In an age of manufactured phantasms, of public hedonism and private fear, it is difficult to determine the impact social networks have on our understanding of the world. Let’s not get carried away and call it a Hive-Mind yet, but often times I feel as though I am a stick-insect or some cricket chirping in the darkness, one whose legs have grown so tired of producing a song that there is almost no point in moving. In short, I feel as though I have been reduced to some peculiar state of cyber-monasticism: I awake, pray, eat, go for a walk, dedicate most of my day to scholarship, study, my writing; and my evening usually consists of facilitating support groups for addicts, alcoholics, and the mentally unwell.
Two days ago, a kid covered in prison tattoos came into one of my meetings and sat down in a chair, hoping, it seemed, to get something out of the stories that were being shared. The problem is that the transitional group that I run (for 18-30 year olds) had to merge with another group, the adult group, because the room in which we were meeting was occupied by a bunch of nurses. Unable to connect, he left. Sitting there, continuing the meeting, aspiring to help those on Skid Row one day, I could not help but wonder how people view other people.
Neuroscientists, like Dr. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, talk about the existence of “mirror neurons,” that is, neurons that make up neural pathways which allow us, as subjects, to put ourselves within the point of view of another person. How do people copy people, or live vicariously through others? How do sports fans identify with their favorite sport teams? How do gamers derivejouissance from racking up kills as snipers in their video games? How to people empathize? Mirror neurons. Of course, there are evolutionary reasons as to why we emulate and put ourselves within the conceptual space of another subjectivity. We do it all the time when we maneuver the disembodied “ghost” of ourselves, within a system, as our own Doppelgangers on Facebook.
Point being, perhaps, the collective unconscious, pace Jung, has found a way to project itself. It has a interface upon which we, as constituents can emulate the features of consciousness. Have you noticed how there are all kinds of useless debates taking place right now—about human nature and the decline of the American Republic, the rise of a “New World Order” about the financial crises, about the corporate suppression of green energy technology, about the belief in God at odds with the theory of evolution, all those conspiracy theories about 2012 and the passing of planet-X/Nibiru? People dedicate hours of their time making videos copying the views of others. Yet, despite all of these ideas being discussed, I cannot help but concede that the many narratives that attempt (or have attempted) to tell the entire story of our species, respectively, on their own, and by themselves, also have an origin. I am thinking about Foucault here. I am thinking about historical epistemes, ideological and cultural practices embedded within particular historical eras. Today, it might very well be that the individual concerns of the “cultural elite” inform the construction of a common attitude: that one knows very well that the powers-that-be are torturing people elsewhere, so that I have the freedom to edit a fucking status update.
Rarely possessing any sense of self-criticism, the “cultural elite” often write boring pseudo-political stories about their boring, hip epiphanies about their boring bourgeois lives. Not to knock those people of letters or who are in the humanities altogether, but it is clear to me that some intellectuals, who value free expression and dissent, would rather actively locate the next Slavoj Žižek or Richard Dawkins lecture they can watch on YouTube, so that they can write their articles, avoid thinking for themselves and, instead, can adopt the view points of someone else up the meritocratic food chain. As Martin Heidegger puts it: “The most thought-provoking thing about our thought-provoking times, is that we are still not thinking.” So much for our glorious Hive Mind, a sort of buzzing, collective hindbrain that recoils at anything seemingly impractical or anything that might produce a change in socio-ethical direction.
Nevertheless, there is hope. After reading Brills’ The Rise of Latin Humanism in Early-Modern Russia (which charts Western European influence on the Russian government and elites up until 1789), I had an “ah-ha” moment. I realized I am interested in the metaphysics, rhetoric and history of our freedom.
To understand the idea of freedom, which is a transcendental idea (as it appears to my reason), the writings of Immanuel Kant, namely his three critiques, are indispensable. The Greeks, being theologians, of course, had “liberty.” They probed what “the good” entailed, what justice might be, what democracy might be: what it means to be political; what it means to be a being that posits claims to Truth. No living creature in evolutionary biology, no matter how irrational or ruthless, aware or blind to its own existence—can lay claim to the posturing, parading, and ubiquity of narratives within the manifold of its experience as we are. If we are Dasein, as Heidegger suggests—a being that takes a stand on its own existence—then it follows that the species that I am part of, as a Hive Mind, experiences the narrative of freedom as one of its ways of being in the world.
Why does the or any idea of freedom even exist? Does the idea of freedom have theological origins only to be later secularized with the rise of the bourgeois subject? Is it a displaced apocalypse? An unveiling of subjectivity itself?
In the tradition of Foucault, perhaps, it is time to study and re-understand the context of human freedom: to explore the origin, metamorphoses, and/or collusion of different narratives that derive from attempts to re-define the nature of our autonomy and supposed personal authority. Kant posits, it is worth pointing out, that freedom as coextensive with the self, (that it begins spontaneously, as if from no where); nevertheless, history have proven to subjugate or obfuscate the simplicity of this metaphysic and in its place, set it within an ideology and quantified it.
