, which coincides with coherent knowledge, might still find prefigurative means of hope. Embedded in experiential coherence is a certain radical pedagogical attitude, one which we will certainly look at in time. But by themselves, experiential accounts of the world are not a wholly sufficient condition for freedom.
5.1 Experiential coherence and a Democratic Theory of Knowledge: A Phenomenological Study of the ‘Mediating Subject’
Analogous to what Friedrich Nietzsche thought of as Bildung, and what Adorno and Sartre consider as the notion of a “mediating subjectivity” (Sherman, 2007), the theory of the efficacious agent and experiential coherence runs in opposition to evasion and ideology. Considering that I have already discussed what experiential coherence entails in very general terms throughout this work, in this closing chapter I will address a few important particulars.
Taking into account the ‘living context’ (network of relationships) of the active subject in the world is just as relevant to the inquiry political change as it in understanding how we might begin to formulate alternative social conditions (prefiguratively speaking). Keeping a theory of the subject rooted in direct experience, recognising that there are no absolute separations between the subject and his or her world, and so understanding the living context of the individual in relation to phenomena, allows us to build a foundational critique of such pressing problems as ideology, dominating social systems and systemic violence as well as the epistemological, anthropological and cosmological conditions underpinning ‘coercive society’. It also allows us, in turn, to give a more accurate account of what I tend to describe as an alternative epistemology, anthropology and cosmology which I will summarise below in light of the concept of ‘experiential coherence’.
Experiential coherence, which is an all-encompassing general term that I use to capture the more wholesome notion of the “mediating subject” in action, is a concrete, dialectical, intersubjective notion that describes an alternative anthropology, epistemology and cosmology: that is, a reconciled form of relating with the phenomena world, ourselves and each other, which represents a never-ending process of learning, of historical continuity and of historically unfolding experiential rooted knowledge, particularly as the many dimensions of life (i.e., the political, judicial, sciences, philosophy, psychology, etc.) continue to ceaselessly reveal more of themselves and take on new sociohistorical-cultural forms.
While it is imperative to explicitly acknowledge that the notion of ‘experiential coherence’ is not always necessarily characteristic of Adorno’s negative dialectics, it is my attempt to expand certain aspects of his negative dialectics and philosophy of the subject. If the tendency of human ideology is to close the world of experience down and limit the horizon of one’s thinking, which inherently implies the earliest epistemological workings of domination and violence via the stunting and hardening of the subject; then the goal of a theory of the “mediating subject” is to emphasis the alternative of keeping open to the world of experience, to not absolutize the world of things (i.e., a critique of identity thought), to allow for and in fact affirm the unfolding of the many dimensions of life and experience in history, and to ceaselessly and normatively reflect on the continuity of knowledge and the constantly revealing nature of all experience (and therefore knowledge).
So how might we go about a study of this notion of “mediating subjectivity” and experiential coherence?
There is an old example that can be found in the act of swimming, which might help us achieve the aim of defining or, in the very least, assist us in the build up toward a more succinct definition of experiential coherence and the active, mediating nature of subjectivity.
I’m sure many of us can recall an experience we’ve had during an oppressively hot summer’s day while at the beach, or on the shores of a lake, or on the deck of a swimming pool. As the reflection goes, in the experience of oppressive heat, it is true that the phenomenon of water reveals itself to us as a source of satisfying coolness. Yet when we approach the body of water for the purpose of our being in it, so as to relieve ourselves from the experience of oppressive summer heat (as a response of the sense dimension of being to a particular dimension of water, for example), we don’t immediately foresee the act of swimming or wading in the water. As we first distinguish the body of water, it is more common that we approach it in terms of our anticipating the sensation of water. Moreover, I recall on many occasions my own play-like hesitance before ‘taking the plunge’- the moment of my anticipating the experience of water. To put it another way, upon distinguishing the body of water that is before me, as a response to my active dynamic experiencing of the summer heat, I identify the water as a source of coolness and approach the lake with the prefigurative aim of immersing myself in it in order to satisfy my senses.
In this context, it is not often that I jump into the water so as to merely re-achieve a place back on the shore or to regain a place on the deck. Nor am I to jump into the lake just so that I can achieve the objective end of swimming to the other side. This might indeed occur to me once I am in the water or as I anticipate my being in the water. But first and foremost, in my approaching the phenomenon of water, it is my anticipating the experience of a particular dimension of water (i.e., its coolness) that is first revealed to me. Of course before jumping into the water, I might have already imagined or aspired to swim to the other side. Or while being in the water I might discern my re-achieving a place on the shore. Generally speaking, however, in a sensory response to the subject of water in the dynamic of oppressive summer heat, I jump in to experience the cooling sensation of water.
When it comes to a phenomenological study of consciousness, simultaneously taking into account the living context (i.e., the ‘subject’ active in the world) as well as the phenomenon (i.e., the water) gives the research much more grounding, more depth, and more accuracy as a whole and allows it to account for the existence of the mediating subject. Rather than only studying the phenomenon of water or the subject in isolation from all that it interacts with, and is surrounded by – this would only give us a rigid and abstract perspective of the particular experience between a person and a lake. In addition, a theory of the ‘mediating subject’ must acknowledge that more often than not the most crucial and relevant information is in direct relation with the subject. The question of ideology, for instance, enters only insofar as the subject consciously evades the critical realities before him or her – in other words, ideology begins by choosing to suppress a more or less multidimensional account of the world and translates into how one perceives and interacts with the life-world by way of a one-dimensional and abstract frame of reference.
Consider, for example, the often misguided notion of ‘critical thinking’ that treats people as though they have to be taught or trained to think critically. It is true that there is an element of learning how to ‘think critically’, but this form of theorising critical agency completely negates the basic fact that critical agency – that is, ‘critical thinking’ – is a product of the open and mediating subject. It is a direct translation of one engaging and observing all parts of a particular phenomenon (social, natural or otherwise) in an intersubjective, sensitive manner. The type of self-consciousness or ‘self-awareness’ often associated with theories of critical agency is little more than the mediating subject existing in the world in an open and intersubjective way, which implies a critique of abstract identity thinking (i.e., bad generalising), objectivity and instrumental reason, because it is the open and mediating subject that is inclined toward a more or less engaged, inquisitive, critical experience spacious enough to include heterodoxy.
Contrary to Husserlian phenomenology, which I am highly critical of, the basic idea here is echoed in Adorno’s negative dialectics, which understands that the quality of knowing that comes through direct lived experience of a particular phenomenon as being tantamount to honouring “the object”. By honouring the thing that one is experiencing, which in other words means to challenge one’s knowing beyond what one thinks one already knows, is vastly different than abstract Husserlian phenomenology.
When taking the above phenomenological account and matching it with Adorno’s negative dialectics, we reach the same conclusion that ‘the name of dialectics says no more, to begin with, than that objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder’ (Adorno, 1992). If Adorno emphasises that “dialectics is the consistent sense of non-identity” which, on my reading, implies a fundamental critique of epistemology, this is because negative dialectics works toward the ‘non-identity of identity and non-identity’ (Adorno, 1992) – that is, the non-conceptual ‘moreness’ in behind one’s experience – in effort to free the object (i.e., the concrete phenomenon of one’s attention) from it being subsumed under a (false, absolute) general category.
Crucially, what I would like to emphasis in my phenomenological study is that, while working from the ground-up (i.e., negative dialectics on the level of praxis) toward Adorno’s critical theory that more or less moved from the top-down, the final critique remains the same: namely that an alternative cognitive paradigm to that of instrumental reason must strive to work through the concept (i.e., the identity of a phenomenon) ‘in order to transcend the concept’ (Adorno, 1992). The objective, moreover, is to provide an account of the subject that affirms the need to break from the cognitive paradigm of identity thinking and instrumental reason, which is driven toward absolutely fitting phenomena into preconceived concepts, and which essentially dominates the thing of one’s experience before it is ever experienced.
As I wrote in a previous essay (and is worth repeating), the constantly reworking end point of Adorno’s negative dialectics, at least on an experiential level, is guided by what Adorno describes as ‘mimesis’ (Adorno, 1992). As David Sherman summarises, ‘mimesis, on Adorno’s account, is the truly “experiential” moment in the process of experience. In contrast to the preconceived concept, which dominates the object that is perceived by hierarchically classifying it before it is really experienced …/ mimesis opens itself up to the object, and thus attempts to grasp it in its multifariousness [multidimensionality]’ (Sherman, 2007). Mimesis therefore resembles the human ability to ‘abandon ourselves to the object, and thus come to know it better’ (Sherman, 2007).
Adorno’s notion of mimesis, I argue, is central to a theory of ‘experiential coherence’, which might be understood for example in terms of the multidimensionality and intersubjectivity of one’s experience, particularly with regards to how the subject of a phenomenon lends itself to one’s experiencing it in a diversity of ways.
Moreover, and in return to the phenomenological study of the experience with a lake, while submerged in or wholly focused on my experiencing the water, there unfolds an entire range of other occurrences, processes, and phenomenological events beside the very sensation (or sensory response to the experience of water) of my being-in-the-water. Indeed, on my initial account at least, it was the sensory dimension of my being that first responded to my experiencing the multidimensional subject of water. But there is also a vast array of other responses which coincide with my sensorial experiencing the phenomenon of water.
Furthermore, and to provide a non-systematic illustration of this, we can begin by taking into account the bodily level (the lower level of responses) which flows through to the spacial, or the level of our bodily situatedness (Wider, 1997): as being in the dynamic of the subject of water, which may or may not be situated in the country, surrounded by trees and an overhanging glow of sun. Perhaps there is even a cabin and other people situated around me, who are resting on the shore or also in the water. Perhaps, there are weeds which I can feel rising from the lake bed, and fish that I am aware of – all of which are tantamount to the spatial dimension of experience. From this level then, there is our sensing, as in our sensory response to the experience of water, which also takes into account previous descriptions of our bodily situatedness. (Similarly, too, alongside our sensing we have a level of feeling and emoting, which I will not elaborate on in this illustration but which is simultaneously present).
This leads us to the imaginative: the imaginative response to the subject of water. For example, while in the water or in my anticipating the experience of water, I might imagine swimming with Jacques Cousteau and a family of Orcas. These lower levels of response then rise higher to other more or less cognitive levels of my being, such as my response to the subject of water through the aesthetic, lingual and social (relating) dimension of my being; and by thinking and distinguishing (our discerning the experiential identity of a phenomenon, recognition of regularities, the embedded or experiential nature of our theoretical discerning, etc.); reasoning (our conceptualizing, or better yet, generalizing); the economic, political and ethical (water is the source of all life; a basic human right); critical awareness; and to the even higher levels, particularly our conviction (our meaning, belief systems, etc.).
In addition, my experiencing water is not simply limited to my individual subjective experience with the phenomenon of water. As I have noted above and in previous essays, the subjective itself does not consider the entire dynamic relationship inherent in one’s experiencing a phenomenon, because, ultimately, experiential coherence is the organic process of our experiencing through a mediating subjectivity, which, in many ways, is another way of describing intersubjectivity. This means that, for example, in my bodily sensing, my bodily and cognitive ‘intentionality’, experiential discerning, self-awareness, self-reflectiveness, self-criticalness and self-actualizing, there occurs an intersubjective flow between my multidimensional being and a multidimensional phenomenon, which too is a subject.
In turn, our intimate experiential relating with a phenomenon or with another human being – i.e., a theory of subject-subject relations – is ‘mutually recognitive’ (Gunn and Wilding, 2013). To put it more succinctly, throughout the course of my experiencing the phenomenal world, phenomena are simultaneously making themselves known to me as I continuously orientate myself toward them. The phenomenal world reveals itself to me in my mode of self-reflectively experiencing it precisely insofar that, on the basis of a phenomenological account, we can determine that phenomena ceaselessly confront us as we relentlessly move and act in the world of things (Sartre, 1972). Hitherto that body of water in the earlier study revealed itself to me as a phenomenon, and in its revealing a dimension of itself, therefore evoked within me an initial sensory response.
As we have seen, then, phenomena as subjects-in-themselves make themselves known to us, and this basic experiential and existential reality refers to the embedded, intersubjective flow between our multidimensional being (as a Subject) and a phenomenon (as a Subject) as the two are in an unceasing relation with one another that is anchored in the most basic account of consciousness’ intentionality.
