September 17, 2012

Plasticity, politics, and unity of purpose

My own thoughts are similarly animated by this quest for the big picture. It’s why I have never been satisfied with analytic philosophy, which tries to solve philosophical problems by chopping them up into smaller and smaller pieces… Doull’s thought, like Hegel’s, does not do justice to the philosophies of Asia, and does not incorporate them into his mature synthesis, and for that reason I do keep my distance from him. Alternately, I do share what I take to be Ken Wilber’s overarching project of a global synthesis that does incorporate Asian traditions as well as science and feminism – but I do not think Wilber has succeeded at that project. It would be hard to call myself Doullian and I could not call myself Wilberian – let alone Buddhist or Marxist!
Being an intellectual outsider can be lonely at times. One doesn’t get a community of like-minded fellows with whom one sympathizes, whom one can turn to for mutual affirmation. It makes, I suspect, for a less happy intellectual life. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.]

[James Doull And The Philosophic Task Of Our Time Ian Angus, Simon Fraser University Animus 10 (2005) 1. Hegel And The Philosophic Task Of Our Time
In an essay published in 1973 James Doull defined the organization of contemporary society in terms of two principles, “an unlimited technical and economic expansion” and “the utopian confidence that men can live together in unity of purpose.” … 5. Conclusion: Self-Rule As The Philosophic Task Of Our Time    
The realization of self-rule implies that the Hegelian analysis of the relationship between particular will and concrete universality must be re-thought. The reflective, mediated, concrete universality that Hegel attributed to the nation-state has been found to have shifted its location.
Doull argued that this set a transformed internationalist and federalist task for a contemporary Hegelianism. The “state” in Hegelian terms is thus not simply the state (or nation-state or nations-state) of sociological observation. Pertinent to this rethinking is the observation by the great political sociologist Rodberto Michels of the “iron law of oligarchy” that attended the social democratic parties when they achieved state power and which applies with even less reservation to Communist parties. escaped only in theory…
If the apparently universal institution of the state has degenerated due to the failure to realize self-rule, it is also the case that particular will takes a different form than that assigned by Hegel. After all, the Hegelian task of subordinating science and technology to universality has not, as Doull’s cultural analysis demonstrates, been very successful.]

[On Ontology by larvalsubjects
A social and political ontology– every social and political theory and practice assumes an ontology –can be right in holding that norms, laws, beliefs, texts, fictions, and ideologies play a key role in why social-relations hold together in the way that they do, while being wrong in not noticing that power lines, sanitation systems, roads, water reservoirs, microbes, livestock, food preservation technologies, plant life, weather patterns, etc, also play a key role in the form social relations take.  In our political practice, this oversight, of course, would have important practical implications for we might find ourselves in a situation where we have successful debunked a belief and persuaded the majority of the population that this belief or ideology is mistaken, while nonetheless finding ourselves frustrated that social relations don’t change.  Here our failure to produce change would arise from failing to recognize that how things are materially related also plays a central role in why social relations take the form they do.  In its over-emphasis on the discursive in our political practice, we would have forgotten that we also need to arrange things materially in new ways to render new types of social relations possible.
The questions of philosophical ontology are very general and basic.  They are questions such as what features, if any, do all beings share in common?  Are all beings, regardless of type, processes?  Are they substances and what are the nature of substances?  Are substances and processes identical to one another (my position)?  Are being and becoming identical or distinct?  They are questions of what types of beings exist at the most general level.  Are all beings material?  Do ideal, mind-independent, entities exist?  Are there minds in addition to bodies or are bodies and minds identical?  Do universals exist?  Are numbers real entities or do they only exist in the mind.  If the latter, how does nature turn out to be so mathematical?  We also get the regional ontologies.  What is the being of life?  What is the being of art?  What is the being of societies?  Ontology asks what the nature of time and space is.  It seeks to determine whether all relations are internal (inseparable) or external (separable) or some combination of both.
It is often asked whether an ontology presupposes and entails a politics.  In my view, this is a very odd question.  On the one hand, it seems to hold that we should choose our ontology based on our politics.  That is, it seems to entail that we should base our claims about what is and what is not based on what we believe ought to be and what ought not to be.  So here, I suppose, we’re supposed to claim that nuclear weapons and corporations don’t exist because we believe they ought not to exist.  That is a peculiar position to say the least.  It is equally odd to claim that an ontology entails any particular politics.  If ontology is a discourse about being, and being is what is, how could it entail a particular politics?  Oppressive regimes are something that are.  As such, they must be accounted for by any ontology.  The claim that ontology entails a particular politics would be the claim that forms of politics contrary to this politics entailed by an ontology can’t exist.  It’s the claim that being ineluctably generates the right politics; which is clearly quite contrary to our daily experience in the world.
To be clear, the distinction between politics and ontology does not entail that an ontology cannot be contaminated by particular ideological and political biases… We don’t enter the domain of ethics and politics until we begin to raise questions about what ought to be.  While ethics and politics will be intertwined with ontological issues– insofar as every discourse makes ontological assumptions –ethics and politics are distinct from ontology in that ethics and politics select what ought to be, they are premised on a partiality that is futural in the sense that they aim at arrangements of being where certain types of being would exist and others would not, where certain types of events would take place and others would not, where certain types of relations would arise and others would not, while ontology does not make such selections.  Perhaps we could say that where ontology is concerned with the present and what has been, ethics and politics are modal in the sense that they are concerned with what could and should be.  We enter the domain of the ethical and political where we are actively trying to form being, rather than simply approaching it in terms of what it is.
Given that most of us in both our personal and social lives are concerned with being being a certain way, what value, then, does ontology have?  Ontology has value insofar as it is difficult to form being in the way we aim for if we do not have a knowledge of what being is and what entities are active in assemblages.  Without some basic knowledge of this, it is unlikely that our futural aims will amount to much.  For example, in the case of the social ontology that sees society as composed of beliefs, norms, contracts, ideologies, etc., it is unlikely that this ontology will get very far in forming the just society it envisions if it ignores the role that nonhuman, material entities play in the social assemblages from which we suffer. “Politics is a Field of Forces” by larvalsubjects
Politics is not merely the presence of things exerting force on one another, but is that precise moment where that field of forces is contested, challenged, and it is declared that something else is possible, that things don’t have to be this way. Making something political that was previously apolitical requires a lot of hard work… The politics is not there already. The whole point is to get the politics there. Politics isn’t a state-of-affairs, but is the moment of intervention.]

Sri Aurobindo outlines three conditions or psychological states that the seeker must adopt to carry out the transformation of the Divine Mahashakti. These conditions are consciousness, plasticity and unreserved surrender… 
It is especially important not to let the limited human mind, emotions. life and body restrict, obstruct or prevent the operation of the Divine Shakti in the nature. Since they cannot judge something so much larger than their capabilities, it is essential to adopt an attitude of receptivity as outlined by Sri Aurobindo here.]

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