Truth and the Social Culture
Prior to understanding the truth of the social order, we must first come to a deeper understanding of what truth is. A truth is the essence referred to by a cognitive designation of something which is experienced. A truth can never be understood apart from that from which it emerges and is connected to. The individual man is a truth. That from which man emerges and is connected to is the social culture (the influences and vicissitudes of other men, as well as the intangible forces – both beneficial and not – felt by man as a result of being in a society) and the singularity of the psychological subject (the unconscious source of individual identity – but not identity itself, which accompanies the formation of the consciousness and ego). These two elements (the social culture and the unconscious singularity), while at work apart from one another in the emergence of man, are not distinct; rather, they are the extreme poles of a sliding scale. This sliding scale can accurately be referred to and understood as: “humanity;” but do not be confused – humanity does not reduce to this; rather this is merely a particular metric which places you in a position from which humanity can be viewed and undisclosed in a particular way.
This metric is the way which is relevant to the way in which I would like to talk about the modern man. The modern man is a kind of man which has been shaped by the culmination of a particular metric of truth characterized by logically and scientifically prescribed methods of establishing clear and distinct facts (and a fact can be thought of as an atomic truth; one which is refined to its designation, and is not tied down to the full scope of an essence). This metric of truth forms a perspective from which man is understood as an individual specimen; certainly influenced by outside forces; perhaps even, in some sense, compiled by them, but, nevertheless, a physically bound and distinct entity, which, according to some points of view, houses a soul (which is also, to a lesser or greater degree, distinct).
The Cartesian Factual Outlook
The architect of this systematically factual perspective on man as Res Cogitans and the world which supports the social culture is Rene Descrates – a man whose philosophy, in one way or another, grounded the work of almost every philosopher after him (with some notable exceptions – e.g., Nietzsche and Rousseau) until very recently. Descrate’s view on man, while highly individualistic, rather than making the individual distinct from society, in fact caused a radical change in the way he related to it, and this relationship was shaped in profound ways by the rise to dominance of the Cartesian technological world-view. Rene Descartes sought out a kind of certainty in truth which reduced truths to their designation, and employed a particular epistemic method which understood a thing by breaking it down to irreducible parts, and via experimentation, measuring them in various ways. This method came to inform what would become the scientific method, and has vastly expanded the scope of human knowledge of facts. When it comes to man, however, this method led him to a view of man as an individualistic, dualistic creature that consisted of two major, irreducible parts: Res Cogitans (the mind and the soul), and Res Extensa (the body). This man, as a being wholly and primarily distinct in and of himself, is not viewed as an emergent truth at all – but strictly as an atomic (factual) truth in and of itself. And not until the work of Freud (an inheritor of the Cartesian tradition building on a Kantian foundation) would any understanding of the subject as an unconscious singularity be introduced.
The Social Order as the Eventual Consequence of Cartesian Factualism
This radically individualistic view of man fails to capture man as an emergence of the social culture and the subjective singularity. This revocation of the socio-cultural source of the essence of man did not, however, in any way alter the fact of the actual existence of this dynamic of emergence – it did, however, radically reshape the truth of it. From the time of the early modern philosophers, through the 18th and 19th centuries, and in ever increasing pace throughout the 20th century, the social culture has become one which is dominated by a post-Cartesian technological scientific worldview; a worldview referred to by Martin Heidegger, a one-time student of Husserl, as “the enframing.” This enframing is the overwhelmingly dominant force within the modern social culture, and has shaped man (in terms of how he thinks, acts and is) in powerful ways. It is an organizing principle which orders man’s thinking, and his surroundings to strictly utilitarian meaning; and, absent an understanding of (or even basic curiosity of) the sources of meaning and essence, the ends of the utility have grown narrower and narrower, until man’s libido is finally mass-cathected in singular, monstrous ways through totalitarian government and other mass organizing forces, which, having ordered man’s surroundings and thinking, grasps a barbarically narrow sense of meaning, and sets upon man himself to be fully ordered in the same, strictly utilitarian way. These organizing forces, as mutated permutations of the social culture, are characterized by an extreme sophistication of means, accompanied by a sense of meaning which is puerile, both in terms of the quality of its content, and the insistent way in which it is invoked beyond question. The imposition of this social culture, which appropriates humanity to itself by shaping and limiting the way individuals think, is an outgrowth of the Cartesian method of thought. In this way, the strict implementation of Cartesian ideology is a self-perpetuating and progressively self-amplifying principle. In the end, having been entirely alienated from his essence, man is all but reduced to the standing reserve in a completely totalitarian social order (a social culture which is completely and overtly ordered along utilitarian lines). In this system, there is a class of thinkers, and a class of labor and standing reserve. But even the thinking class is no less implemented in a utilitarian way; the boundaries of their thinking are sharply defined by the lexicons that are developed around the functions of the social order (that is, the fully enframed social culture).
