Robert Pfaller interviewed by Kamran Baradaran, via ILNA
The ruling ideology since the fall of the Berlin Wall, or even earlier, is postmodernism. This is the ideological embellishment that the brutal neoliberal attack on Western societies’ welfare (that was launched in the late 1970s) required in order to attain a “human”, “liberal” and “progressive” face.
Robert Pfaller is one of the most distinguished figures in today’s radical Left. He teaches at the University of Art and Industrial Design in Linz, Austria. He is a founding member of the Viennese psychoanalytic research group ‘stuzzicadenti’.
Pfaller is the author of books such as On the Pleasure Principle in Culture: Illusions Without Owners, Interpassivity: The Aesthetics of Delegated Enjoyment, among others. Below is the ILNA’s interview with this authoritative philosopher on the Fall of Berlin Wall and “Idea of Communism”.
ILNA: What is the role of “pleasure principle” in a world after the Berlin Wall? What role does the lack of ideological dichotomy, which unveils itself as absent of a powerful left state, play in dismantling democracy?
Robert Pfaller: Until the late 1970s, all “Western” (capitalist) governments, right or left, pursued a Keynesian economic policy of state investment and deficit spending. (Even Richard Nixon is said to have once, in the early 1970ies, stated, “We are all Keynesians”). This lead to a considerable decrease of inequality in Western societies in the first three decades after WWII, as the numbers presented by Thomas Piketty and Branko Milanovic in their books prove. Apparently, it was seen as necessary to appease Western workers with high wages and high employment rates in order to prevent them from becoming communists.
Ironically one could say that it was precisely Western workers who profited considerably of “real existing socialism” in the Eastern European countries.
At the very moment when the “threat” of real existing socialism was not felt anymore, due to the Western economic and military superiority in the 1980ies (that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall), the economic paradigm in the Western countries shifted. All of a sudden, all governments, left or right, pursued a neoliberal economic policy (of privatization, austerity politics, the subjection of education and health sectors under the rule of profitability, liberalization of regulations for the migration of capital and cheap labour, limitation of democratic sovereignty, etc.).
Whenever the social-democratic left came into power, for example with Tony Blair, or Gerhard Schroeder, they proved to be the even more radical neoliberal reformers. As a consequence, leftist parties did not have an economic alternative to what their conservative and liberal opponents offered. Thus they had to find another point of distinction. This is how the left became “cultural” (while, of course, ceasing to be a “left”): from now on the marks of distinction were produced by all kinds of concerns for minorities or subaltern groups. And instead of promoting economic equality and equal rights for all groups, the left now focused on symbolic “recognition” and “visibility” for these groups.
Thus not only all economic and social concerns were sacrificed for the sake of sexual and ethnic minorities, but even the sake of these minorities itself. Since a good part of the problem of these groups was precisely economic, social and juridical, and not cultural or symbolic. And whenever you really solve a problem of a minority group, the visibility of this group decreases. But by insisting on the visibility of these groups, the policies of the new pseudo-left succeded at making the problems of these groups permanent – and, of course, at pissing off many other people who started to guess that the concern for minorities was actually just a pretext for pursuing a most brutal policy of increasing economic inequality.
ILNA: The world after the Berlin Wall is mainly considered as post-ideological. Does ideology has truly decamped from our world or it has only taken more perverse forms? On the other hand, many liberals believe that our world today is based on the promise of happiness. In this sense, how does capitalism promotes itself on the basis of this ideology?
Robert Pfaller: The ruling ideology since the fall of the Berlin Wall, or even earlier, is postmodernism. This is the ideological embellishment that the brutal neoliberal attack on Western societies’ welfare (that was launched in the late 1970s) required in order to attain a “human”, “liberal” and “progressive” face. This coalition between an economic policy that serves the interest of a tiny minority, and an ideology that appears to “include” everybody is what Nancy Fraser has aptly called “progressive neoliberalism”. It consists of neoliberalism, plus postmodernism as its ideological superstructure.
The ideology of postmodernism today has some of its most prominent symptoms in the omnipresent concern about “discrimination” (for example, of “people of color”) and in the resentment against “old, white men”. This is particularly funny in countries like Germany: since, of course, there has been massive racism and slavery in Germany in the 20th century – yet the victims of this racism and slavery in Germany have in the first place been white men (Jews, communists, Gypsies, red army prisoners of war, etc.).
Here it is most obvious that a certain German pseudo-leftism does not care for the real problems of this society, but prefers to import some of the problems that US-society has to deal with. As Louis Althusser has remarked, ideology always consists in trading in your real problems for the imaginary problems that you would prefer to have.
