Truth and the Social Culture
Prior to understanding the truth of the social order, we must first understand 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 and the singularity of the psychological subject. The social culture is the influences and vicissitudes of other men. It is also the intangible forces that man feels as a result of being in a society. The Psychological singularity is the unconscious source of individual identity. However, it is not identity itself, which accompanies the formation of the consciousness and ego.
These two elements, 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 is “humanity,” from a particular point of view; but do not be confused – this is merely a metric, not a reduction. It places you in a position from which humanity can be viewed and undisclosed in a particular way.
This metric 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. A fact is 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 particular perspective. From this perspective, man is an individual specimen; certainly influenced by outside forces; perhaps even, in some sense, compiled by them. Nevertheless, man is a metaphysically distinct entity with physical boundaries. According to some points of view, he houses a soul. If so, that soul 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 Descartes – 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 model of man is highly individualistic. However, it did not affect an actual distinction of the individual from society. However, it did cause a radical change in the way he related to it. The rise to dominance of the Cartesian worldview profoundly shaped this relationship. Rene Descartes sought out a kind of certainty in a truth which reduced truths to their designation. He employed a particular epistemic method which understood a thing by breaking it down to irreducible parts. Via experimentation, one would then measure the components in various ways. This method came to inform what would become the scientific method. It 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). By this view, man is a being wholly and primarily distinct in and of himself. Therefore, he is not an emergent truth at all. He is strictly an atomic (factual) truth in and of himself.
The Social Order as the Eventual Consequence of Cartesian Factualism
This is a radically individualistic view of man. It 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 dawn of modernity, the post-Cartesian technological scientific worldview has dominated the social culture; a worldview that Martin Heidegger referred to as “the enframing.”
This enframing is the overwhelmingly dominant force within the modern social culture. It 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, have an extreme sophistication of means; yet the accompanying sense of meaning is puerile. It is childish, both in terms of content and expression. The social culture appropriates humanity to itself by shaping and limiting the way individuals think. It is a direct outgrowth of the Cartesian method of thought. The implementation of Cartesian ideology is a self-perpetuating and progressively self-amplifying principle.
The Standing Reserve
Now, the enframing has alienated man from his essence; he now resembles a standing reserve. Therefore, the social culture, which is completely and overtly ordered along utilitarian lines, becomes deeply tyrannical. Within this system, there is a class of thinkers and a class of labor and standing reserve. Even the thinking class is no less implemented in a utilitarian way; functional lexicons sharply define the boundaries of their thinking. Like the activities of the laborers, these lexicons serve the interests of the social order.
Foucault on Scientific Fact
Even at the highest levels of thought production, 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. The Nazi government was an appropriating event which procured the German people. They were complicit because they allowed it. Even near the very top of the chain of power, men facilitated incredibly evil things; 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 (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, in radical Cartesianism, a kind of limited omnipotence; within what the Cartesian worldview will allow in terms of truth, very few things are impossible. However, it also narrows the scope of truth; 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. The social order selects and promotes him within itself. It draws to it men who will unthinkingly support it. In Thinking and Moral Considerations, she mentions the trial of Eichmann. “The trouble is precisely that no wicked heart, a relatively rare phenomenon, is necessary to cause great evil. Hence, in Kantian terms, one would need 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, the less apt men are to stop and think. Men are now merely biological gears of utility. The frantic demands of their daily lives make the ability to stop and contemplate prohibitively difficult; you rarely have time to rest. When you do, 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, there is no space to pause to reflect upon oneself.
The Banality of Evil
The habitual daily routine of doing explicitly excludes the habit of thinking. Arendt calls this “the banality of evil,” wherein individuals captured and promoted within the apparatus of the social order make decisions which contribute to its atrocities. This not out of sense of malice, but is simply 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.
Arendt on Eichmann
“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.”
The Social Order and the Banality of Evil
This describes the structure and essence of the relationship 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 the guardian of the house (man) draws being forth.
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
The Cartesian social order also shows up in the literature of the 20th century. For example, in Franz Kafka’s The Penal Colony, the officer is a literary Eichmann of sorts. The machine designed to execute men in horrific ways fully captivates him; 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, “dry” is an excellent description of the character’s personality), a “good” day in the Soviet Gulag. We see, by observing his pattern of thought, how the extremely ordered social culture of the Gulag shapes his personality and character.
But Solzhenitsyn grants us hope. The social order desiccates and assertively sets upon his thought and behavior. 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.
Human Resilience and Ivan Denisovitch
The mighty apparatus of the Soviet empire bears down on 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. The ego is the conscious sense of cohesive and idealized identity. The linguistic alienation from the subjective singularity causes it to emerge. 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. There, it exists beyond a priori conditions of space and time. It emerges thence 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
Here, we glimpse 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 it is the limitation that provides one-ness, comfort and protection. Conquest, power, and the addictive risk of death require defiance and freedom. These limiting vicissitudes come to define the norms of his thoughts, intentions, and actions.
These emergent and competing systems of limitation bring themselves to bear upon the individual focus. This 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 has always had a limited ability to project itself. Foucault discusses this in Discipline and Punish. In the past, the order had to resort to extreme and horrifically brutal means to assert itself. This was due to an absence of the means to assert itself in an omnipresent, global way. Even with the leverage of brutality, it had limited ability to channel or mute the defiance of the focus.
The Fully Enframed Social Order
The enframing has dramatically changed this dynamic. The fully developed techno-tyrannical post-Cartesian social order selectively channels or mutes 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 libido 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 has 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. The will of the social order fails to mute her defiance in the worship of the hero.
The catharsis of the joining of the hero and the enamored releases the death drive and suicidal sadism. The two justify to one another through the eyes of the Other, the appropriation to the linguistic will. The Law, which oppresses the life force of the subject, is shed as a dying husk. Nothing remains of it, except the brute force of the order, which has no bearing upon the transcended.
Once they have reclaimed the primal innocence, the hero and the enamored become a new Adam and Eve. They stride back into the garden wearing snakeskin boots, with access to the Tree of Life. They have metabolized and absorbed the poisonous knowledge and have attained immunity to it.
The Passions of the City
The hero and the enamored provide a pathway to overturning the omnipresent and oppressive forms of the social order. The ritualized celebration of Lacan’s “passions of the city” prevent the rise of the social order.
“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. Therefore, the passions of the city disrupt the emergence of the social order from the social culture. 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 to continue its inexorable evolution into God.