A similar question makes itself present in almost all junctures and lines of human questioning and refuses to come to neat resolution. This is the recursion problem, the point at which a dam must be artificially erected in order to continue the act of rationalist reasoning. It has many names with slightly different connotations that nevertheless seem more fraternally tied than differentiated-the a priori assumption, the axiom, the absence necessarily implied when Derrida discusses supplementes, and in more specific contexts, both the Big Bang and God. None can be justified except by the negative consequences and loss of forward direction that would come with their not being presumed. We’d lose geometry and a bunch of other stuff.
It seems like a safe initial presumption, given the small sliver of the totality of existence any of us is allowed to live in, the further limitation of our reliance on our senses within the context of this limited sliver and the limitations of comprehension and our own singular consciousness in relation to the processed data of these senses, to put any presumptions to absolute knowledge of metaphysical laws by human beings on permanent probation status. The implied problem in any text with phrases like “Let us presume (x).” There’s a hole behind the presumption, it’s always been there. We can’t really know what we’re missing, that’s the exclusive property and knowledge of the hole, and in order for human society and thought to progress we kinda have to treat it like an outstretched power cord in a cluttered apartment we have to be careful not to trip over.
This problem creates the more practical problem of leaving a certain uncomfortable but unavoidable looseness in the classic questions “How ought I live?”, “What’s right?” and related questions. On the final level, once the logistics and practicalities are considered, or sometimes before they can be considered with any seriousness, this question of when the recursive series of “why that?”‘s ends comes up and can’t be resolved except by ignoring it or cheating; the ultimate Kobayashi Maru, the Gordian Knot that can’t stop unspooling rope on either side, a series of colorful handkerchiefs tied together pulled from a top hat with no bottom. What’s called faith or confidence insists it must come into play; the world and our selves refuse to change without us stepping out of the room momentarily lest we actually see either naked. No one who ever claimed to have peered inside eternity’s trench coat has ever seemed happier for having seen the bared and dangling thing therein.
For the honest person of a severe rational character this can loop around back to a rhetoric of “science” that ends up as circular and self-justifying as the vocabulary set it replaced; that can’t answer the finer questions of culture with any more precision than an allan wrench can drive in a philips head screw. Our tools cry out more and more to us for attention in the manner of children; they desire constant assurances we love them and need them more than they especially care or are equipped for fixing the pressing problems of capitalism’s increasing irrelevance or climate change.
The easiest way to psychologically resolve the deadlock and make way to action, meaningful or meaningless, is in the shape of the oppositional identity.
The oppositional identity works a bit like the archetypal silent comedy mirror routine.
Each side of the mirror keeps making halting gestures, almost recognizing itself but wanting to be sure that the thing on the other side isn’t itself, defining it’s self and it’s course of action in the negative space of the other. Normative identity in the US is very much built around what one doesn’t do, for the reason the (insert “undesirable” element) does whatever this is and usually little other reason. Performative differance. The moments of recognition, the common ground so often sought by ecumenical organizations religious and secular, is in fact the source of antagonism and anxiety and when the energy to antagonize and worry dissipates, the source of peculiar absurdities.
Lacan claimed that the thing the patient actually wants when entering the analyst’s office is a way to hold onto their symptoms, not to get better. While Freud’s thoughts and theoretical work has been applied to group psychological contexts more frequently and substantially, it seems this observation could be overlaid on the current US scene and yield insight.
When the far left wants to defend the far right racists currently “occupying” federal land in Oregon on the grounds that action taken against the Bundy crowd would bode poorly for the left come…the revolution? OWS mach 2? I’m not entirely sure? Possibly nothing? I can only presume such a line of reasoning arises from the shared awkward flirtation with the notion of revolution on both sides, the bared fantasies of overthrow that have their uncomfortable and not just slightly masturbatory existence outside the manufactured structures of ideology, the empty space in the attic that’s still an integral part of the house. The far right wants to protect the abstract fantasy of “revolution” the way many teenage girls would likely cry if Justin Bieber ever got married.
What do these people stockpiling guns want them for if they don’t want to shoot someone? What common ground is desirable with what amount to domestic brownshirts? As a psychological phenomena, fascism is built around the absence of a substantial structure to temper pure oppositional identity; the idea of “decentralized” or “distributed” fascism, what would have sounded like an obvious oxymoron not that long ago, seems very much a possibility, maybe even a reality. The necessary logistics have shifted. As Stanley wrote a couple months ago:
Even though Donald Trump has not yet successfully built up a fascist mass movement, he has something Hitler and Franco didn’t, a mass media based on 24/7 cable news and the Internet. Germany, Spain and Italy in the 1930s had well-developed civil societies, educated populations, and conservative family structures, a traditional culture in touch with history the United States in 2015 doesn’t. An Italian or German in 1930 could turn off the radio. Americans in 2015 always have their smart phones, or their computers. Few Americans have any space at all outside of the corporations and the mainstream media. Ironically, however, it also makes the charismatic fascist demagogue unnecessary.
The thrust of this society, the guiding principle that outstrips the actuality of the large corporations and federal or state governments, is the belief that it’s an innate human right, for some humans anyway, to collect rent on other humans’ labor. There’s been a stewing slaveholder’s revolt in this country that has flared up repeatedly since its initial salvo in 1861. Human slavery of course has no reasonable justification that stands up to any logical scrutiny based in any consistent ethics; at the same time more literature has probably been produced justifying it in one way or another than on any other human question.
If the justification for this eventually has to come to its stark nakedness, public masturbatory displays, open carries, gloppy angry sentimental mush like all nationalism, to expect reason from a class purposely set out to avoid it lest they give up their privileges, we should expect some ugly shit to go down.
So long as this belief exists as folk religion, as the unspoken foundation of peoples’ dreams and the foundation of the wealthy who exist as carrots falsely promising the actualization of this dream to those beneath them, there will be flare ups. We should be actively trying to figure out what to do to curb and seize the massive private stockpile of arms in this country.