Foucault on Scientific Fact
Even at the highest levels of thought production – at the level of the academy – ways of thought are calcified in terms of fact – not essence. As Michel Foucault points out in the chapter entitled, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” from his book Truth and Power, the development of the scientific way of thinking, from the very outset, was an unconscious means of establishing a kind of thought dominance; hidden behind the manifest intent to uncover the truth, was a hidden will to power. This attitude toward the discovery of truth led to the discovery and implementation of scientific knowledge as a dominating force.
Arendt and the Nazi Social Order
At the watermark of the Cartesian dominance, the scientific totalitarian tyrannies emerged. Hannah Arendt, a philosopher and student of Heidegger’s, got a very close look at what was possibly the most striking example of this: Nazi Germany. In Nazi Germany, the citizens ended up participating in a truly monstrous state apparatus, simply by allowing themselves to be ordered by the enframing of the imposed social order that was the Nazi government. Even near the very top of the chain of power, there were men who allowed incredibly evil things to happen – not out of malice, but simply out of a lack of will to consider doing otherwise. Hannah Arendt explored the implications of this in The Origins of Totalitarianism and Thinking and Moral Considerations.
The Origins of Totalitarianism
In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt describes the zeitgeist of the situation (that is, the social attitude predominant in Europe after the fall of Nazi Germany) as being characterized by a dichotomy of “human omnipotence” and “powerlessness.” She describes “human omnipotence” as: “who think that everything is possible if one knows how to organize the masses for it.” This dichotomy is part and parcel of the post-Cartesian social order. There is a kind of limited omnipotence – in the sense that, within the realm of what the Cartesian worldview will allow in terms of meaning and truth, very few things are impossible – but the scope of what is thought of as meaningful and truthful is greatly narrowed, and so any aspect of humanity, which it, on the level of its essence, requires in order to be whole, simply fails to register within the projection that the Cartesian apparatus operates within. So then, there is, in a sense, a total omnipotence, and, on the other hand – in terms of achieving anything outside of the projection of the enframing – a complete and utter sense of powerlessness. This is the final result of the enframing.
Thinking and Moral Considerations
What Arendt considered to be the fundamental enabler of the tyrannical enframing was the unthinking man rising through the ranks, selected and promoted within the imposed social order, which draws to it such men as will unthinkingly support it. In connection with this, she mentions in Thinking and Moral Considerations the trial of Eichmann, which she had written about before, that: “The trouble is precisely that no wicked heart, a relatively rare phenomenon, is necessary to cause great evil. Hence, in Kantian terms, one would nee philosophy, the exercise of reason as the faculty of thought to prevent evil. And this is demanding a great deal…For thinking’s chief characteristic is that it interrupts all doing, all ordinary activities no matter what they happen to be.”