The general ideological task of postmodernism is to present all existing injustice as an effect of discrimination. This is, of course, funny again: Since every discrimination presupposes an already established class structure of inequality. If you do not have unequal places, you cannot distribute individuals in a discriminating way, even if you want to do so. Thus progressive neoliberalism massively increases social inequality, while distributing all minority groups in an “equal” way over the unequal places.
For direct-transfer bank details click here.
Abbreviate & reduce to lowest common denominator which is hyperinflation by today’s standards given that we are indeed all Keynesians now that leveraged debt no longer suffices to prop Wall Street up.
Welcome to the New World Disorder.
Screw ‘postmodernism’ & Chicago School ‘neoliberalism’!
There is no such thing as “post-modernism”.
The derided fad is an organic evolution of the ideologies of “modernity” and the “Enlightenment”, and represents the logical conclusion of their core premise: the “enlightened self” as the source of truth instead of the pre-modern epistemologies of divine revelation, tradition and reason.
It does not represent any “liberation” from restrictive thought, as the “self” can only ever be “enlightened” by cult-like submission to dogma or groupthink that gives tangible meaning to the intangible buzzword, its apparent relativism is a product of social detachment of the intellectual class and its complete and utter apathy towards the human condition.
The connection to neoliberalism is the latter’s totalitarian contention of reducing the entirety of human condition into a gender-neutral cosmopolitan self expressing nondescript market preferences in a conceptual vacuum, a contention celebrated by its ideologues as “liberation” and “humanism” despite its inherent repression and inhumanity.
The trend is not ts successor or opponent, but rather modernism itself in its degenerative, terminal stage.
“..‘identity politics,’ which pretty much encapsulate the central concerns of what these days is deemed to represent what little of the ‘left’ survives, plays into the hands of the neoliberal ruling establishment(s), because at bottom it is a ‘politics’ that has been emptied of all that is substantively political..”
Agreed. And the truth is that the message is much clearer than that of the critics, below.
So it ought to be for the world, sliding into fascism, in which we live in might have been baked by the neo-liberals but it was iced by 57 varieties of Blairites . The cowards who flinched led by the traitors who sneered.
So cutting through all of the verbiage, the upshot of Pfaller’s contentions seems to be that ‘identity politics,’ which pretty much encapsulate the central concerns of what these days is deemed to represent what little of the ‘left’ survives, plays into the hands of the neoliberal ruling establishment(s), because at bottom it is a ‘politics’ that has been emptied of all that is substantively political, namely, the fight for an equitable production and distribution of goods, both material and cultural, ensuring a decent life for all.
Difficult not to agree.
For indeed, “If you do not have unequal places, you cannot distribute individuals in a discriminating way, even if you want to do so.”
You’ve nailed it, Norman. In many countries, the left’s obsession with identity politics has driven class politics to the periphery of its concerns, which is exactly where the neoliberals want it to be. It’s why the working class just isn’t interested.
It must be fun to sit on top of the heap watching the great unwashed squabbling over the crumbs.
The world needs another put down of postmodern philosophy like it needs a Bob Dylan album of Sinatra covers . . .
I’m glad the article was short….I don’t think I’m stupid but too much pseudo-intellectualism makes me fall asleep.
Lol, especially when there are some galling glaring errors within ” too much pseudo-intellectualism ” …
Thanks for the laugh, maxine,
Let them stew & chew (chiu) on our comments 🙂
As with any use of an -ism though, you need sort the wheat from the chaff when it comes to using ‘postmodernism’. Do you mean Baudrillard and Delueze? or do you mean some dirty cunt like Bernard Henri-Levy. There is a bit of a difference.
Ok, so Levi is not really a postmodernist. But still, there are philosphers of postmodernism that were, and still are, worth reading.
Postmodernism: what is it? I defy anyone to give a coherent and specific definition. Not least, because the one ‘Classical Liberal’ philosopher who did – Stephen Hicks – used the term as a blanket commodification of all post-Enlightenment thought …starting with Rousseau’s Romanticism. So PoMo has pre-Modern roots? When the left start playing broad and wide with political philosophical categories too – grafting PoMo onto post-Classical roots as a seeming post-Berlin Wall emergence …what actually is being said? With such a depth and breadth of human inquiry being commodified as ‘PoMo’ – arguably, nothing useful.
Neoliberalism is Classic Liberalism writ large. The basic unit of Classicism is an individuated, independent, intentional, individual identitarianism as an atom of the rational (‘moral’) market and its self-maximising agency. Only, the ‘Rights of Man’ and the ‘Social Contract’ have been transfered from the Person (collectively: “We the People …” as a the democratic sovereign power) to the Corporation as the new ‘Neo-Classicist’ supranational sovereign. Fundamentally, nothing has changed.