This illustrates how the phenomenon of water not only revealed itself to me; it revealed itself to me inter-subjectively. For all phenomena in the world are discernible, knowable and ‘given’ to us as we adventure through the course of our experientially experiencing the world.
As Lambert Zuidervaart points out: ‘the point to Adorno’s insistence on the object [“the priority of the object”] is both to recall normative limits to the subject’s ability to “constitute” the object and to remind us that the subject is itself an object at its core […] Human beings and their “objects” are also mutual subjects. Animals, for example, perceive us just as much as we perceive them, and they have needs and emotions that no mere “object” could have. So, too, humans share biospheres with plants and animals. Although dramatically shaped by human activity, for better or for worse, biospheres are co-constituted by nonhuman life. In that sense plants and animals have an “agency”, or at least a subjectivity that exceeds mere “objecthood”, and on which human “subjects” depend’ (Zuidervaart, 2007; pp. 119-20).
Moving on, let us consider in light of our discussion an introductory example of the notion of multidimensional, dynamic and inter-subjective truth that I argue is central to a theory of the mediating subject. Many of us can relate to how, for instance, when we listen to a particular piece of music, the phenomenon of the music evokes within us a particular response (in whatever way). The way we respond can always be different from one experience to the next, just as a different dimension of the particular phenomenon might reveal itself to us.
In each experience we have with a particular phenomenon, different feelings or thoughts are evoked. For instance, one night I might listen to Menuhin’s interpretation of Bach’s Chaconne, and that night a more emotional response might be evoked within me, while a particularly visceral or melancholic dimension of the music reveals itself. Thus I might, in this instance, reflect on this dimension of the subject of the music through my ‘guiding emotional response’ in a bodily, critically, imaginative way.
Three days later, I could listen to the same piece of music and this time a different dimension of the music might reveal itself to me. It might evoke within me a more critical response (as an initial response). Likewise, I might then choose to feel, sense, emote, distinguish, reason over my initial critical response—for all of these other dimensions of my being are in line with my leading critical response.
In any particular case, whatever might be my initial response to a revealing dimension of a concrete phenomenon – and henceforth the flowing of responses, which can of course occur in no particular order from their own intersubjective experience – experiential coherence means that whichever dimension of a phenomenon reveals itself, a response within my multidimensional being is evoked.
However, the initial responding level of my being is always anchored by the remaining interrelational, interactive-levels of my multidimensional being. On this point, we can discern how truth in our experiencing a phenomenon is manifest as a unifying or coherence of multi-dimensional truths. We can reflect here, for example, how there might be several dimensions of a particular piece of music, all of which reveal a characteristic of that particular phenomenon. Likewise, I can also discern that there is a multidimensionality to my conscious being and that each dimension expresses a truth in our experiencing (in this case) a piece of music. In this sense, we can determine that there is a bodily truth, a technical truth, a sensory truth, an emotional truth, a psychic truth, an imaginative truth, an aesthetic truth, a lingual truth, and a cognitive truth. All of these are attached to the first description of the interrelational levels of being, as they respond in intersubjective tension with, and through a negative dialectical account of, the multidimensional phenomenon of a piece of music.
Experiential coherence, then, in some sense, is the intersubjective and unified response of these relationships to the multidimensional phenomenon of our experience. More practically, in order to experience a truth in an imaginative moment in the process of my experiencing the phenomenon of a piece of music, the imaginative must be simultaneously anchored to the remaining interrelational levels of being. But this truth is also that which is evoked by a revealing dimension of the subject of the music.
Each level of our being can in other words provide a response and equally express truth when it comes to our experiencing a phenomenon. But it is only experientially coherent when the responding level is anchored by the remaining levels (which therefore, too, have their own response and truth), thus unifying the multi-dimensionality of truths in our experiencing a phenomenon.
Truth is, on this account, multidimensional, intersubjective and dynamic but also transcends transcendental idealism and relativism. When I experience a particular phenomenon in the form of a piece of music, for example, the truth I experience in my experiential experiencing the subject of that piece of music is not limited simply to the lyrics or to the totality of the musical composition. The multidimensional phenomenon does indeed reveal an aspect of itself to me; its dimensions are discernible. However, the truth of a particular piece of music also involves all of the dimensions of my being, which, in turn, contribute to a coherent evocativeness. The oscillation between the subject of a piece of music and my focus upon it (intentionality), amounts to nothing more than a truth giving, life-giving, passion-giving, intersubjective mediation. In such mediation, a particular dimension of a particular piece of music might evoke in me an emotional response. In the course of this response I might then begin to cry, and this particular experience has therefore also evoked an emotional truth in my experiencing this particular piece of music. While another piece of music might evoke a more strong bodily response, through which I might begin to dance. But each of these responses can also be discerned, shared and even experienced by other people.
My argument, further down the line, is that the societal implications of this theory of collective knowing are vast. To the extent that honouring collective knowledge is vital when formulating alternative social conditions, because we would not be inclined toward class, power and money oriented cul-de-sacs, a democratic theory of knowledge rooted in direct experience would allow for different patterns of experiences to emerge from diverse, particular instances, all the while still forming an intersubjectively-rooted consensus and a shared (cultural) language of the world.
It is interesting to note in passing that forms of praxis built around a similar democratic theory of knowledge and ‘mediating’ or ‘free-flourishing subject’ can be found in different alternative education environments – Summerhill and Alpha Project are but two of an extensive list. As I have written elsewhere there is also evidence of both in different Occupy-based social collectives and even in a range of alternative communities, which emphasis both direct democratic practice and a liberated subject as vital to their ‘mutually recognitive’ politics (for more on this, see my series of essays on prefigurative grassroots political practice).
In any case, what we can also say is that for any democratic theory of knowledge to work in praxis there needs to be an alternative theory of truth that is normatively open to debate, discussion, and mutual exchange as non-ontological, non-static, dynamic, multi-dimensional, intersubjective and unfolding. In terms of concrete reality, this understanding of truth is already little more than a truism. To understand truth in this way is to simply give voice to experience and often how we relate with others in different ‘epistemic communities’ (think of different scientific communities, for example, who constantly exchange information and update hypotheses).
To further elaborate on these points, let us return to the example of water. If I were to experience the same body of water the next day, the truth evoked in my experience will nevertheless be different than in my previous experience; but the continuity of the phenomenon of water, which other people can also discern, stays the same. If I were to perform the same act of being-in-the-water, I would be forced to respond again to that particular phenomenon of water, as another dimension may or may not reveal itself to me. In the same sense, I am forced to confront anew the truth that I had previously experienced with that very same phenomenon that is the body of water. But phenomena also have a historical and cultural continuity to them that, as regularity, which also slowly changes over time. In this sense, while we have our present awareness and understanding of a particular phenomenon, knowing there is always more to be discovered, the regularity of a phenomenon also provides a historical and cultural frame of reference for our normative orientations. Therefore we can say quite practically that we know a subject or phenomenon not just in individual moments.
Let us consider, moreover, that two phenomena have presented themselves to me: X and Y. The noting of differences between X and Y, this ability to distinguish identity itself, is inherent in experiential thought. For instance, I may distinguish a birch tree from a willow tree; the sun from the moon; a bird from a dog in the same way that others can (culturally speaking). In a sense, I have discerned and distinguished in the cognitive moment of my experience a separate identity for each of the two phenomena and it wouldn’t be too farfetched in my particular sociohistorical-cultural situation to exchange or share the same discernible and distinguishable identities with another. Accordingly, we can collectively discern together the unique characteristics of both distinguishable phenomena. We can also generalize from the experiential grounds of our experiences: quite practically, in the plural, those are birch trees and those are willow trees; those are birds and those are dogs. However, and this is important, experiential generalizing is only in coherence if our generalizing is in a constant, normative interacting with the particular phenomenon (with the particulars of experience), and only if the general identity does not consider, for instance, all willow trees to be absolutely like all willow trees. For such ‘bad generalizing’ would inherently violate the particular phenomena of our experience and would undermine any democratic theory of knowledge because it no longer leaves space for the others particular experience of that thing. As with abstract reason, it would subsume the particularity of both individual and collective experience in a bad general category, which would equate to nothing other than a conscious suppression of the very particularities of the phenomenon itself (i.e., hypostatisation).
Although willow trees do remain a regularity over time due to their biochemical/bioorganic foundation, which is therefore subject to biological and genetic time, this does not mean that we can absolutely know them. Even though human beings also possess the conscious ability to conceptualize, we can never wholly conceptualize the phenomenological or experiential identity of a phenomenon. Phenomena cannot be caught or captured in an absolute definition, in an abstract concept or theory, because while we might be able to draw a theory about the biochemical dimension of water, at the same time we are only actually able to draw a hypothesis about the biochemical dimension of water as rooted in history. The best we can do, in other words, is offer hypotheses as ‘grounded, experiential, suggestions’, which, in time, will be marked as ‘outdated’ explanations.
The reason for this is not a lack of truth, but the fact that phenomena are continuously revealing themselves, evolving and unfolding. In the process of time, duration, and development, more wholly developed hypotheses are able to be drawn historically, because this is what marks the history of human study and the ceaselessly unfolding nature of knowledge: each generation’s studies reveal something new about a phenomenon in its historical continuity, which can then be passed on to the next generation.
The same approach can also be applied to social phenomena (i.e., political and social issues). As I argued in my paper on a critique of the ideology of the modern political spectrum, so often debate about the structural antagonisms of society result in deep disagreement about the cause of those problems. But it is also evident that, for the most part, much of contemporary political thought is immersed in ideology by which I mean a certain analytical structure. This objective, identitarian and often abstract analytical structure breeds political dogma, closedness, and the type of violent realities associated with ever remerging forms of identity politics. The very structure of political thought today, I claim, is the total opposite of a democratic theory of knowledge and is, in fact, perpetrated by a hardened, stunted subject.
We know already that by acting in evasion, one no longer wants to be faithful to experiential experience. Evasion thwarts the moment of my experiencing the concrete phenomenon of my concrete attention. On the contrary to evasion, then, and understanding that the phenomenon of my experience is, indeed, a phenomenon in the world; the intentional character of conscious experience amounts to the conscious and bodily apprehension of that phenomenon:
The butterfly passing through a cluster of branches outside my window, the sun peering through this plane of glass, its warmth pressing against my face, illuminating the stacks of paper on my desk; each of these concrete phenomena might draw me into their streaming transmissions if I so happen to give myself to experiencing their presence. That is, the oscillation between the subject of the butterfly and my focus upon it, this might amount to a truth-giving, life-giving, passion-giving, ardour; but only so long as I surrender to the experience of the butterfly. Herein it is through my surrendering to the subject of the butterfly that confronts me, to the warmth of the sun now pressing against my face, to the stacks of paper on my desk, that the intersubjective frequency is open between myself and these phenomena.
Moreover, as we know, the subject calls to us. Phenomena confront us to the extent that we must always orientate ourselves toward the world. And we can judge whether we reach a point of open dialogue between ourselves and the particular phenomenon if, all at once, we surrender to our sensing, feeling and emoting. With every experience, there is a choice: we can be sensitively and emotionally open to, and aware of, the particular phenomenon of our attention, or else we can hold back, and ignore or distort what is before us. Whether we intimately and therefore intersubjectively interact with the phenomenon of our attention, this is entirely down to our own volition. Furthermore, the intersubjective fluidity between myself and the butterfly is only particular in that I am experiencing the phenomenon of the butterfly through an organic mediating moment of experience. This means that in order to truly experience the butterfly I must give myself to the subject of the butterfly: my bodily sensing; my feeling and emotion, my intentionality; discerning; self-awareness; reflection; self-criticalness; the experiential coherency of my experience must be open to the experiential flooding of my consciousness in my experiencing the phenomenon of the butterfly.