The Problem of Thinking
So the problem lies in the fact that in order to even be able to see that you are contributing to a social order which is building up to a murderous, tyrannical crescendo driven by a puerile ideal, you have to habitually stop doing long enough to think. But the more completely humanity has been enframed into the social order, the less apt men are to stop and think – because, having been reduced to biological gears of utility, the frantic demands of their daily lives make the ability to stop and contemplate prohibitively difficult; even when you have some rare time to rest, you come to a home, where the easiest thing to do is to turn on the TV and disconnect. In the comprehensive projection of the enframing onto the physical and mental structures of man in the social order, the pause to reflect upon oneself is never given space to occur.
The Banality of Evil
This habitual daily routine of doing, which explicitly excludes the habit of thinking, results in a phenomenon Arendt called “the banality of evil,” wherein individuals captured and promoted within the apparatus of the social order make decisions which contribute to atrocities – not out of sense of malice, but simply as the result of never choosing to buck the system, regardless of what one is being asked to bring into compliance, and never stopping to think about the effects of one’s actions – and worse – developing, as a matter of a natural-emergence relationship to the warped, ordered form of the social culture, the enframed mental structure – the mind of the “tool,” to borrow a term, of which both the colloquial and literal meanings bear a high degree of accuracy. “Some years ago, reporting the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, I spoke of ‘the banality of evil’ and meant with this no theory or doctrine but something quite factual, the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of weakness, pathology, or ideological conviction in the doer, whose one personal distinction was a perhaps extraordinary shallowness. However monstrous the deeds were, the doer was neither monstrous, nor demonic, and the only specific characteristic one could detect in his past as well as in his behavior during the trial and the preceding police examination was something entirely negative: it was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think…He knew that what he had once considered his duty was now called a crime, and he accepted this new code of judgment as though it were nothing but another language rule…Cliches, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us from reality, that is, against the claim on our thinking attention which all event and facts arouse by virtue of their existence.” In this passage is laid bare both the structure and the very essence of the relationship that has arisen between the modern man and the social order.
Enframing of the Mind as the Source of Power for the Social Order
This is the Heideggerian enframing of the mind brought into tangible form; the end result of the mighty Cartesian enterprise, which Descartes overtly and accurately appointed himself the philosophical tyrant of. Not only has man stopped thinking as a matter of habit, but the act of thinking itself, for him, has been fully transformed into merely and exclusively a technological process of logical wiring to fulfill, without any additional act of thought, the perceived expectation of the social order. This, as the passage described, is an overtly linguistic process, akin to Orwellian thought control. Heidegger describes language as the “house of being;” the means of thought, which determines the way in which being is drawn forth by the guardian of the house (man). When language is no longer a creative tool of the thinker to draw forth worlds of thought from the nothing, language as art is supplanted by language as a technology, and the means of thought are calcified into the circumscription of thought – the clear and distinct factual limitation of thought, alienated from the potential for broader truth connected to essence. This manifests to the ongoing trial of mankind as “clichés, stock phrases,” and “adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct,” which “have the social function of protecting us from reality” – which (reality) is to say: Dasein.
The Final Failure of the Cartesian Enterprise
So from this we must draw two observations: firstly, the final collapse of the Cartesian enterprise due to what is presented by its final product: man as fully enframed and intellectual-linguistically circumscribed automaton, and secondly, that there is an inalienable and essential relationship between man and the social culture from which the “Cogitans” cannot be thought of as being in any way clearly distinct from.
