“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bad Acid versus Valium

Douglas Lain just posted something interesting on Twitter, something related to my book on causality. I was somewhat fooling around, describing the Obama years as like a bad trip. Like when you realize you are in a nightmare, very fresh and vivid. Man the last few weeks of “debt ceiling negotiations” have certainly been very much like that. In Buddhist terms, samsara to the power of two. Makes you see where you are...

Versus the Bush years, which seemed like heavy Valium, a woozy fuzzed out near-death dream of wrong. I remember the impact that Oliver Stone's movie made a few weeks before the election (good timing, sort of like a lucid dream). It was like, “You are in a nightmare.”

So Doug tweeted back that you just can't argue against subjective states. Now this got me thinking. I wasn't exactly making an argument, if by argument we mean deliberation or forensic analysis (in the old rhetorical sense). This was more demonstrative rhetoric—where art lives, the rhetoric of praise and blame, props and dissing.

Since however for me, where the art lives is the causal dimension, the difference between “subjective” and “causal” is nonexistent.

In a Kantian universe, definitely, we would not be able to distinguish subjective states as superior or inferior or whatever. We can only do that about empirical data and selves are not empirical data but transcendental facts. In this universe, aesthetic experience is real and tangible yet unspeakable.

Now in an OOO universe, this Kantian aesthetic is a little island in a larger ocean. The ocean is the causal ocean. For sure you can compare and contrast different kinds of aesthetic “experience.” Indeed, this accounts for how psychoactive drugs work in the first place. They disprove by their very existence the rigid line between subjective and objective facts. They act causally on your brain, that is, aesthetically, producing all kinds of phantasm. The way they act can be very accurately described and differentiated.

What we call subjectivity is just a causal event that “happens to us,” that we snatch out of the aesthetic continuum of causality and call meaningful, human, whatever. 

So sure, you can compare and argue about subjective states. I'd rather be tripping and awake with Obama than hypnotized with W.


Douglas Lain said...

In a recent conversation with the Rhetor and philosopher Daniel Coffeen (he's a philosopher if what you mean by philosophy is playing around with ideas) we were discussing Deleuze and how the old master privileged affect. I pointed out that there was something troubling about such a move as it seemed to open up the possibility that interpretations would ultimately come down to a struggles over and around social power. That is while public reason seemed to offer the possibility for arguments in some sort of neutral terrain wherein the peculiar unforced force of the better argument might reign, arguments resolved by referring to affect would come down to who had the social standing to define the mood of the moment.
For instance, if I were to suggest that you've got it backwards regarding Obama and Bush. If I were to argue that it was Bush who, by exposing the corrupt core of the current political system, untethered us from illusion and sent us into the realm of a bad acid trip. And argue that Obama works like Valium, lulling us into quiescence while he moves the center to the right and manages regressive feats that Bush could never managed (attacks on social security as an example) we would quickly leave the realm of debating our subjective affect.
On the other hand it seems that neutral, cold, emotionless public reason is impossible, misguided. So there is an impasse. If we accept that ideas already contain attitudes how do we then use ideas to debate attitudes? On what basis do we back our attitudes about these ideas?

John B-R said...

Doug, if you'll allow me, there is no neutral terrain. For humans, there's only neurochemistry. I spent enough drugged decades for me to be able to state that as one of my very few certainties.

Personally, it has never occurred to me under either Bush or Obama that anything even remotely psychedelic was happening. I will only note that life under both regimes has been as if the whole world is on very weasely stepped-on-with-meth 80s cocaine.

Henry Warwick said...

My preference:

No Bush or Obama and a nice bottle of wine.