On another level, my openly and sensitively experiencing the butterfly, as I reflect on its gleaming colours and sporadic jostling, is a channel for what we will later consider to be the moment of experiential transformation, which depends entirely on my being consciously and bodily as well as emotionally and sensitively open to the experience itself. (The proper definition of experiential transformation will follow in a moment’s time). But if I choose to dominate, to reduce and distort the phenomenon of the butterfly, I will have distorted my experience. In this case, if I were to abstractly rationalize and therefore dominate over the nonrepresentational spot in my experiencing of the butterfly, my experiencing the subject of the butterfly would thus become far more incomprehensible to me. In my evasion, I might perceive the subject of the butterfly as but a mere ‘monarch butterfly’ on a milkweed; or as nothing but a biological category; or as an economic object to be exploited; or as simply nothing other than a mere pest, which I should therefore eradicate with the use of pesticide.
To abstract from my experience, to distort my experience, to therefore take an objective distance from my experience, is to simultaneously forget the experiential connection beneath my experiences. By dominating and reducing the phenomenon of the butterfly, by ‘objectifying’ the butterfly and ascribing onto it an absolute identity or abstract conceptual framework, the moment of experience itself dissolves into a state of insensitivity and experiential blindness. Evasion, distortion, and abstract reason form a divorce between my truly experiencing the world and the world of experience: it is tantamount to a sort of insensitivity.
The dreariest of logic in the present-day economic totality is the sort that attempts to let inert and abstract concepts pass for living realities. Everything must yield beneath this logic, while the economic Idol bows down to nothing. I now know, however, what I already expect: the vibration of life’s diversity born of an experiential source. The cracking of the hardened, rationalized and distorted shell that is the disguise of self-forgetful and evasive enchantments; it is here in these cracks that I experience a break from the instrumental life and in which the world begins to surge around me. This moment of awakening is that which highlights the indifference and the insensitivity of the modern age and its absurdity. In the immense passion of experiential experience, the features of this life of mine are traced and, at once, I recognize the mediating qualities, the picturesque episodes, shades of colour, or emotional and sensorial effects of the world. Such is the quality of coherence.
Here is a glass of water. Already in my discerning this glass of water there is an intersubjective relating between myself and the multidimensional subject of a glass of water. This has already been made clear. The phenomenon of water reveals itself to me. In the present, as I anticipate my drinking the glass of water, I have as my experiential foundation the intersubjective coherence of the event of my drinking water. For my experience with water, in any case, is an intersubjective experience—whether I am drinking it or swimming in it, I am in intimate relation with the phenomenon of water. Practically, I know water. It is essential to my living. It is a valuable resource. I know that water is of this world to the same extent that I am of this world. Like water, I am indeed anchored in this world; because I exist, and I exist while partaking in the existence of things. Therefore, I exist and the phenomenon of water as a regularity reveals itself to me in its existence; and, in this case, the subject of water evokes inside of me a response: that of thirst. Water, then, in its multidimensionality, in its dynamic state, is ‘given’ in my experience. It gives itself as a subject in the world to the very same extent that I give myself to the subject of water as I orientate myself toward the world.
As I take a drink from this glass of water, I am evoked in my coherence to reflect on the various sensations that radiate from inside of me. For instance, I reflect on the basic reality that I am in possession of my body, and how when I experience the replenishment of my being insofar as my drinking water, I am immediately forced to admit that I am both vulnerable, open, and embedded in this world. I am of my body, and my dependency on water indeed highlights this dependency as a human being who exists in this world. Here, too, we might insist again on experiential coherence: it is a matter of ardent passion and lucidity. In my drinking a glass of water, I have already surrendered myself to the world of things, as I have admitted that water as a resource for my being is necessarily anchoring me to this world. I am necessarily embedded in this world. The water has made itself known to me and, in turn, I experience a deep passion in the moment of experiencing it. In this moment I am a phenomenal thing, existing and drinking, replenishing my body which depends upon and entrusts this glass of water.
Each moment of experience irrespective of the dynamic, irrespective of the particular subject of experience, points to a certain existential of life. To this extent, I have my anxiety of being in this world with all its uncertainty and unknowness; or I have my revolt against my impulse to evade. In my revolt, in my coherence, the world lights up around me; my situation, my being, does along with it. Here lies the organic basis for all passion. Passion, like truth, is born of the very context of my experience, however complex and varying in its dynamic origin. In the words of Roquentin, as I take a drink of water from this glass: I am brought to realize that I exist and within that world through which I must exist, I am centered on a stage of resplendent experience. ‘I exist. It’s sweet, so sweet, so slow. And light: you’d think it floated all by itself. It stirs. It brushes by me, melts and vanishes. Gently, gently. There is bubbling water in my mouth. I swallow. It slides down my throat, it caresses me—and now it comes up again into my mouth. For ever I shall have a pool of whitish water in my mouth—lying low—grazing my tongue. And this pool is me. And the tongue. And the throat is me.’
This moment of ardent passion—of experiential coherence, as reflected on by Roquentin—represents an openness to float on the wave of things, and this openness draws from out of me a multidimensional and fluid account of that which I experience while orientating myself toward the multicoloured world of phenomena. It is as simple as experiencing this glass of water before me that the intersubjective ardour characteristic of my experiential coherence can highlight the resplendent glow of existence, which, for better or worse, is significant of my dependence on this world.
If it is of my revolt to resist against regulating my response to the resplendent ardours of the world; this is equally applicable to my experiencing the horrors of the world. In any moment, or so I intend to suggest, I have either to consciously choose to sink back into an interminable life divested of genuine passion, or to realize my experiential revolt. Here, this field with its rustling grasses, or that glass of water, the taste of which I can truly feel, or that man sat hunched and starving at the side of the road; it is choosing this life, as it offers me its passions and sorrows, that is another meaning of my revolt.
If my experiential revolt speaks in another way, it is in how I also concretely experience a shift in my acting upon the realization of my experiential coherence. In this way, the fundamental problem is a matter of knowing whether we can be open to the world of multifarious experience, and whether this openness amounts to a ‘guiding principle’ for the benefit of normatively discerning how I might act in the midst of the world. I want to know, at this point, if experiential coherence can re-assume a daily attitude, particularly for the benefit of discerning the existential course of my acting in a falsified social reality. And this is understandable. In the history I can experience, in the absurd social reality that I am faced with, acting in the world can be both unstable and unclear. Therefore it is only practical that I should like to discern a method of life that does the least amount of injustice.
On the other hand, it is also important to note that we are not to imply a moral rule; we are not dealing with some abstract, moralistic enterprise. In an absurd climate, morality means nothing to me. For even morality has long been justified for what it absolutely is and what it is absolutely not. Every day I witness people with good morality behave badly. Likewise, it is not a foreign insistence that people with bad morality act in good spirits. To insist upon my analysis is to insist upon experiential choice and revolt. It is to insist upon experience, knowing full-well that the phenomena of our experience—this is all we have. I am suggesting, in another way, that on the basis of my honouring the particulars of my experience, I will come face to face with a moment of ‘otherwise’, which, in turn, ought to suggest an alternative self-reflective course when it comes to my acting in the midst of my experience.
As much as this work is a matter of persisting through unfolding themes; the argument too is a matter of persisting through the experiential course of living. In coherence, I must confront each moment anew. If in my experiencing the world, I know that lucidity consists of keeping open to the particulars of my experience, then this is an affirmation of our ‘guiding principle’. Lucidity, like passion, is always born of our wholly and intimately experiencing the particulars; from this point, self-awareness and choice become the rightful characters of an emancipatory politics. If experience is that which is always flowing into the distance and yet forever linked to the present, it is therefore in my revolt that I can know the course of my action; because in the day-to-day revolt that consists of experiential coherence, I am confronted with the realities of self-reflective experience inasmuch as I am forced to experience those realities openly and anew each time.
On this basis of choosing to stay open to the phenomenal world; I can determine that the theme of concrete revolution is thus carried in the individual, who experiences the world in a persistently open and intimate way. He (or she) challenges the world anew every second. Here lies a lesson of which one can be assured. Experiential revolt is what gives life value; for coherent, self-aware experience that is open to the world is what essentially allows one to experience genuine meaning in life. It also allows for an even more lucid and transformative understanding in the course of one’s living; and for all intents and purposes, this lucidity is that which illuminates the absurd climate that is western society and is also that which simultaneously wants to overthrow it. Therefore, too, if the consequence of abstract reason or general distortion is how ‘lived experience’ gets absorbed and, too, disintegrates genuine recognition and valorisation of lived experience; then it is the valorisation of experiential experience in all its complexity and multifariousness (self-reflection) and, therefore, the lack of application of this to social policy and discourse that amounts to the fundamental philosophical problem. Thus, while continuing to insist on experiential coherence: it is the possibility of becoming self-aware in the present state of affairs that represents the spirit of experiential revolt—which also implies that with sufficient self-reflection and, indeed, choice, things could have been, and still might be otherwise.
To borrow the words of Camus: what I know, what is certain, what I cannot deny, what I cannot reject—this is what counts (Camus, 1955). The only appeal we have in this world is to phenomena and to let them speak to us. In my revolt, I am free to self-reflect. I also know that in the same respect I may freely choose to negate everything of that part of me that yearns for the absolute. I am consciously free to overthrow that deep anxiety that overwhelms me, and to honour that particular phenomenon which confronts me. In my revolt, I am therefore consciously free to refute everything in this world surrounding me that offends me or enraptures me. But for all that, I cannot choose to coherently evade the world of experience, especially if by evasion I mean that I must strive to self-deceivingly overcome the base of my experiential limitations. For this would imply that I have already undermined the very basis of experiential coherence; I would have failed to honour the particulars of my experience. That is to say that concrete experience demands of us certain limitations toward the kinds of actions we might take or commit in the midst of the world. This conclusion is a matter of clear logic. If I give myself to intimately experiencing the phenomena of my awareness, I am more likely to respect the particulars of my experience. I am therefore less likely to choose to distort or violate those phenomena.
In other words, experiential experience does not speak of absolute principles or ideological dogma. And in the breakdown of one’s totalized worldview, there are no immediately viable traditions from which a person might draw absolute values unless, of course, one acts through self-deceiving evasion and totalizes the world anew. This is one reason why the experiential moment of revolt is perceived as intolerable to the evasive mind. The experiential moment of revolt discloses no inherent values, just a genuine life-affirming connection with the world. It expresses the concrete reality that all we have in this world is the voice of phenomena. Life is hitherto down to one’s intersubjective acting as an efficacious agent in a world. On the other hand, this is not to suggest that humanity is absolutely without values. Rather, all emancipatory values are based on our experience. And it is therefore the very notion of one’s revolt which represents the coherence of values as they are revealed through one’s experiencing the phenomenal world. All of this goes on to suggest that there is a choice involved in human practice and, in turn, a responsibility behind one’s consciously choosing. We either choose to violate the phenomena of our experience or we choose to honour the phenomena of our experience. On the same token, we choose how to act in the world: either lucidly or absurdly.
But one should not mistake the meaning of experiential revolt as the basis for a new morality. There is no objective, absolute moral guide here. To this extent, we are limited to a phenomenological ethics. We are beginning to flesh out a future conclusion that one has either one’s coherence (and the coherence of the collective) or nothing. All values and beliefs, irrespective of their being falsified or coherent in nature, are human. We have our experiences and the concrete stuff which we can discern in the multifarious world of our experiences. Or rather, we have our openness toward the diverse world of phenomena and our honouring that diverse world of phenomena. Better yet, we have our openness and coherence in wholly absorbing our experiences, within which we might then discern certain values on a persistent and open-ended basis.
Moreover, it is in limiting ourselves to the boundary conditions of experiential experience (i.e., to not absolutize the multifarious world of things) that values are evoked through both an intersubjective and open interpersonal dialogue known as coherence. Much to the point of a later discussion, ‘the mutual understanding and communication discovered’ through experiential coherence, ‘can only survive in the free exchange of conversation’ and, likewise, in the free or open exchange with the multifarious world of experience. It is through our being open toward the diversity of the world that the only coherent condition for a value structure becomes ‘no further above life and history than history and life are above it’ (Camus, 1956). Only through our openness toward the diversity of the world, and our simultaneously remaining grounded in the world, might we then discern regulative and normative values that reflect the concrete particularities of life. Yet, again, it is only in our persistently keeping open to the world through our drive toward connectedness and interaction (i.e., coherence) that any concrete values might stand a chance of honouring all individuals.