The Social Order in 20th Century Literature
Not only does the Cartesian social order show up tangibly in the tyrannies of the Western and Slavic worlds, but also in the literature of the 20th century. For example, in Franz Kafka’s The Penal Colony, the officer can be seen as a literary Eichmann of sorts. He is fully captivated by the machine which is designed to execute men in horrific ways; not because he is especially cruel, himself, but because a much more profound meaning is cathected by him into the operation of the machine, and the ordered existence of the colony than into any sort of higher ideal, or sense of connection to his fellow men. And in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, we experience through the mind of Ivan Denisovitch Sukhov (“Сухов,” the last name of the main character, shares a root with the word, “сухой,” which is a Russian word which means “dry;” and, in fact, there are few “drier” characters to be found in any extant work of literature), a “good” day in the Soviet Gulag. We see, by observing his pattern of thought, how his personality and character are inexorably shaped by the extremely ordered social culture of the Gulag. But Solzhenitsyn grants us hope: while his patterns of thought and behavior are desiccated and assertively set upon by the social order, nevertheless, after years of the most extreme kind of Soviet enframing, it is clear that the core of his humanity stands tall and proud, undefeated, unshaken, and unmistakably human; he finds small ways to cherish his fellow inmates; he finds small ways to assert his own values in defiance of the social order, and he takes an overtly supra-utilitarian sense of value and esteem in the products of his labor. The mighty apparatus of the Soviet empire is brought to bear upon him, year after year, and each day, he rises from his bed in the darkest, coldest darkness that extends for hours before the dawn, and he holds his head high – dried out and weary, but unshaken and uncompromised in his essential humanity, and stoically faces the counted days.
Humanity and the Subjective Singularity
We have explored, at length, the relationship between man and society, and now, in order to complete our analysis of humanity in its aspect of a sliding scale of magnitude, we will put down the telescope, and pick up the microscope; we will take a look at the relationship between man and the singularity through the words of Jacques Lacan in The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function.
The Mirror Stage
In this work, Lacan talks about the formation of the ego – that is, the sense of cohesive and idealized identity in which the linguistic alienation from the subjective singularity as a result of which man’s consciousness arises is situated. This process of ego formation takes place as a result of the birth of self-awareness, when a young child of about 18 months sees himself in the mirror, and, for the first time, comes to the jubilant, idealized realization of himself as a dweller among the gods. Up until then, the towering beings of volition and power that are his parents and other adults are inscrutable Olympian figures, to which his bewildered personal perspective is powerless and utterly subject to the vicissitudes of their wills upon him. Upon seeing himself in the mirror, recognizing in himself the image of God, a deep sense of rejoicing and a fresh, novel, idealized sense of power wells up from the deepest recesses of the singularity up into his tiny chest, and breaks forth into the world as an infantile laugh which stakes claim before the warmly witnessing world to the idealized ego as himself for the very first time. A new god is born – a new point of focus upon which humanity invests itself, and projects itself as a newly defined essence.
In this way, the physical image of his body becomes the imagistic-epistemic focal point of his identity, and for a brief, shining moment, there is an unbroken bridge from the singularity, across the unconscious morass up into the nascent, conscious ego, grounded in the gestalt of the physical form of the body. But this absolute coherence of the subject does not last for long. It is not long before the mOther tongue begins to alienate the ego from the subjective singularity, and the individual focus begins to rise from the microscopic, up the scale, through the castration of the intellect into the meta-mind of language to the cosmic participation within the social culture. It is in this way, that the mind rises from the womb of the Tao in which it exists beyond a priori conditions of space and time, into the ongoing, barbaric, blood-letting dance of the unfolding sequence. “This moment at which the mirror stage comes to an end inaugurates through identification with the imago of one’s semblable and the drama of primordial jealousy…the dialectic that will henceforth link the I to socially elaborated situations. It is this moment that decisively tips the whole of human knowledge into being mediated by the other’s desire, constitutes its objects in an abstract equivalence due to competition from other people, and turns the I into an apparatus to which every instinctual pressure constitutes a danger, even if it corresponds to a natural maturation process. The very normalization of this maturation is henceforth dependent in man on cultural intervention…”
Limitation and Defiance in the Social Culture
In this passage, we see a glimpse of the natural relationship that evolves between the individual and the society that he is in. The individual focus upon which the essence of humanity invests itself rises from the singularity of the subject into the pantheon of cosmic gods and finds itself at once one with them and at war with them. Soon, he begins to feel the vicissitude of the social culture, which, while protecting him, limits him. He comes to understand that one-ness, comfort and protection are found in limitation, and that conquest, power, and the addictive risk of death are found in defiance and freedom. These limiting vicissitudes come to define the norms of his thoughts, intentions, and actions. The sum of these emergent and competing systems of limitation which bring themselves to bear upon the individual focus is the social culture. When the struggle between these systems of limitation finds itself muted by a hegemonic vicissitudinal structure, the social order emerges.