Freedom, as Julia Kristeva has pointed out, is the ideology of the West. It is thea priori, ground-zero for every truth claim, any critique, any modern point of view, no matter how godless, agnostic, religious, materialist or idealist. Modern reality, it follows, is engaged to freedom—its problems and its features. Debates in politics—about who gets what, when, and where—instrumentalize the rhetoric of freedom as the desired end that justifies the unpleasant means of attaining it. In this regard, freedom is given a God-like status in this day and age at the expense of a culture that embraces the ideology of freedom and summons it, in order to serve it as a self-referential selling point to those whom might have a non-Kantian version of what freedom is.
In this regard, perhaps, it’s time to re-read the theological and scientific paradigms that Kant tried to reconcile in The Critique of Pure Reason. Upon the foundational character that work, the epistemological limitation of modern anthropology was constructed. The nature versus nurture debate was born as well as other socio-economic, psychological, and evolutionary narratives. It is no wonder why Freud, Marx, Darwin, and Einstein would later define the cultural experience of the secular subject during the twentieth century. The self, replacing the authority of a transcendent God (a transcendental idea), became the imminent platform for all debates, thereby producing a multiplicity of narratives which attempted to properly contextualize our experiential totality.
That said, it would be useful study the development of modern freedom, as it is coextensive with the self, and see where it is or came into conflict with (co)-existing paradigms. What is the future of our freedom? Incessant lifestyle choices? The freedom to choose what book we want to order on Amazon. I often wonder if freedom is not a crypto-Protestant narrative. There is no better place to look for how this might be so than examinng the ideological points of encounter and departure of the Kantian subject’s (or secular self) with Czarist Russia, Southeast Europe, and Islam. It was Czarist Russia, it is worthy noting, that was the first to entertain, embrace, then reject Western Freedom (as depicted in Dostoevsky’s novels); it was Southeast Europe, “the Balkans,” that was the most religiously diverse region in European history (wherein theheyschastic tradition was born); it was Islam, whose Quranic law, with its own definition of a surrendering self, that outright rejected the freedom of the Western self, so as to prop itself up as an cultural counterweight to modern Christian armies (which were to perpetually later “arrive” at their doorstep in the modern period—leading up to WWI).
Although I am currently working on a Master in Social Work degree at the University of Southern California, one day, I hope to track the development modern freedom from the end of the Enlightenment as it transitioned into the Industrial Age (say, 1750-1871). In spite of technological progress, which mechanized human agency and “arrival” of historical self-consciousness, I argue all Western narratives in respect to the teleology of our species—where we are from, where we are going—adopt a track of logic that is governed by a coherence principle wherein one, often times, unknowingly, accepts and/or conflates two kinds of causalities with one another (theological causality and Newtonian causation)…that is, two kinds causality that are found in the writings of scientists, philosophers, and theologians that preceded Kant. If so, freedom should be understood in a new light, so as to subvert an ideological system that proposes to serve its cause, though perverts it at the expense of those who do not have Immanuel Kant as part of their intellectual or cultural history.
As Julia Kristeva writes in her book, The Crises of the European Subject: ”Kant’s conception is a nodal point in the thinking of Freedom, one whose genealogy goes back fundamentally to Saint Paul and Saint Augustine, then to Luther and Prostestantism. This freedom, produced by a causality of natural and economic forces. Thus Max Weber, in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism demonstrated the inversion of transcendence in the production of social goods. A causality governs freedom, and freedom adapts to it, even as it achieves its own flourishing, by dominating all sensuality through understanding that is, ultimately moral.” In short, as quantifiable narcissists under the umbrella “freedom” of the Hive Mind, we have become post-ethical slaves to an immoral and irresponsible ideology, which forces us to enjoy our own enjoyment by flattering the impulses of our reptilian brain.
What the “culture elite” should now consider in their endeavor to find new narratives that express the situation of our species, is to find new conceptions our freedom. If we are even free in some ways, how are we free? What can be done? If we are not free, and everything is learned by mirroring and biological determination, why not? Do we, as constituents of the Hive Mind have to wait for the technological Singularity to become individually emancipated? Do we have to partially reject some our humanity, that is, find certain parts of it inadequate, and opt to become cyborgs one day, and anticipate the chance of becoming literally “post-human?” What can we put in place of the post-human secular subject no longer making theologically-oriented decisions? Did the structure of the relationship of the immanent self to a transcendent Judeo-Christian God indirectly affect the secular narrative of freedom that reacted against Him? What if present day Western subjectivity’s transgressions, blogs, deconstructionisms, Dopplegangers/screen names, “ID thefts,” self-help groups, libertarian paranoia, neo-nationalisms, conspiracy theories, preoccupations with Western Buddhism, scarification/tatooing rituals, search for Higher Selves and/or non-Christian self-actualization, even the evolution/creationism debates, or the elusive rhetorical styles of reactionary liberals, originate from the inability of today’s secular subject to process the conflicting narratives born from the teleologies of 18th and 19th century understandings of freedom?
Causes Paul Rogov Supports
MindFreedom International, Alternative Energy