Without mistake: transformative experience is significant only of the moment when, in coherent connection with our experience, we feel and experience change. It is a moment when, in one’s revolt, the hardened shell of instrumental reason is broken and the individual allows themselves to be experientially open to the integral wholeness of experience, to be open to the sensitive and emotional awareness of their surroundings. So it is with that tree or those hills neighbouring the inmost bay, with that alternative horizontal space of people and ideas, that I might experience the evocativeness of a moment of experiential transformation. If the definition of my experiential revolt amounts to how I challenge myself to be open to my experiences, to wholly absorb my experiences, and to persist in life through my experiential coherence. The moment of ‘transformative experience’ is merely a result of this concrete process in particular moments of experience, when I experience, from within, a moment of self and collective-transformation. Self-transformative experience is hitherto the result of our multidimensional, intersubjective experiencing, which pertains very practically to the concrete existential and experiential moment of connectedness in our wholly experiencing a particular phenomenon and each other.
The experience of transformation, then, is nothing more than the result of my abandoning myself to and wholly absorbing the concrete connectedness I feel, particularly in my wholly and openly experiencing the concrete phenomenon (or another person) of my experience, which offers me diversity and the possibility of ‘otherwise’. Let us draw on an illustration of that tricky thing called transformative experience: in a moment when I look across a field of fescue and, as I become aware of this breeze as its brushes my face, as I begin to feel intoxicated by the perfumes of this earth soaking into body and the dazzling warmth of the sun spraying down from the topmost sky; I therefore begin to feel a moment of transformation from within. I allow myself to wholly absorb this moment confronting me and, in turn, I instantaneously grow with it. I choose to keep open to my experience rather than, in the moment of my meeting the fescue, reduce and distort the phenomenon of the field. The moment through which I am connected to the world and feel wholly intoxicated by it—this sun, this field, my passionate heart in the delicate embrace with this vast landscape—this is nothing more than an experiential demonstration of deep experiential connectedness and the emergence of a constantly obtaining and unfolding self-awareness that necessitates if not wholly requires openness.
Contrary to romanticists who have historically absolutized this moment of existential and experiential connectedness, describing it as something of the Divine, there is nothing abstract about this renewal of experience. The giddy whirling one feels —that moment, that experiential instant, is irreducible. There are no essences here; no transcendental properties exist in this experience. There are no Divine equations or abstract lessons. The experience of experiential and existential connectedness, and the subsequent possibility of transformative experience, is as simplistic as it is ephemeral. It is as life-affirming as it is resistant to absolute definition. It is as concrete as it is fluid.
Whatever may be the twisting of one’s absolutizing and evasive logic, to understand the deep connection in a moment of experience, is to know that one can never wholly identify it. There is no natural totality found in experiential experience. That is, the absolute mind – the universalizing propensity of thought – can never be satisfied in the natural diversity and fluidity of experience; for experience is that which we must ceaselessly insist upon as an ever-fresh confrontation. Our experiences are necessarily as concrete as they are fluid and open-ended. Therefore in my coherence I know that I have my continuous knowledge of things, but it is an open-ended and growing knowledge that is dependent upon my being open to each experience I have. To put it differently: the historical continuity of things is always available to hold onto, but this does not suggest my escape into the absolute world of things. I merely mean to say that I give myself up to the passing hour and plunge myself into it, through what it is already my awareness of it, just as another might dive into the sea having long known the feeling, the experience, the phenomenon of the sea.
And here, I might cry out: ‘vast sea, forever virgin and forever ploughed, which reveals to me another possibility for transformation in my self. I should like to be naked and dive into this sea, still scented with the perfumes of the earth, wash these off in the sea, and consummate on my flesh the embrace for which sun and sea, lips to lips, have so long been revealing in their sigh. I feel the shock of the water, rise up through a thick, cold glue, then dive back with my ears ringing, my nose steaming, and the taste of salt in my mouth. As I swim, my water-varnished arms flash out to turn gold in the sunlight and then plunge back with a twist of all my muscles; the water streams across my whole body as my legs take a tumultuous possession of the waves—and the horizon disappears. I have surrendered myself to this world, and I have taken up a moment of my life. Here, I am learning to breathe; I am entertaining what this sea has revealed and once I return to the shore, I will have experienced something that has offered me change. Tomorrow, I might return to the sea, and the many wondrous fruits of this landscape will share with me again a new experience; but at the same time I know tomorrow will meet both the continuity of my awareness and the historical, cultural continuity of the phenomenon which make-up resplendent this image’ (Camus, 1970).
In my revolt I therefore have my awareness, the historical continuity of my knowledge and the sociohistorical-cultural continuity of the phenomenal marvels of this landscape, within which I must nevertheless persist in my openness toward the unceasing revelations of this world. This point cannot be stressed enough. As I throw myself down amongst the fescue and onto the soil of this earth, among the history of these stones and the situation of these fallen leaves, I revolt against my anxious urge to absolutize the stuff which exists around me, to fill the void by way of ideology, and to analyze, reflect, and feel may way through each moment. I am hereby filled with the transformative sighs which rise along with the astonishing song of the crickets. I am playing out my life, abandoning myself in trust to this moment that will transform me in whatever way. Understandingly, this experience of transformation, which is solely on the plain of my revolt and my coherence, is born from my never-ending insistence on keeping open to the coherence and fluidity of my experiences. But there is also a certain existential trust at play. My openly surrendering to my experience involves the experiential and existential entrusting of the phenomenal world. As human beings, in certain moments of experiential experience, we have the hope of our revolt against the anxiety of evasion and our becoming closed to experience. Henceforth we have our existential entrusting within the phenomenal world, and therefore a ceaseless insistence upon unsealing ourselves and abandoning ourselves to the diversity of things in order that we absorb the life-affirming, concrete possibility of ‘otherwise’ that resides at the very core of the transformative moments of our experience, both in the face of suffering and in the face of ardent joy.
On the other hand, the experiential moment of ‘transformation’ rises at once to a climax in our experiencing and no sooner withdraws from us to a distance. The fleetingness of a moment of experiential connection is what highlights the very passion of experiential revolt. The residue of connection and self-transformation is surely enough to remind us of its existence; but the lingering residuum of ‘transformative experience’ is never enough. For this is what makes such a moment of coherent connection and self-transformation feel so deeply tantalizing. Just as there are moments when under the familiar face of a lover, we experience a deep connection with that person – one that feels as if it were as fresh as the first, and always, as fresh as the first. The experiential moment of passion and transformation that I feel in my experiencing a deep connection with a lover, that wholly absorbing intersubjective embrace, always greets me with a sense of invigoration. It feels this way because my intimate connection to another human being flows. Of course, there is a historical continuity with regards to my awareness of this person (and vice versa). But even with the continuity of our relationship, of the familiarity of our experiencing a deep, loving connection with one another: we both must continue to challenge ourselves to be open to one another, which is distinct from our continuous knowledge and awareness of one another. Over time, this person will change and so will I. Perhaps tomorrow I will have to rediscover that connection. Indeed, ceaselessly we must strive together to rediscover that connectedness with one another—and, too, with the world. This connectedness is that which can nevertheless be at once so concrete, and yet, is that which can so suddenly leave us alone. But it is here that we get another sense of the concrete experiential ebb and flow organic to our experiences. The tonic of what we might call love, that deep connection in the experiential moment of connectedness, would be less like a fresh wave and more like a mundane pool without this fluidity, continuity, and simultaneous necessity that we grow openly together as free-flourishing subjects.
On the other hand, if I were to absolutize my connection with another person, if I were to totalize any or all aspects of my experiencing them, or absolutize a dimension of that relationship—to make total my connection with a person in most any way; I know that my genuinely experiencing them has thus been twisted out of its experiential coherence. I may reduce that person to an ‘object’, I may hypostatize one or more of their qualities and forever know them – as by the force of the (false) universalizing propensity – as those qualities. But by doing so I completely destroy any possibility for intersubjective togetherness.
What matters most here is truth. And I consider truth as being in the quality of coherence. But with that being said, there is perhaps no greater resource for truth than the body. The greatest truth is perhaps the bodily conscious quality of human beings. A truth which immediately implies that we are anchored in the magnificent and trivial matter called the present. A truth which immediately implies that we are, like all other ‘natural phenomena’, anchored in the bioorganic-biochemical dimension of life. A truth which states that we are indeed human beings; and this life which we know is our condition. This is to say that experiential experience always shows itself from the level of the body, from the biochemical-bioorganic dimension of the body and its many efflorescent qualities.
In a play on the words of Van Den Berg: we come upon a curious thing here, something that we also encountered in much of our discussion on distortion and the deformation of our experiential relationship with the world. The increasing distance between human beings and the perception we have toward our bodies, this brings one to wonder whether it is possible to ascertain if thought in the contemporary totality, even basic reflection, enjoys a distance not only between the way in which we perceive ourselves and the world; but also how we perceive ourselves in relation to our bodies. Of course, the present-day economic orientation, that totalized and disgusting way of life, has its grotty roots in deified reason. And historically, from Lock and Hume straight through to Descartes and contemporary rationalistic belief, there has always been a deeply distorted perspective in rationalistic philosophy that somehow our bodies belong to the world of dimensional things, in which we ‘ourselves’ have no share at all. This notion is extraordinarily fertile, as Van Den Berg puts it, in not only contemporary science but also in the type of knowledge being taught in our educational environments. In the midst of ‘ordinary life’ that is currently promoted in the western ‘method of life’, we do not perceive ourselves as being our bodies; we seem more likely to perceive our bodies as a textbook or ‘objective’ instrument.
Contrary to this rationalistic perception of the body, and to travel to the heart of the matter, we have not the body of the textbook; nor is our body some sort of mere ‘object’ on top of which our heads are unfortunately planted. Indeed, as when eating for example, we are just as much our stomach as we are our heads while studying. With sexual intercourse, as my partner and I make love, which is definitive of core connection, we are not two individuals merely encased within our bodies; and we do not merely place our sexual organs at the disposal of the other from some sort of objective distance (Van Den Berg, 1955). As Van Den Berg says, ‘the mere thought of such an absurd distinction might even render intercourse impossible. Nevertheless, it is also true as he claims, that in the sexual intercourse between myself and my partner, we become our sexual organ inasmuch as our entire multidimensional being becomes anchored in our being our sexual organ. Our bodies are transformed into sexual bodies. Every other dimension follows this transformation and responds accordingly. Hitherto with this tremendous phenomenological transformation, of which anatomists and physiologists will ascertain very little: of this concrete transformation they will in fact ascertain nothing! What they ascertain belongs to a very different order of things; whereas the transformation of the body of lovers belongs to the order of the experiential (phenomenological) moment of experience’ (Van Den Berg, 1955).
The point, moreover, is that the body is not something that merely supports one’s head. There is no mind-body dualism. The body is not something that merely ‘I’ have to contend against. My body is me; and I am my body. My lover is her ‘self’; and she is also her body. In the act of intercourse, I am aware that she is not me and I am not her; that we are two different people, who not only express diversity but also come together in our diversity to form an intimate solidarity. Our bodies, our full conscious beings, come together. (Perhaps this is the essence of Eros). On another level, my body and the body of my partner do not merely consist of all those distinctions that make up a medical textbook. We are not merely beings who consist of instrumental or machine like organs. Our bodies respond to experience, diversely, just as much as our general cognitive awareness does. From the biochemical level straight through to the topmost dimension of our being, our bodies are just as much integral to life and experience as our minds.
If there is a lesson here it is the multifariousness of experience. Present experience is always that which paints life as a succession of gestures between subject and subject; but at no point in this intersubjective flowing do we not paint the moment with a fleeting modesty, of regret or of pleasure, in the colour of our bones and the warmth of our blood. That is, if there is a lesson in diversity—in the multidimensionality of being, as it were—it is a lesson of the body. My bodily situatedness in any moment, this biochemical-organic presentness is the experiential canvas of my experience. The human body, like human consciousness, represents a single, solitary canvas for the pallet of all present experience. The body is the canvas for the diversity of experience insofar that the single unit of one’s being, of one’s bodily consciousness, makes possible the colours that we paint onto the world of experience just as it makes possible the subject which reveals itself to us in phenomenological space. To this extant the body is the basis for all possibility when it comes to the human gesture or, the human capability to respond in a moment of experience. For the freshness of the countryside, the genuine texture of nature, the beating of this heart and the warmth of the sun as it drapes over my skin, this is the frame around the canvas—from which my experience reveals to me, in my coherence, a simultaneous passion that is my pallet and the canvas that is the limits of my experience.