The Unenframed Social Order
The rise of the social order in the past has always been such that its projection is limited in terms of means. As Foucault points out in Discipline and Punish, in the past, the order had to resort to extreme and horrifically brutal means to assert itself, in the absence of the means to assert itself in an omnipresent, global way, and even then, it was limited in its ability to reliably channel or mute the defiance of the focus.
The Fully Enframed Social Order
The enframing has dramatically changed this dynamic. The techno-tyrannical post-Cartesian social order is sufficiently advanced and influential to selectively channel or mute the defiance of the focus in every case, except in the case of the heroic focus, and in the case of the enamored focus, which is intimately related to it. “At the end of society’s historical enterprise to no longer recognize that it has any but a utilitarian function, and given an individual’s anxiety faced with the concentration-camp form of the social link whose appearance seems to crown his effort, existentialism can be judged on the basis of the justifications it provides for the subjective impasses that do, indeed result therefrom: a freedom that is never so significantly affirmed as when it is within the walls of a prison; a demand for commitment that expresses the inability of pure consciousness to overcome any situation; a voyeuristic-sadistic idealization of sexual relationships; a personality that achieves self-realization only in suicide; and a consciousness of the other that can only be satisfied in Hegelian murder.”
In the case of the hero, the cathexis of his lebido into the object of his desire, which is almost always magnetically drawn to the condensation of individual castrated desires into the meta-focal jubilance of a higher linguistic purpose, causes him to transcend himself as an individual egoistic focus. In such a case that the hero transcends himself into a linguistic condensation of will which opposes itself to the social order, he stands with his legs parted, and squares his chest, lifts his chin, balls his fist, stares into the all-seeing eye of the tyrant, and sneers, raising in his other hand, as a banner of war, the gesture which signifies the superior genitalia that have condensed upon the selected linguistic will to which he has become appropriated.
In the case of the enamored, the hero becomes the physical Gestalt of the linguistic will. The enamored is herself heroic to the extent that the will of the social order fails to mute her defiance in the worship of the hero. It is in the catharsis that accompanies the resonance established by the joining of the hero and the enamored that the death drive, and the suicidal sadism of the two can be released; the two justify to one another through the eyes of the Other, the appropriation to the linguistic will, and so the Law, which oppresses the life force of the subject, is shed as a dying husk, in which nothing remains of it, except the brute force of the order, which has no bearing upon the transcended. Once this reclaiming of primal innocence has been realized, the hero and the enamored become a new Adam and Eve who stride back into the garden wearing snakeskin boots, with access to the Tree of Life, and complete immunity to the poison that is found in the knowledge that their metabolism has absorbed.
The Passions of the City
While the hero and the enamored provide a pathway to overturning even the most egregiously omnipresent and oppressive forms of the social order, the social order can be prevented from ever arising through the ritualized celebration of what Lacan refers to as “the passions of the city.” “The sufferings of neurosis and psychosis provide us schooling in the passions of the soul, just as the balance arm of the psychoanalytic scales – when we calculate the angle of its threat to entire communities – provides us with an amortization rate for the passions of the city.” When the passions of the city find release, a disruption of the creeping dominance of the greater systems of vicissitude occurs. When this happens, the emergence of the social order from the social culture is disrupted. When there is, within the social culture, a habitual, ritualistic celebration of this disruption to prompt release which opens itself to the creative-destructive processes of the foci, the social order can never take hold, and the relationship of the individual to his subjective singularity and the social culture is allowed continue its inexorable evolution into God.