As pointed out below: this was already well underway by November 1991 – as a structural-function of the burgeoning Euromarkets. These were themselves on the rise as the largest source of global capital *before* the Nixon Shock in 1971. There is an argument to be made that they actually caused the abandoning of Breton Woods and the Gold Standard. Nonetheless, 1991 is a somewhat arbitrary date for the transition from ‘High Modernity’ to ‘PostModernity’. Philosophers. political, and social scientists – as Wittgenstein pointed out – perhaps are victims of their own commodification and naming crisis? Don’t get me started on ‘post-Humanism’ …but what does PoMo actually mean?
As the article hints at: the grafting of some subjectivist single rights issues to the ultra-objectivist core market rationality of neoliberalism is an intentional character masking. Even the ‘neoliberal CNS’ (central nervous system) of the WEF admits to four distinct phases of globalisation. The current ‘Globalisation 4.0’ – concurrent with the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – is a further development of this quasi-subjectivist propagandic ploy. Globalisation is now humanist, sovereigntist, environmentalist, and technologist (technocratic). Its ultimate *telos* is ‘fully automated luxury communism’ or the harmoniousness of man and nature under an ecolological *Tianxia* …the sustainable ‘Ecological Civilisation’. Which, I would hope, absolutely nobody is gullible enough to believe?
Who says the leopard cannot change its spots? It can, and indeed does. Neoliberalism is a big-data micromarketing driven technocratic engine of reproduction …tailored to the identitarian individual. PoMo – in one sense – is thus the logical extremisation of Classical Liberalism …which is happening within the Classical Liberal tradition. It is certainly not a successor state or ‘Fourth Political Theory’ …which is one of the few things Aleksandr Dugin gets right.
This is why the term needs defintion and precisification …or, preferably, abandoning. If both the left and right bandy the term around as a eupehemism for what either does not like – the term can only be a noun of incoherence. Much like ‘antisemitism’: it becomes a negative projection of all undesirable effects onto the ‘Other’. Which, when either end of the political spectrum nihilates the Other …leaves us with the vicious dehumanisation of the ‘traditional’ identitarian fascist centre. All binary arguments using shared synthetic terminology – that are plastic in meaning depending on who is using the term – cancel each other out.
Of which, much of which is objectified and commodified as ‘PoMo’ was a reaction against. A reaction that anticipated the breakdown of the identitarian and sectarian ‘technological postmodern’ society. So how can that logically be a ‘reaction against’ and an ’embelishment to’ neoliberalism’?
This is not a mere instance of pedantry: I/we are witnessing the decoherence of language due to an extremisation of generalisation and abstraction of sense and meaning. That meaning is deferred is a post-structuralist tenet: but one that proceeds from the extreme objectivisation of language (one to one mapping of meaning as the analytical signified/signifier relationship) and the mathematicisation of logic (post-Fregian ‘meta-ontology’) …not its subjectivisation.
If PoMo means anything: it is a rich and authentic vein of human inquiry that was/is a creative attempt to rescue us from a pure objectivist Hell (David Ray Griffin’s “positive postmodernism”). One that was/is not entirely satisfactory; merely because it has not yet completed. In the midst: we have the morbid hybrid symptomatology of the old Classical Libertarian fascism trying to recuperate the new Universal Humanism …for which PoMo is a meaningless label. Especially if it is used to character masque the perennial philosophy of Humanism that has been dehumanised and subjugated by successive identitarian regimes of knowledge and power since forever in pre-Antiquity.
We are all human: only some humans are ideologically more human than others is the counter-history of humanity. When we encounter such ideologically imprecise degenerative labels as ‘PoMo’ – that can mean anything to anyone (but favours the status quo) …this makes a nonsense of at least 5,000 years of thought. Is it any wonder that we are super-ordinated by those who can better dictate who we are? Language is overpower and writing is supra-sovereign administration and bureaucracy over the ‘owness’ of identity. Its co-option by the pseudoleft is a complete denigration and betrayal of the potential of a new Humanism. The key to which is the spiritual recovery and embodiment of who we really are – proto-linguistically and pre-ontologically – before all these meaningless labels get in the way.
You said it better than I ever could.
Stephen Hick’s book is quite the laugh. I tried to read it but it made no sense. From memory, it starts at Kant and Hegel and gets them completely wrong, (he even draws little charts with their ideas in tabulated form, WTF?) so I quickly deleted the .pdf. Any book that begins with a summary of these two philosophers and then thinks they can hold my attention until they get to their take on ‘postmodernism’ is sorely mistaken. Postmodernism is a made up label for about four or five French intellectuals in the 1970’s that somehow took over the world and completely fucked it up. Why do I somehow not follow this line of ‘thought’?