Economic dominion and its despicable logic may engross many contemporary minds. What is perhaps the most obvious mark of the economic attitude is the manner in which the very tribute to global capitalist ideology, that unholy Trinity, is the increasing negation of the body. Instrumental reason treats the body as an instrument: whether scientifically, technologically or economically. And this is understandable. In most any totality, let alone the economic totality, we must begin by necessarily rejecting the body, the only truth which is immediately given to us in any moment of experiential experience. The body is that which reminds us that we are fallible; it is what always has direct ascendency over us by its demands and needs. ‘The body is a reminder that we are all worms and indeed food for worms. It is symbolic of the fact that we are at once out of nature and forever bound to it; that no matter how great our fantasies, we are a heart-pumping, breath-gasping bodily being—a material flesh casing vulnerable to time, subject to an inevitable death. There is no other instantaneous and persistent symbol of our existential condition than the body. From childhood through to adulthood, we are dependent on our bodies; that is, our conscious experience is dependent on our bodies. And we must come to terms with the fact that being in my body means that I ache and bleed and will decay and die’ (Becker, 1973; pp. 25-27). This is our reality.
Thus the body is that which immediately reminds us that we are anchored in the world of experience, and for this, the body must be evaded if we are to achieve a false sense of security. How else might we describe centuries of absurdity, centuries of savagery against the human body? How else might we account for the fact that the human body today is treated as an ‘object’ ripe for economic, scientific and technological domination? For the body, in terms of present-day economic distortion and evasion, represents the very framework for all future problems that its abstract reason is to anxiously grieve. Let me rephrase: the body represents the recognition of all problems for one’s rationally infused and totalized economic commitment; but, in turn, the mind that surrenders to the contemporary Trinity already knows the one solution that it proposes: to do away with the body altogether. In the human surrender to the economic Trinity, the body must perish because the body is the omnipresent symbol of human reality that keeps an absolute framework from ever being realized as totally complete (irrespective of the impossibility of such completion). Thus, the mind that surrenders to the economic Trinity acquires a certain bitterness toward the body and, for that, devises a process for its destruction.
Continuing forward, by the very nature of bodily conscious existence, the human person defines himself (or herself) first by the bodily nature of their comportment and by the world of glorious particulars. We can say that we necessarily orientate ourselves toward the world; but the cost of this orientation means that we must also orientate ourselves toward our bodily existence and our bodily situatedness in the presence of all experience. This orientation, furthermore, as reflected by the nature of consciousness comes with a price: we must feel, sense, emote, and move, (etc.) as a condition of our being anchored in the world. Finally, and as I have already noted, this merge of the world of experience and the human being gives rise to a lesson: that to exercise experiential experience comes at the expense of feeling an anxiety—an anxiety or anxious temptation that is the product of the very mixture of our being in confrontation with the fundamental constituents of our existences and the world that constantly overflows us (the ‘moreness’ and fluid multidimensionality behind all experience). The very functionalizing of abstract reason as an aspect of the economic Trinity then, in turn, qualifies itself in the form of the following question—a question which marks the very principle of evasion: why should a man (or woman) have to feel emotion or experience a core anxiety toward that which qualifies the features of his life as human life, especially if he possesses the capability to distort, reduce, instrumentalize and abstract the source of that anxiety (or fear of the unknown) for the benefit of false comfort or security? It is thus in the total sum of abstract reason that the individual defines himself as neither the experientially coherent, mediating subjectivity that he is, nor the single remainder of this rejection, the body. The latter is, of course, the physical representation of the stuff that posits this question in the first place.
The potential hope for change in society is based upon the transforming capabilities of experience and nothing more. That is, all transformative hope is synonymous with society’s potential realizing of coherence. Honouring the particular whilst continuously gaining a sense of the general: herein lies the only source of hope left in the world. Better yet, and as we have already said, the only appeal we have in the midst of our sociohistorical-cultural state of absurdity, which, to borrow the words of Adorno, is almost ‘totally administrated’, is to phenomena and to let them speak to us. Faith in life, without absolutizing anything, this is what we are left with in today’s world. With regards to humanity as a whole, this is our concrete ‘guiding principle’: a faith in life in all its dimensions.
The historical failure of abstractly theorizing a concept of social transformation pertains almost always to the manner in which such theories orchestrate projects for themselves that want only to invariably determine an individual as an act which should therefore be done. But these acrobatic philosophers and their theories of greater social transformation find themselves in absurdity. The very canvas of such a concept immediately implies that one’s everyday means are tied to some sort of abstract, predefined ‘ends’. Conversely, the overly abstract and distorted question of social transformation leaves only a restricted site of social clauses. In the words of Adorno: ‘a type of total social subject is imagined, projected into the face of suffering and ideology as a sort of repressed or elusive motif—as a manifestation of falseness or as an inert means from an objective and groundless angle, as whole communities of hommes de bonne volonte are envisaged; who need only take their places around a gigantic global table in order to bring order into the chaos of society’s failure. But the difficulties of the cultural, for example, for which the common-place concept of crisis is no longer in any way sufficient, are so deeply and entirely rooted that individual goodwill is more often than not severely restricted in its utmost transformative capacities or capabilities (Adorno, 1991; p.126).
The very idea of ‘social transformation’ has in other words been subject to a great deal of systematic distortion. And this is in every sense symptomatic of the history of sociohistorical-cultural totality. Accordingly, once the idea of social transformation becomes subject to a particular ideology, to the absolute principles of a particular movement, all coherence is lost. Or let me put it this way: irrespective of the various acrobatics of historical ‘logic’, an objective and reductionistic philosophy of social transformation means nothing to the idea of coherence, which should be considered as synonymous with a prefigurative politics.
What so many theories and concepts of ‘social transformation’ fail to grasp, is that each of us starts out from a wholly indescribable social condition, where contradiction, anguish, and obscurity reign. As I stated at the beginning of this book, the idea of greater social transformation as a top-down event has no validity in this work. Nor can I even fathom with proper lucidity and coherence the idea of any formal party politics. The idea behind experiential coherence is the development of alternative prefigurative space in which a ‘new sensibility’ may emerge.
If it is true that in the midst of our historical reality, I merely want to know how to live coherently in the world, this involves, as we know, a return to experiential coherence, which, in turn, essentially amounts to my letting go of my drive to absolutize and reduce the phenomenal world and, indeed, entrusting myself to the phenomena of my experience and to other people. Furthermore, with experiential coherence follows the reality of what we might discern as the possibility for experiencing ‘transformative experience’, which is in some sense a moment of experience that illuminates a passionate and grounded perspective toward our existential and social lives. There is no salvation in transformative experience, however. Transformative experience is really – and this is important – a moment of experience that follows our being open to the world to interacting with each other in non-alienated, non-hierarchical, non-objective ways.
It should be clear by now that everything ought to protest against the absurdity of the evasive project. If anything, life demands it of us. Plunged deep into the world of colours, the mind and the body experientially feed off all that is truly meaningful. Or, at least, meaning begins on this plane of experience. So long as we allow for ourselves to be open to the world, there is hope of our experiencing genuine meaning in the world. That is: for the sake of realizing genuine meaning, we must return to our coherently experience the phenomenal world of things. And this is where the theme of consciousness and revolt becomes integral to the course of my everyday living: it represents both the choice towards, and the possibility of, reconciliation in the midst of a damaged life.
Let us sketch this out a little more clearly. Experiential transformation, as an experience tied to absurdity, reveals to me the hollow nature of my social reality. The passion of revolt then moves me forwards against the type of deformations inherent in that ‘totality’: from the truth of the body through to the meaning of coherence—in the moment when I experience the spectacle of phenomena my revolt teaches me to cling to the openness of the experiential canvas on which I might paint my passion, and for which transformative experience might continuously unfold. This is the only language we have left. If we were to be asked, what is one thing that inspires us, urges a passion within us, compels us, forces reflection upon us, and finally overwhelms us, it is this: radiant, diverse experience. Herein lies our phenomenological freedom. And this freedom, in the deepest sense of the word, is what assures one of life in the midst of the oppression of contemporary society. This freedom to reflect, as born of experiential coherence, is as fresh as a rose, washed and rewashed by the transformative waters of experience.
Perhaps there is no better way to describe practically the experience of revolt, coherence and transformation than in the everyday experience with a piece of transformative art (which can be almost any form of art). It is common in the experience with a piece of art that we realize our intersubjectivity; and of course in these moments of intersubjective experience, which transformative art tends to pull from out of us, there resides a potential break from the instrumental paradigm (however large or small this break may be). Whether in the form of a song, or a canvas, or even of words, as we experience a certain intersubjectivity with a piece of art, this experiential moment is more than capable of challenging existential prejudices of the bad totality. Transformative art, in other words, not only often re-establishes the connection with ourselves by its ability to penetrate into the bodily and sensory core of our being; but also mainly because in its coherence, transformative art compels us to anticipate the truly experiential core of our coherently experiencing, indeed, a piece of transformative art.
An experience with transformative art, like other similar integral experiences, stimulates consciousness anew; it awakens us as individuals. Transformative art, as just one example, has the ability to connect us back to our mediating subjectivity from out of routine, instrumental consciousness. Transformative art has the potential to offer us a moment of experience, which, as with transformative experience in general, might move us to cry, or scream out, or dance; for it is a moment of experiencing wherein our entire being rings true to that moment of life. To consider the experience with a piece of transformative music for example: as a phenomenal subject, the music makes itself known to us in all its multidimensionality. The phenomenon of music makes itself known to us as discernable; knowable; sensorially pleasing and cognitively provoking. When we are totally in tune with a piece of music, the phenomenon of the music calls to us and reveals to us an overwhelming intersubjective richness. The same can be said toward all transformative art.
Art, in this case a piece of music, has the ability to simultaneously free us from the objectifications we have absorbed and simultaneously re-establish a connection with our immediate existences. In a moment of listening to a particular piece of music, we may be opened up experientially to the world of suffering; or, in turn, we may be opened up to the experiential flowing of transformative hope. When this happens we become aware of our embodied status in the world; we give ourselves to the truth of that experience; to our bodies; and to the realness of a single intersubjective flash. In such a moment I have only to feel reconnected with myself, the bodily nature of myself and of my conscious existence. And here we reach another lesson of revolt. For in this moment, as I revolt against evasion and absurdity in the spirit of the movement and passion of a piece of music, I might even feel the blood flowing from my feet to my head. In the same instantaneous lucidity, I might even experience myself as embodied in the very composition of a piece of music that inspires me to move, dance, celebrate; it drives me forward with a life-giving movement of which I am never too sure but can nevertheless feel as it begins from the level of my body and rises to the topmost dimensions of my being. And it is here, in an instant, that I know that I am alive and, in this moment of life, I am full of passion. The hardened shell of instrumental reason has been, however tentatively, broken.
For any of us familiar with a moment such as this—when the hairs on our bodies erect: whether it be the pressing cry of a piano; the wailing of a guitar; the surrendering compassion of a violin; the echoing call of a saxophone; we can all relate to the utter passion of the experience. Like the first taste of fresh cold air, we might shiver in such a moment of life. We might take a deep breath and in an instant exhale a simultaneous comprehension that we are alive and balanced in both the resplendence and the suffering of our existences.
Whatever the dynamic, whichever way we might be positioned, transformative art speaks to something visceral, both as anguish and as sheer joy. It is like the sun as it highlights several different shades of colour. Such a moment touches the heart, entices us to move toward something more or less empowering. In certain moments of experiencing a piece of art, bubbles of light begin to splash against the scene in which we are situated. The eyes perceive the colours and forms as they tremble on the lashes; the ears begin to move in a dance of music; or our emotional histories rise in a well of feeling; or the mind stirs at the imagery of the language (Camus, 1970).
