November 12, 2012

Sri Aurobindo, Adorno, Levinas, and Laruelle

The Indian Condition from Centre Right India by Jaideep Prabhu: A version of this post was published on Niti Central on November 05, 2012.
It is remarkable how entrenched statism – and to a slightly lesser extent, socialism – are in the Indian psyche… Call it fate, or blame the vagaries of history, but around the time of the Enlightenment and the subsequent Industrious and Industrial revolutions, India underwent significant de-industrialisation and was ultimately colonised… The cost of missing an intellectual upheaval has been incalculable… There is no liberal tradition, based on individualism and liberty, in India… The institutional breakdown initiated by Indira Gandhi has taken a severe toll on the Indian political landscape. So what is the solution? I do not have one. 
Personally, I am deeply suspicious of anonymity, but personal dislike is not strong enough a reason to mandate disclosure. If dislikes were the yardstick, I’d also do away with poverty, socialism, war, and bigots. Sadly, it is not so. For all the “principled” opposition to anonymity, let it be noted – there is no such principle.

If the preference for an idea, the liking or disliking, strikes first, and the reasoning that justifies it follows, then learning more about the ingredients and mechanics of preference tells us about belief… This focus on the preferential moment, our liking or disliking, our desires, is unusual. It runs contrary to the main thrust of post-Enlightenment reason and science. But its role in believing the ideas we adopt as our own is, I’m arguing, necessary. If necessary we should know more about it. 

I’m working on a brief book on Levinas’s aesthetics that will also include some examination of his contributions to speculative metaphysics, philosophical ecology, race theory, and philosophy of art. The book will present what I’m calling the “darker side” of Levinas and is aimed at readers who would like an approach to Levinas that largely avoids redundant discussion of the face, the Other, and all the usual catchphrases… He’s a rich and, I think, dark thinker who deserves a more complex and diverse body of scholarship. At the end of the day I just think that there’s a lot more that can be done with him.

How exactly is Adorno to produce an effect in the world if only PhD’s in the humanities can understand him?  Who are these things for?  We seem to always ignore these things and then look down our noses with disdain at the Naomi Kleins and David Graebers of the world.  To make matters worse, we publish our work in expensive academic journals that only universities can afford, with presses that don’t have a wide distribution, and give our talks at expensive hotels at academic conferences attended only by other academics.  Again, who are these things for?  Is it an accident that so many activists look away from these things with contempt, thinking their more about an academic industry and tenure, than producing change in the world? …
Our most serious shortcomings are to be found at phase 2.  We almost never make concrete proposals for how things ought to be restructured, for what new material infrastructures and semiotic fields need to be produced, and when we do, our critique-intoxicated cynics and skeptics immediately jump in with an analysis of all the ways in which these things contain dirty secrets, ugly motives, and are doomed to fail.  How, I wonder, are we to do anything at all when we have no concrete proposals?  We live on a planet of 6 billion people.  These 6 billion people are dependent on a certain network of production and distribution to meet the needs of their consumption.  That network of production and distribution does involve the extraction of resources, the production of food, the maintenance of paths of transit and communication, the disposal of waste, the building of shelters, the distribution of medicines, etc., etc., etc.
What are your proposals?  How will you meet these problems?  How will you navigate the existing mediations or semiotic and material features of infrastructure?  Marx and Lenin had proposals.  Do you?  Have you even explored the cartography of the problem?  Today we are so intellectually bankrupt on these points that we even have theorists speaking of events and acts and talking about a return to the old socialist party systems, ignoring the horror they generated, their failures, and not even proposing ways of avoiding the repetition of these horrors in a new system of organization.  Who among our critical theorists is thinking seriously about how to build a distribution and production system that is responsive to the needs of global consumption, avoiding the problems of planned economy, ie., who is doing this in a way that gets notice in our circles?  Who is addressing the problems of micro-fascism that arise with party systems (there’s a reason that it was the Negri & Hardt contingent, not the Badiou contingent that has been the heart of the occupy movement).   At least the ecologists are thinking about these things in these terms because, well, they think ecologically.  Sadly we need something more, a melding of the ecologists, the Marxists, and the anarchists.  We’re not getting it yet though, as far as I can tell.  Indeed, folks seem attracted to yet another critical paradigm, Laruelle.
A centralized network is what we now critique as “transcendent”.  It was always a network, never a genuine transcendence (as in the case of Plato or theism), and never fully successful.  These networks were the medieval “great chains of being”, the Oedipus, patriarchy, and more recently systems of party politics or the Stalinist state-form.  They were machines that required all other nodes in an assemble to pass through one point:  God, the king, the father, the dictator, the president, or the party.  They were always a network.  At the other end of the spectrum we see anarchy or what communism should be.  Communism and anarchy are synonyms.  Sadly neither has ever been realized except at small scales.  This is the dream of all genuine politics:  a network without hubs…
A politics either aims to reinforce the power of a hub (reaction, authoritarianism, traditionalism), to demolish or produce new hubs (revolution), or to abolish hubs altogether in the name of forming a distributed network (anarcho-communism).  There’s really not much more to be said.  

A Tale of Two Scholarly Debates on Adam Smith from Adam Smith's Lost Legacy by Gavin Kennedy - A Response to Claude Hillinger’s “Adam Smith’s Argument For the Existence of An ‘Invisible hand’” Gavin Kennedy (Emeritus Professor, Edinburgh Business School, Edinburgh)
Smith’s assertion was confined to a modest quantitative arithmetical change in “annual revenue and employment”.  It concludes with comments on Claude Hillinger’s interesting, though ultimately flawed, version of Adam Smith’s supposed argument for the existence of an “invisible hand”.

Of transcendence from Love of All Wisdom by Amod Lele
Last time I discussed the relationship between the concepts of Ascent and of transcendence… A key feature of any kind of transcendence, it seems to me, is dissatisfaction: something appears wrong with that which one is trying to transcend. In Nussbaum’s transcendence-by-descent, one is dissatisfied with one’s own weaknesses and flaws. In an Ascent, one is in some sense dissatisfied with the whole world. But what if one is dissatisfied with the whole world in a way that motivates one not to step outside the world, but to changeit?
Such a formulation immediately calls to mind Karl Marx, whose gravestone reads “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” Such a view is at the heart of radicalism; it is directly opposed to any form of literal conservatism, where the point is to keep the world more or less as it is. But Marx is hardly alone in holding such radicalism. Modernism itself is radical: the celebration of the modern is a celebration of change, a break with the past.
But what I’ve repeatedly been noticing lately is the similarity between a Marxian radicalism or modernism, on one hand, and Ascent traditions on the other. Both aim for a transcendence of the world – because both hate the real world as it happens to be.

To the mind limited by the scope of our daily existence and understanding, rebirth is one among any number of theories, but not something settled. Sri Aurobindo points out that even from the viewpoint of the mental perspective, which weighs possibilities and probabilities, but cannot come to any certain conclusions, the theory of rebirth explains the facts of our existence at least as well as the other theories being entertained… The crux of the issue is whether the human being is a static creation fixed forever in its place, or an evolutionary being with dynamic potential to develop beyond the level of consciousness we currently are able to manifest. Rebirth provides a mechanism for dynamic development, which is not required in a static universe. 

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