Fear and Loathing in Talk of Change

So I've been writing about the state of things and change and such for a bit now. And, usually, my posts and essays inspire rage of some sort or another. At first, I was taken aback, surprised by the the casual loathing of others (not here; here there's been passion but no loathing, thank you very much). But now I'd like to take a moment to reflect on it.

When I write — when I speak — it is at once emphatic and uncertain. I speak from a position but with the full understanding that positions are not fixed, that conditions change, minds change, feelings change. But I still feel the way I feel and so I write on.

But, usually, I write essays, not treatises. And I do this not out of indecision, not because I am somehow lame or uncommitted, but because this is the change I'd like to foment: I want the whole world to be less dogmatic, to embrace ambiguity and multivalence, to love multiplicity and sing in dissonant chorus, to embrace complexity and all that it engenders.

So of course I run into problems: the very terms of political exchange are premised on opposition. And I'm trying to speak outside of opposition, in the language of play because play, methinks, will set us free.

Part of the issue is that we're all beginning from different places, from different sets of assumptions. Me, I'm not sure what politics is, what people means, what capital denotes. Which is to say, I begin from a place of rampant stupidity — my own rampant stupidity, that is. But ingrained in this is the belief that we should all begin from such a place — a place that privileges the question over the answer, a place that is willing to put it ALL back together into odd, beautiful shapes that resonate.

And then there is the nature of this subject matter. It is run through with pathos, with sentiment, which tends to eclipse discussion. People find themselves all worked up — which always surprises me.

And then there is the nature of discussion. What happens when the terms of exchange are premised on oppositional argument and I operate in a discourse with very different rules? My favorite mode of exchange is the conversation punctuated by the monologue: You hold forth, I ask some questions, lend some refinements; then I hold forth while you question and lend some refinements. This way we enact a multiplicity of perspectives co-existing — which is precisely the change I'd like to enact!

Solidarity in multiplicity!


dg said...

When you are unsure, you are alive.

Graham Greene

Daniel Coffeen said...

Love that!

drwatson said...

I'm getting caught up tonight - been so busy lately haven't had a chance to post lately. Of all things I'm playing guitar in a musical that is taking loads of time. But anyhow.

I was thinking of two things in terms of the responses you get when this stuff is posted on the Thought Catalog home page.

One is Bert Dreyfus' book calls On The Internet, where he argues, using Kierkegaard, that the internet doesn't require the kind of risk that embodied communication does. And the other is Jaron Lanier's manifesto You Are Not A Gadget, where he says if he and the guys who were trying to invent virtual reality in the mid-80's would have known that the high point of the internet today would be Facebook and a big encyclopedia that they would have been sad beyond belief.

Both Dreyfus, who I'd argue isn't a luddite at all, and Lanier who obviously isn't, are pointing out the ability of the internet to make us say things without the risk. If I know you and I'm honest about who I am, I'm opening myself up for a conversation, an honest place where people in the open can be changed. If I choose to just post a vitriolic rant and point out a dropped comma or that you didn't provide answers to tell me how to live, I get to do something else all together.

The internet can be amazing. But often it feels like people are writing the way the curse when the guy in the other lane cuts them off.

I know you aren't a huge fan of Heidegger, but I found Dreyfus' classes that were posted on ITUNES to be an amazing example of someone doing real thinking. I'm a little jealous that you got to teach at the same place as him. And I think, just for the record, that he's kicking Searle's ass in their debates.

Jeff M. said...

But a "multiplicity of perspectives" means what you want it to mean only in the most facile way. Most of the time, it means this:

"Last month, the new Afghanistan parliament passed the 'Shia Family Law' which legitimates marital rape and child marriage for Shia Muslims who make up ~15% of the population. At least 300 women protested the law, with their faces exposed. Nearly 1,000 Afghan men and their slaves turned maniacal and stoned the protesters. Police struggled to keep the two groups apart, reports the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan."

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ DrW: It's a shame I never got to know Dreyfus in any way. For while I may not dig Heidegger, I dig people who passionately dig whatever. And Dreyfus sure does that....

As for academia and grad students: a) they professionalize thinking when thinking is best done by amateurs — skilled amateurs but amateurs nonetheless; and, related, b) they fear not knowing more than anything else. Everything is grad school was always, " So and so's notion of x." Rarely, was there unadulterated passion.

@ Jeff M: Not quite sure what your point is. If it's that multiplicity can include unsavory elements, I have two things to say:

1. Yes, of course. So be it. More righteousness is ugly and violent and imperial.

2. Just because I advocate multiplicity doesn't mean I wrap my arms around all ways of going. That would be absurd. We can establish a sense of propriety that is not fixed, that remains gray but that also excludes certain behaviors.

To suggest that one has either a strict moral code or embraces extreme horror is specious, at best.

Jeff M. said...

"We can establish a sense of propriety" -- but can you enforce it?

I am making my points specifically about politics. Maybe I'm missing the boat, but how does something like consent function if nobody is willing to commit to a vision of the good and take a stand for it?

Are you making an argument like Rorty, where the examined life is a juggling act between irony and solidarity?

Jeff M. said...

consent of the governed, I mean.

Daniel Coffeen said...

I never suggested the elimination of police or legislation. But imagine a legal system — much like our own — that accounts for circumstance, that is built on argument, not code.

I do have a vision of the good and I am committing to it: a multifarious world where difference prevails.

The biggest obstacle my vision faces is not the extremes of human mutilation: it's people, presumably such as yourself and certainly the militant religious groups, that believe there must be one vision of the good.

And I can't talk about Rorty for a variety of reasons.

Jeff M. said...

Well, I guess our exchange has reached the point of tedium. I don't really understand what you mean by difference. I have a vague conception of its meaning within poststructuralist discourse, but again I think the idea that reality is any way structured like language is false.

Probably this can be accounted for by the fact that I've read a lot more Frederick Crews than Gilles Deleuze.

Ah, come on! No, groaning. The slant rhyme is funny, right?