To better exemplify the transformative capabilities of our experiencing a piece of music; let us direct our attention toward the experience of a public music festival. Through the immediate and given situatedness of our body at such a concert, we give our body to both the movement and the disclosure of the music, as well as to the immediate dynamic of the field of people. I personally recall, on many occasions, a moment during a music festival when the right song – which always seems to move me – begins playing. And in the moment of this beginning, I can recall a moment of another beginning: a moment of reflection that equally and simultaneously highlights the connectedness I feel with regards to that particular experience.
In this particular dynamic of a music festival, we have the rare opportunity to experience artistic radiance with the mediation of natural decoration: waves of sunlight pouring from the topmost sky, bouncing against the country around us, while flowing waves of air unfold in every angle over a grand mass of people unified like the hills (even if for a moment) in the distance. Temporality is a great lesson here. For there even exists in this moment a sense that within each and every one of us (as individuals in the community), however vague or ephemeral that sense, we are simultaneously pulled open anew. And in this experiential moment, at once, immersed in an entire landscape of human persons—in the flux of a thousand moving parts—there is collectivity.
In the informal draw of each individual as they empty their lungs and take up air again; in the midst of vibrating musical harmony; stringing through us from the first row to the last; we experience a connection between all participants. And in the midst of this experience, as we collectively breathe a communal breath, ‘we understand how a whole range of hills might too breathe in unison; or how on certain mornings, as we turn the street corner nearest to our home, an exquisite dew falls on our heart as if it were offered by the sincerity of a hanging branch; or how a jazz band of birds spur within us a spontaneous dance; or how in a moment, we catch an immense and motionless wave break over a suddenly calm sea, which unifies against the order of procession. The moment never lasts, but the collectivism with nature and all others can.’
Such moments as one found in our experiencing a music festival pulsates within our chest; they run through our body; they sparks to whatever degree consciousness as felt and yet left merely hanging in the balance. In the outburst of the noise which reaches us as individuals and as a community, each different for the other, the same carrying mediation resonates within us all. For as is the case with truly experiencing any art; it is a mediating experience. In a moment, as the music speaks—it is not the lyrics, it is not language, nor a distinguishable voice which accompanies the wrench of sensation. It is simultaneously the spirit of the composition and our embodied dynamic that moves us. Transformative art experience represents a historical touchstone towards our knowing the possibility of coherence, as it resonates within us an internal charge: a moment of transformation, where suddenly the entirety of a flowing intersubjective truth fills us. What’s more, we might even feel in this moment an openness towards all things. We experience something different, an alternative apprehension which opposes our routine manner of perceiving the world. There surfaces a type of intersubjective nobility. There is a sincere reply—an odd state of soul in which the mechanical dissolves and life once again becomes elegant. We feel free from the chain of our daily gestures governed by absurdity. Such is the strength of transformative art and all other similar experiences. And this is what gives definition to transformative experience in the process of one’s revolt.
Let me repeat: what it is important to stress at this point is that in the welling-up of experiential experience, we remain sure that this particular experience will surface again and with the same intensity that we soon come to anticipate. Yet we’re never certain for it is not absolutely identifiable. Experiential experience cannot be controlled nor objectified if it is to be coherent. Thus there is always a moment of choice, a moment of revolt. We must choose to take up each moment again and again with both existential trust and self-vigour. We must choose to revolt against our anxieties and entrust ourselves to life.
In experiential coherence, as our subjective frequency becomes in-tune with a phenomenon’s vibrant dimensions, we are of course tempted to absolutely define the experience. We want more of an absolute definition than what our experience is willing to offer us. For we know too the disappointment that accompanies such an experiential truism. We know that at some point the moment of connectedness inevitably sinks back into the depths from which only a short while before it had once originated. With the sadness of dissipation comes the following pensive practice of anticipation. In revolt however, one shall choose to be open and to seek to reconnect with the spirit of a moment, one which we might only vaguely comprehend. We experience in a moment of deep connection and transformation that which is not necessarily in accordance with the mechanical routine that we have come to know as the reality of our instrumental social experience. In transformative experience there is the tinge of amazement at the sudden realization of experiential coherence – of the deep and vibrant connection we feel with another person (or a phenomenon), and of the inauguration of an impulse of experiential consciousness. And again and again and again we can return to this level of experiencing. But the real effort of consciousness and revolt is to stay there, to continuously choose to keep open to our experiences. This is the real enterprise of life: it is in our living openly and groundedly.
In conclusion, of all the schools of patience and lucidity, creation is the most effective. For it is the practice of artistic creation that teaches us about the creative moment of experience—the moment of experience in which we must choose to stay open to the stuff of our experience and surrender ourselves to our sensitive awareness and feeling.
This is why we can determine that in coherence, we are constantly creating ourselves; for this is what gives definition to the very notion transformative experience, which is to a greater or lesser extent common to us all. In every experience, there is a moment being simultaneously created; and we are therefore self-consciously responding to that phenomenon of experience, creatively. Experiential experience, coherence, my revolt, is therefore analogous to the creative attitude (Camus, 1955). The experiential reality of transformative experience, which hinges on my revolt, then calls for a daily effort—a method of self-mastery in the form of relentlessly choosing to normatively revolt (Camus, 1955).
Transformative experience, like artistic practice, teaches us that each and every time the theme or the experience can be repeated in a diverse and passionate way. Every experience appears to be potentially creative; such attests to the very notion of experiential ‘moreness’. Therefore inexpressibly fresh and delightful and beautiful, experiential experience is a constant creating of my self, of my orientation with this world, of my knowledge and awareness. When I experience these evergreen trees that tower before me, I have already experienced them once before; and therefore I have past orientation with these trees. There is, after all, continuity to experience. But this does not take away from the creative moment of my presently experiencing these green trees, this transformative moment which moves and ravishes me. Their sweetness and unusual shape makes my heart leap, almost in ecstasy. This world lights up in the face of such beautiful things; because the whole order of this moment fills me with a sense of contentment, from its leaves to its mysterious history and creation; and to the very possibility of this present moment. It is a sense of creativity that I feel; a sense of discovery.
Here absurdity is realized for what it is: the dead city becomes a surreal skeleton. Instead, that tree, that person, my experience and my creative attitude, make possible the transformative moment of my experience, in whatever form. I am always creating in my openness, even if only within myself. But the world of experience does not amount to a poetry which makes it so, or to a romanticism of any kind, nor even to a brute idealism; its vibrating realness, passion and suffering is what we learn through the limits of lived experience. A realness that seeps into consciousness infused with the rays of the sun, with the music, with the dynamic, and with our coherence. It is in this moment that our hearts fill with an unnamed and whirling feeling. It is in this moment, a moment we all know, that we choose to move with it and we taste life. It is in this moment that the absurdity of our social reality lights up.
But what is essential is that the creative attitude be understood as analogous to the coherent attitude. As we know, experiential coherence immediately implies the recognition of ‘moreness’ organic to experiential experience. If I have made myself clear up to this point, the creative attitude, transformative art practice, proves that the most coherent forms of art are those that are inspired by such intersubjective mediation. If integral to our experiencing a work of art is the manner in which transformative art thrusts outward the ‘moreness’ of experience; it is so because transformative art as analogous to the experiential, both glorifies the intelligence and integrates the passionate mingle of being and diversity to the extent that they become delighted with one another (Camus, 1955).
In sum, to create is to give shape and colour to the diversity born of our general experiential resource. Hitherto transformative work is inspired by experiential ‘moreness’ to the extent that it is forever bound to coherent thought. The transformative novel for instance signifies that, as the most antipodal of all literature, it is the one that is experientially inspired by the thought which in any case gives rise to the essential images of the work (Camus, 1955).This is precisely what constitutes the nobility of a transformative work and of a transformative moment of experience. And this wholly carnal triumph is prepared by experiential diversity (‘moreness’, etc.), which is fixed firmly in experiential coherence, in which, then, the distorting powers of evasion and instrumental reason are brought to meet their final fate: utter humiliation.
The coherent attitude and the creative attitude shine forth in their diversity as reflected upon in the concrete; they are evasion’s antidote, however it may take form. Such as when we experience a song that always moves us, that spark of coherence in a diversity of experiential dimensions—there is no single evasive event, here (Camus, 1955). ‘Moreness’, to be more succinct, is the basis for all coherence; and the judge of all ideology. In this sense, the significance of the transformative work is that it makes creation express a coherent lustre, a passionate fusion that, at once, conveys the voice of emancipation in the face of the absurd. Or else it will give a voice to nothing, so long that we as the creators of the experience, or the creator of the work, turn away from the concrete and succumb to the temptation of evasion. On the other hand, from this point, we know that any thought that abandons the experientially coherent attitude is that which glorifies distortion and abstraction in one way or another. The only thought which may liberate the evasive mind is that which confronts it through diversity, as diversity immediately undermines, even if only for a moment, the framework of a particular totality.
To be sure, losing oneself to the subterfuge of economic and experiential distortion—to any Idol—means that it takes a sufficient self-awareness toward one’s own life in order to increase its lucidity and to take a coherent view of it. Herein the very practice, the very experiential meaning of consciousness and revolt realizes itself: it represents humanity’s struggle to catch sight of the burning and frigid impulse for totality, for the absolute and for that false sense of security, in which nothing is possible except distortion and absurdity. It represents humanity’s struggle to overthrow that anxious desire for domination for the benefit of reconciliation and emancipation. For if it is true as Camus exclaims, that such a struggle involves the very principle of liberation (Camus, 1955), this is because the historical liberation of human beings must necessarily begin with the abolishment of self-fabrication on the one hand, and with overcoming the impulse of thinking in absolute terms, on the other. Upon the instant that we recognize our self-deceiving projects for what they are, that tendency to introduce Idols into almost every situation, the fundamental philosophical problem is definitively reconciled; and we are then free to reassume the potential actualizing of our experiential coherence.
Social transformation, I should like to point out in closing, does not reside in some greater abstract theoretical concept of social change. Nor does it reside in some distant grand Ideal of historical revolution, which always feels too far out of reach. If what history teaches us is true, then upon the collapse of one Idol a new Idol tends to be born of its ashes—that is, as humanity tears down one Idol it simultaneously erects another. Lest we forget history’s lessons, genuine transformation must begin with an alternative approach to how we experience not only the world of things, but also ourselves and each other. Transformation must begin in overcoming of the ideology of the absolute. It is in a coherent approach to experience, rather than in any greater abstract concept of social change, where we might find the initial foundation for hope in the prefigurative development of an emancipatory (‘lived’) politics.
A lot has been said toward our existing state of affairs, it’s true. But perhaps there is no better way to summarize the thought presented in this work than to say that society today supposes by definite market dictatorship, the negation of all means in order to achieve false and distorted ends. Herein lies the very notion of absurdity: it is a matter of damaged life. That said, what interests me most here is a critique of society’s essential absurdity. I want to penetrate into the heart of the economic totality and not only illuminate western society’s failure to realize its own potential, but also highlight its impending self-destruction. In terms of the latter, it is inherent in most any ideological concept that the social totality must forever conceal that which is not compatible with its absolute principles. In the end, this proves historically unsustainable. History, which is an unfolding narrative of deification and self-deception, is also riddled with examples of the unsustainable nature of ideology. In this way, history is coloured by humanity’s experience of absurdity; for it is the experience of ideological collapse or disintegration which defines the very phenomenological basis of all experiences of absurdity. But this is not all that history discloses. The antagonisms of ideology with respect to humanity’s failure to realize its own potential, especially in an age when technology and science are mature enough to end needless social suffering, is also another general characteristic of absurdity.
Moreover, it is in the fact that all dimensions of life and experience—one’s experiential means, even—are pulled into being in the service of the economic totality, that even the many fruitful advancements of science, technology, philosophy, psychiatry, mathematics, and so forth are invariably reduced to their economic dimension. This is to say that societal principles, dimensions of life and experience, become violated and distorted due to the type of fundamental antagonisms of global capitalist society. When the increase in profit becomes the principle aim instead of the actual betterment of society, this signals the defeat of humanity. On the same token, it is at the height of this economic state that the true nature of our social institutions, technologies, sciences, cultural practices, and interpersonal relations, is revealed. In an age where society has the capability to meet the needs of its citizens, to develop technologies and machinery in order to free the individual from monotonous labour, and to satisfy society’s basic needs, where no material need be necessarily left unmet—this is, yet again, another basis of our contemporary absurdity. These are the symptoms of society’s historical failure and the very social antagonisms that thwart humanity’s potential emancipation.
One of the major questions today is how a break from the contemporary ‘totalized’ paradigm might come into fruition, and in what way might we identify it as an experiential point of reflection? In this work I find one element of this break in the experience of absurdity. It is the experience of absurdity which, at the outset, we can describe as the experience of socio-historical, cultural ideological collapse. In other words, by ‘absurdity’ I mean to describe the instant when somebody is faced with a challenge or confrontation which goes against their ideologically saturated perceptions of the world and, too, even against their own inner belief system. It is an experience that generally takes the form of a ‘crisis’, especially as one finds oneself in a situation where one’s belief system, born from out of a totalized worldview, is faced with a moment of ontological and metaphysical disintegration.
When the contradictory evidence of one’s project becomes too much, that person may either sink deeper into his or her ideological worldview and state of self-deception or choose to consciously re-orientate themselves with world. Absurdity, then, expresses the beginning in the process of a change in circumstances. It is a moment that, to varying degrees, expresses the experience of sociohistorical-cultural collapse, and which brings about what I describe as substantiated self-transformation. That is to say that absurdity is the moment when, in the face of our totalized experiential orientations, we acquire a different view of the world, of other people and even of ourselves.
This change of perception may of course happen for different reasons and through the experience of different phenomena, but it is nevertheless the evocation of self-alteration that describes the history of absurdity as an experience; and this experience of self-transformation need not be dependent upon a ‘change’ in external reality—such as the experience of the German people after the collapse of the Nazi totality, for example. On the contrary, and to borrow the words of Carl Rogers, the type of change I am speaking of here is often a product of internal reorganization. Absurdity is nonetheless the product of an absurd social reality, of a life spent orientated toward reified social phenomena; but the experience of absurdity shall be held as a moment when we are faced with such an internal crisis that there appears a possible point of opening in the midst of that totality—a potential point of self-awareness toward the ‘moreness’ of our experience; toward the diversity of the world; and simultaneously for the benefit of our becoming more coherently aware of our experiences and at the cost of our previous ideological, totalized vision of life.
It is therefore true that in the future, the experience of this clean slate will be held as an experiential touchstone. The experience of absurdity is one that highlights an experiential point for possible reconciliation, especially with regards to the notion of our retaining some ‘coherence’ with the phenomenal world. But before this, it is necessary that we first broach the meaning of absurdity itself. In other words, before moving any further it is the task in this essay to bring about a final emphasis toward a particular existential and experiential sensitivity; to highlight the very experiential attitude that I am traveling from and moving by. This concrete guiding principle for the normative practice of critical self-reflective thought in the midst of our distorted social climate is, indeed, the experience of absurdity.
Considering the depth or broad span of contemporary ideology, which makes semblance nearly all existing forms of our social reality; it is the collapse and deep disintegration of this structure and the impending existential crisis following this experience that is the proper experience of absurdity. That is, the absurd is what happens when the word is made experiential; it is a brutal and bloody term that describes the disorientation of one’s previously totalized worldview, particularly in the sense of its utter distortion as it becomes evident in one’s own daily self-awareness. In this way, the experience of absurdity can be understood as a social phenomenon. It is the climate of a collapsed enterprise and the grounds for one’s ‘new beginning’ in the midst of those ruins.
The absurd for me is a matter that is general in scope. And the attitude through which we might discern it has already been built throughout the course of Consciousness and Revolt. For it is the experience born of a void which lies beneath a multitude of falsified social and experiential relationships – a void that represents the totalized orientation secured in the name of a greater falsified concept of life – that defines the experience of absurdity as the very springboard for one’s emancipatory philosophical search. On this point, too, I should reiterate that throughout the course of this work I have been dealing with the construction of an attitude; with the opening of a reconciling awareness that wants to achieve a method of life significant only through a succession of normative beginnings. It is just this attitude of mind, this awareness toward fluid, unfolding, multifarious experience in the face of falsified society with its groundlessness and obscurity, which must be given priority.
So how do we begin to describe this experience? We might begin by saying that if we were to approximate the experience of absurdity as much as possible, we could very well reflect that it serves, to whatever degree, as an expression of disintegration or disorientation. It carries the significance of greater or lesser change, of a deep challenge with regards to our existing sense of self. The experience of absurdity is, whether momentary or lasting, an experience of foundationlessness; an experience of shaken belief and of one’s awakening from a lie. It is also characteristic of the loss of composure that a person may have felt when in possession of dominant worldview. Absurdity is hitherto the manifestation of the ridiculousness of ideology. It is an irritating, sore, raw, out of tune, discomforting feeling. As an experience that speaks of being out of harmony with our totalized vision of life—incongruous and inconsistent with that ideology—it expresses deep contradiction to the dominant system of beliefs and values. Likewise, we might say that the symbolism of absurdity is that it is an expression of critical truth, particularity when it comes to one’s life spent under the blanket of ideology. Henceforth the experience of absurdity is the meeting between two opposing realities; we might even go so far to say that it is the result of a particular dialectic. Absurdity is a moment which, after being evoked, is heightened with the presence of prior self-deceiving belief in the absolute. And forever is this experience marked with the despair of the frustrating attempt to paste together the golden cup which was always broke; with the yearning to reconnect the silver thread and to rebuild the shattered faith at the feet of one’s Idol. It is thus the perennial presence of a node that grabs the throat; a crack in the deaf ear; a vibrating cry of diversity, ‘moreness’, ‘otherwise’ and truth before the tragedy of the end of one’s self-inflicted illusions.
Absurdity, however, is also in the everydayness of experience. It can be found in most things, seeing how most things today are invariably pulled into being in the service of the economic totality. But the moment of experiencing absurdity, that moment when the utter incongruity of clashing realities stirs one’s very being—it is always when the feeling takes us that we are most moved by it. In the midst of an image, at the heart of a moment, in the wake of a critical-reality, absurdity comes sooner or later. And when it comes, it almost always lives by that sentiment filled with the nonsensical nature of our social reality. This feeling, that stomach churning twinge of absurdity, it is symbolic of the nausea felt when experiencing such contradictory realities as a homeless man left to starve outside an all-you-can-eat buffet; or when experiencing the front page of most any newspaper, whose total experience of compartmentalized and jarringly isolated articles, which hop from the announcement of millions slaughtered in one part of the world to a celebration of the billion dollar fashion industry, displays the utter incongruity and stuntedness of western psyche. That is why, again, the experience of absurdity is when critical realities are revealed to us and when, to whatever degree, their sharp unveiling jars against the dominant backdrop of our ideology. The experience of absurdity is therefore in the moment we experience a person lying half-dead on the sidewalk of a major western city street, while waves of people balance their shopping bags and curse at his or her obstruction of the way forward. It is a disgusting, brutal, honest moment when the insane ideology and distortion of our times smacks us in the face, and, in all its jarringness, chokes us of our breath and leaves a taste of vomit on our tongues. For it is the very spirit of the nonsense which confronts us in the midst of a social reality that violates the laws of basic human flourishing; as in when we hear of the right-wing American cheer at the very question of whether a human being with a life-threatening illness but no health insurance should be allowed to die, or how the same ideological group applaud the amount of executions their senator has presided over, celebrating what is described as the ‘sprit of justice’. Absurdity, one might say, is in the natural harshness of such inhumane and utterly insane politics, which is so obviously saturated in barbarity that one cannot possibly realize it and resort to some sort of aberration. Absurdity is, in every sense, an integral part of the sort of contemporary social mind; but it is also a moment when we are forced, even in an instant, to become aware of such twisted logic at play. It is distinguished on the basis of the distorted, of the negative, of the reified, and of the contradictory, by which the moments when we experience involve a clash between self-illusion and concrete reality.
In the entirety of the term, absurdity is forever symbolic of needless social suffering. This is an integral, if not essential dimension of its experiential identity. That is, we can discern and distinguish the very phenomenon of absurdity and our experience with it as being anchored in the social dimension of suffering. All the rest—whether the absurdity of a particular social climate manifests in this way or that, whether it takes on this unfurling characteristic or that—comes after the fact. In the end, the particulars of sociohistorical-cultural absurdity are the outward expression of an internally rotten social circumstance. And it is only when a person lets the full weight of absurdity sink down into one’s mind that a person can come to recognize what a grotesque existence it really is. Moreover, it is the whole of social absurdity that we must forever strive to capture; but without the possibility of ever apprehending it absolutely. Thus the experience of absurdity is a guiding principle, an emphasis on the fundamental philosophical problem—it is the one stretch of social landscape in which we might keep grounded with regards to our perceiving and interpreting ‘the bad totality’.
There are some who try to explain sociohistorical-cultural absurdity; others try to explicitly characterize it; and then there are few who, without knowing it, tap into its centre and enumerate a truth about it. Some likewise stand openly in the face of it, some hide from and evade the experience of it; and others try to conceptualize its meaning. For the past century much of western critical literature has, through various perspectives and positions, pointed a figure toward it—at that elusive, sometimes explicit insanity of western society. But irrespective of our various ways of working toward understanding and describing our absurd social reality, that damaging reality of society, it is the awareness of it that counts most. Many of us have our differing interpretations, but each of one of us points toward a similar direction. Whether it comes on Monday morning, when staring in the face another interminable work week; or whether we realize absurdity in the face of the despicable degrees of poverty that line many of the streets of our society; or whether we realize that insanity of the human world through a theoretical critique of the most critical kind; absurdity, as I have noted, is everywhere and available to everyone.
Thus perhaps it is important to reflect on another key point: absurdity, the distortion of life and experience, is diagnosed firstly by ‘evidence that is sensitive to the heart’, and only ‘from the givens of experience might we each develop and exchange to make them clear to the intelligence.’ Of course we can falter and debate the differing of approach, but then we would be overlooking the very point which many of us are trying to describe. This is an important lesson. I read through countless text, countless research and countless critical discussions, and I see countless people struggling to describe the same thing.
Today, we even have various ideologies clashing amidst the more critical spheres of society. Yet in the face of so much unnecessary and meaningless semantics, the only evidence we need is that which strikes our basic intuitions, as that which arises first from the giveneness of experience and from our experiential relating with phenomena. There is no necessary requirement to justify the experience of absurdity; it is simply there, before us and begging to be heard. It is not necessary that we therefore refer the existence of absurdity to some sort of abstract or dominant frame of reference; we need not turn to one social theory or another to justify human suffering or our experiences with it. To simply let the experience speak, this is first and always first. Then, the awareness of absurdity itself, of an insufferable and distorted social circumstance, becomes the very basis that has and will provide us with the necessary insight to undertake the task of the delimitation of social difficulties, possibilities and limits. Absurdity, both as an experience and an awareness, becomes the bedrock from which a social critique might be anchored.
The purpose of any work, then, whose existence is centered in an absurd social climate, is fundamental to explaining that social climate. But in terms of the very definition of social critique, there is no one absolute framework or interpretation that can explain the total distortion of a particular sociohistorical-cultural state of affairs. Such an attempt would, in the end, be subject to the absurd. And that is precisely the point. Just as with our present philosophical expedition, we are working toward a multidimensional view of experience, of life, of history, of philosophical issues. A social critique offered from the base of this grounded and coherent perspective must acknowledge that it will suffice to simply describe with the purpose of achieving the evocation of a critique on a fundamental plane, while keeping to the grounds of experience. It is not necessary to try to construct absolute, one-dimensional systems of thought that want to explain everything, as they have only to become isolated, fragmented, abstract and esoteric hypotheses. Human evading, self-deception, distortion, deifying, totality; these are some of the central historical characters riddled throughout the plot of social absurdity. There is no denying it. But without the purpose of trying to capture all the knowledge of these characters as a problem, given that such a task may be impossible, it will thus suffice to acknowledge that the philosophical method of consciousness and revolt is one that is open, fluid and unfolding—it is an expression of experience first and enumerative of experience, second.
Historically, the biggest social ideological bubble thought to have burst refers to the death (or collapse) of god—that is, the collapse of the concept of god, which we read for example in the works of Camus. The absurd for Camus was, indeed, the gap left by God’s vacancy, and from that point Camus turned the experience of absurdity, from the grounds of his phenomenology that richly depicted sociohistorical-cultural values, into a metaphysical concept. For Camus, this collapse was thought to be the end all and be all insofar as the turn of humanity. But this is only pretence. God was no sooner replaced by Reason—and today, both are replaced of course by the economic Trinity.
Camus, to be clear, implies a larger metaphysical judgement in his considerations of absurdity, because ultimately Camus himself leaps to a metaphysical conclusion in effort to explain the phenomenon of the experience. Consequently, Camus fails to look into the social, cultural and historical fabric behind this experience. But this is not to say that the experience of absurdity itself should not be taken seriously. Conceding that a (false) universal judgement has no place in this work, Camus’ metaphysical view of the phenomenon must be done away with. To his debt however, there is perhaps no one other person who has singly described with so much humanness both the experience of absurdity and, in turn, a conceptualization of absurdity, better than Camus. This is why it will prove fruitful that we move forward with what Camus has historically illuminated with regards to the notion of the absurd, whilst also admitting that in order to come to a better understanding of the phenomenon of absurdity.
In this essay I am not interested in a discussion of the history of ‘the Absurd’ as a theoretical concept; nor is there sufficient space to elucidate entirely on past problems when it comes to the way in which Camus and others conceptualize the experience of absurdity into ‘the Absurd’.
What should be pointed out, however briefly, are the few differences between my hypotheses compared with Camus’. For Camus, the concept of the absurd is not only the product of the death (and, therefore, further back, the birth) of God—although, in modern times, it is this absence that constitutes its proximate cause. Formally (i.e. conceptually), ‘the Absurd’ for Camus is the result of the space left by God, in which the wholly disengaged, instrumentally rational, objective viewpoint finds expression. My position, on the other hand, is not concerned with any sort of metaphysics or, rather, the space which we have been left by the absence of God. Nor is it necessarily concerned with any sort of hyper-conceptualization of the experiential moment of absurdity. So while Camus posits ‘the Absurd’ as a point of emphasis, wherein he stresses our ‘consciousness and revolt’ in the face of a world in which we must live ‘without appeal’, I posit the absurd as that which has to do with the falsification of life, wherein the emphasis lies with our ‘consciousness and revolt’ in the face of a distorted social reality and how must live with appeal. The latter is especially important insofar that it is our ‘living with appeal’ that is the very definition of experiential coherence, of experiential revolt.
To his fault, Camus does not try to philosophically explicate ‘the Absurd’ and, in the end, it becomes an overwhelming metaphysics, a project that runs toward an indifferent universe and the meaninglessness of human existence (Sherman, 2009). Camus’ conceptualization of the experience of absurdity, which thus becomes ‘the Absurd’, is an abstraction from the actual experience of absurdity. It is so because Camus takes the experience of absurdity and conceptualizes it into a fundamental constituent of human experience, and therefore he seeks to make sense of what it means to live in accordance with its logic (Sherman, 2009). On the contrary, and again for the sake of marking differences, I hold onto this experience by keeping grasp of the critical-phenomenology of it and, therefore, offer no further outward explanation except that which is socially engendered in its sociohistorical-cultural context. For the ‘absurd sensitivity that can be found in the widespread age,’ which involves ‘no metaphysic, no belief,’ is not historically invariable (Camus, 1955). Thus while the subject of absurdity has been dealt with before, never has it been handled to the full extent as an experiential attitude.
It is useful to note at the same time that the absurd, hitherto taken as a social conclusion, is also considered in this essay as a starting-point. More concisely, the experience of absurdity is the beginning result that precedes experiential reconciliation. It is a beginning result to the extent that it is the breakdown of the distorted paradigm which dominates over the type of experiential relationships that are integral to the mediating subject. This return to the ‘natural attitude’ (phenomenologically speaking), amounts to the experience of a ‘clean slate’; because it essentially refers to a return to the ‘things themselves’, to experiential coherence as a functional mode of being.
Moreover, if we are to begin by conceding that absurdity is what characterizes the whole of contemporary society; it also means that we can apply ourselves to hesitantly attribute the role of the absurd insofar that it is, however generally and to whatever degree, a process of social ‘standards’ and conditions of resemblances in the very concept of western life that has become the stuff of our ‘existential projects’. The experience of absurdity, then, is a sociohistorical-cultural experience. This is to say that the experience of absurdity comes only from the basis of self-reflective thought upon the mediating moment of experience, wherein we continue to remain socially enveloped by the pervading and falsified contemporary state of affairs, whilst also acknowledging that this state of affairs is falsified. In some sense, it could even be seen as a product of our phenomenological freedom when pressed against the horrors of our facticity.
Furthermore, if we describe how contemporary consciousness exists within a chaotic wasteland, in a reified state from its ‘natural attitude’, confronted by the channel of a pervasive ideological enterprise and of social syllogism, then we can sketch the following picture so as to describe the experience of social collapse and, therefore, the experiential experience of absurdity:
Picture the grand mass of society, the entirety of its existing social structure as four walls painted in a promising colour, an even more promising ceiling and a floor that contrasts identically. In this image there is a degree of limitation, to reflect practically on the rationale that constructs the room and that protects it from the economic critique which lies outside it. All values, politics, reasoning, and principles are this room; it is the whole (although not the absolute) of our social reality. Over time these walls slowly decay (as history discloses). On the level of individual experience, they disintegrate because they are false, essentially errant from their first principles and therefore not sustainable. On another level, at the centre of this image is the individual (consciousness), who has (generally speaking) ascribed meaning onto and has taken meaning from within these walls. When the walls vanish on the level of experiential experience, there surfaces our first description towards a moment of absurdity.
The truth about the foundationlessness we feel, the ‘clean slate’ or barrenness we experience when smacked in the face by existent and falsified social phenomena is one that exposes one’s life (existentially). One’s meaning, values, politics, are brought into question. Thus everything becomes a spreading confusion. One comes to realize that most things in the grand mass of a totalized experiential orientation were a play on words, and to some capacity one’s life was spent in wasted effort. And what appears is nearly the whole of that totalized orientation functioning as an experientially blinding cognitive paradigm. In the very least, the experience of ideological collapse brings out the hollowed, decayed meaninglessness of a totality still moving in a petrified form: such is the definition of absurdity. On a more intimate level, through a more personal understanding as opposed to a social one, ideological collapse is but another aspect of the return of consciousness from its reified state. Thus, to follow the experience of absurdity beyond its initial realization is to surmount the ‘constitutive subjectivity’ behind our experiencing and ‘return to the things themselves’.
 It is clear that this is a play on the opening of the Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. In what I feel to be a critical retrieval of Camus’ thought, it was my intention to create an overly simplistic allusion to Camus’ well-known opening declaration in the Myth.
 At this point I might admit to myself that absolute, instrumentally rationalized freedom amounts to nothing other than a state of blindness, a self-inflicted mode of selective seeing which inherently moves towards the progressive emptying of my experiences. The more we are tempted for the benefit of a false sense of security to absolutize the world of things—that is, to absolutize the experiential identity of phenomena—the more the experiential realities of the world become distant to us. On the other hand, the more we evade and subsequently distort the world of experience, the more secure experience begins to feel. Hitherto, the more we close ourselves to the concrete diversity of the world, the more we open ourselves up to the absurdity of obscure doctrine which violates the intricate coherence of our lives.
 This paragraph is largely inspired by Adorno’s discussion in Dialectics of Enlightenment. Please see: Adorno, T.W., and Horkheimer, M. (2002). Dialectics of Enlightenment. Stanford: Stanford University Press; p.140.
 The original version of the text within this postscript was first presented in a 2013 revisiting Dialectic of Enlightenment, then later developed in my book on a Critique of Slavoj Zizek’s Lacanian theory of the subject. The passage has evolved over time, but its main insight is rooted in Consciousness and Revolt.
 It is, in fact, how we historically strive to secure a totalized experiential framework that defines the very theme of sociohistorical absurdity. In another way, the rational paradigm and its manifestly destructive effectuations is really only the face of our present sociohistorical circumstance; it does not represent the deepest dimensions of the fundamental philosophical problem. In time it will become increasingly clear that the very theme of sociohistorical absurdity, of a totalized worldview, has taken on many parallel forms throughout human history. Today however, our sociohistorical absurdity amounts to how we have indeed secured a totalized experiential framework (or orientation) in the name of the deified market economy.
 This notion of a non-conceptual ‘moreness’ is credited to David Sherman (2007), who first introduces the idea in his discussion on Adorno negative dialectics.
 From phenomenological freedom through to one’s emotional development, from knowledge (as orientation) through to one’s self-development there is an inherent and constant experiential process of self-actualizing. Throughout the course of our lives, if we are open to the world and to our experiences with it, we act as constantly self-actualizing, orientating beings. Just so, one’s phenomenological freedom like one’s emotional development and experiential orientation is always in the course of being self-actualized; for it is the very nature of the phenomenology of our experiences that speaks of how, as efficacious agents in the world, we are always unfolding.
 Although, in a later section, I will argue how prereflective consciousness and reflective consciousness are more fluid in their relation than what Sartre and a few others seem to suggest. There continues to be too much of an ontological distinction between the practical variation of prereflective consciousness and reflective consciousness; they are held as ‘poles’ rather than as a flowing, ceaselessly interactive relation.
 This is very much in paraphrase of Adorno, except conveying slight alterations to the general idea. See: (Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 2002; p. 54).
 Please see Ernest Becker’s: The Denial of Death (1973), p. 140; who also cites Leo Alexandra’s: Sociopsychologic Structure of the SS, Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry (1948), pp.622-634.
 To be clear, we can discern each one of these dimensions as follows: the continuous evasive distorting and the subsequent stunting of experiential experience in the name of an absolute; the manner in which we then go on to close ourselves from, and take an ‘objective’ distance from, our experiencing the phenomenal world; and lastly, how as a result of the above, we functionalize a mode of collective experiencing that lacks critical self-reflective thought.
 The term “mediating subjectivity” is credited to David Sherman (2007).
 I should like to point out that experiential coherence is also that, which amounts to our experiencing through the wholeness of our being in the following way: it amounts to the neural, physical, organic functioning at the different levels of consciousness, and optimal functioning on each level: well-being, aliveness; being bodily present, open and aware; an integral flow or interaction between bodily and sensory functioning (etc.). By experiential coherence I mean to describe, on one level, an intersubjective atunement or connectedness, wherein a dimension of the concrete (multidimensional) phenomenon of our attention is heard, particularly as our organic subjectivity is raised in all its dimensions to the same frequency as the phenomenon confronting us in experience. In this section we will look to flesh this description out more concretely—and, better yet, more practically.
 ‘The conceptual truths that are engendered [By Adorno’s constellation method]’, writes Sherman, ‘should not be hypostatized when they are “unriddled” by the subject, because they are as ephemeral as the moment itself (as well as the objects that they try to cognitively capture)’ (Sherman, Sartre and Adorno: The Dialectics of Subjectivity, 2007; p. 278).
 (Sartre, Nausea, 1975; p.134).
 This is largely in honour of Camus, whose many inspiring and penetraiting reflections on the subject of nature deserve integration. Please see: (Camus, Critical and Lyrical Essays, 1970).
 This collapse, which exists every day, is what I term as the experience of absurdity. And this experience, in which the slate of our ‘existential projects’ is wiped clean, implies the most fundamental dilemma: to seek out an experientially coherent method of life that in itself wants only to honour the optimization of our practical freedom and foster a method embedded in our initial projects that also take that freedom at the highest value.
 See David Sherman’s brilliant summary of Camus in his book, Camus (2007). For those who are interested, this work by Sherman offers a broader and more extensive examination into why Camus’s metaphysical residuum can be done away with, and without sacrificing his phenomenology.
 For Camus, the absurd is understood as both an experience and a concept. The conceptualization of absurdity, as born of an experience, is the more common understanding. For the moment, it should be pointed out that there are differences in the ways in which persons have turned the experience of absurdity into the concept of ‘the Absurd’. Due to lack of space I won’t be able to go into the entire history of why, for example, Camus’ metaphysical conceptualizing of the Absurd proves false. What should be pointed out however, is that the absurd is taken here as an experience that, in turn, becomes a concept only through the limitations of experiential conceptualization. It begins with practical distinguishing and goes no further than practical formulating.
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