No, Postmodernism is a real thing, it is the capitalist assimilation of situationism to overcome the crisis of profit in the 70s caused by overproduction and the attempt by the 1% to recapture a greater a greater % of GDP that they had lost due to the post war settlement. This was an increasingly a zero sum game economy after Germany and Japan had rebuilt their manufacturing capacity, with the US constrained by a widening trade deficit and the cost of the cold and Vietnam war increasing US debt. The inflation spikes in the 70s is only reflective of these competing demands.
The problem of modernism is than peoples needs are easily saited, particularly in conditions of overproduction. Postmodern production is all about creating virtual needs that are unsatisfied. The desire for status or belonging or identity are infinite, and overcomes the dead time of ‘valourisation’ (time taken for investment to turn into profit) of capital by switching to virtual production of weightless capitalism. The creation of ‘intangible asset’s such as trade marks, while off shoring production is central. This is a form of rentier extraction, as the creation of a trade mark creates no real value if you have offshored not only production but R&D to China. This is why fiance, and free movement of capital supported by monetary policy and independent central banks are central to Postmodern neo-liberal production. The problem being that intangible assets are easy to replace and require monopoly protection supported by a Imperial hegemon to maintain rentier extraction. Why does China need a US or UK trade mark of products where both innovation and production increasingly come from China? How long can the US as a diminishing empire maintain rentier extraction at the point of a military it increasingly cannot afford, particularly against a military and economic superpower like China? It is no accident US companies that have managed to monetise internet technologies are monopolies, google, microsoft, Apple. An operating system for example has a reproduction cost of zero, the same can be said of films or music, so the natural price is zero, only a monopoly maintains profit.
The connection to situationism is the cry of May 68 ‘Make your dreams reality’, which was marketised by making peoples dreams very interesting ones about fitted kitchens, where even ‘self actualisation was developed into a product, where even ones own body identity became a product to be developed at a price. This is at the extreme end of Marxist alienation as not only work or the home becomes alienated, but the body itself.
David Harvey covers some of this quite well in his “The condition of Postmodernity”. Adam Curtis also covers quite well in ‘The Trap’ and the ‘Century of the self’.
I’m inclined to agree with everything you write. It would fall into what I called ‘precisification’ and actual definition. What you describe is pure Baudrillard: that capitalism reproduces as a holistic system of objects …that we buy into without ever satisfying the artificial advertorial need to buy. What we actually seek is a holism of self that cannot be replaced by a holism of objects …hence an encoded need for dissatisfaction articulated as dissatisfaction …a Hyperrealism of the eternally desiring capitalist subject. But Baudrillard rejected the label too.
What I was pointing out was the idea of ‘contested concept’. Sure, if we define terms, let’s use it. Without that pre-agreed defintion: the term is meaningless. As are many of our grandiloquent ideas of ‘Democracy’, ‘Freedom’, ‘Prosperity’, and especially ‘Peace’. Language is partisan and polarised. Plastic words like ‘change’ can mean anything …and intentionally do. And the convention of naming creates its own decoherence sequence. What follows ‘postmodernism’? Post-humanism is an assault on sense and meaning. As is the current idea that “reality is the greatest illusion of all”.
We are having a real communication breakdown due to the limitations of the language and out proliferation of beliefs. Baudrillard also anticipated the involution and implosion of the Code. He was speaking from a de Saussurian (semiologic) perspective. Cognitive Linguistics makes this ever more clear. Language is maninly frames and metaphors. Over expand them over too many cognitive domains: and the sense and meaning capability is diluted toward meaninglessnes – where reality is no longer real. This puts us in the inferiorised position of having our terms – and thus our meaning – dictated by a cognitive elite …a linguistic ‘noocracy’ (which is homologous with the plutocracy – who can afford private education).
Capitalism itself is a purely linguistic phenomena: which is so far off the beaten track I’m not even going to expand on it. Except to say: that a pre-existing system of objects giving rise to a separate system of thoughts – separate objectivity and subjectivity – is becoming less tenable to defend. I’d prefer to think in terms of ’embodiment’ and ‘disembodiment’ rather than distinct historical phases. And open and closed cognitive cycles rather than discreet psycholgical phases. We cannot be post-humans if we never embodied our humanism fully. And we cannot be be post-modern when we have never fully lived in the present …having invented a disembodied reality without us in it, which we proliferated trans-historically …the so-called ‘remembered present’.
Language and our ideas of reality are close-correlates – I would argue very close correlates. They are breaking down because language and realism are disembodied …which, in itself is ludicrous to say. But we have inherited and formalised an idealism that is exactly that. Meaning resides in an immaterial intellect in an intangible mind floating around in an abstract neo-Platonic heaven …waiting for Reason to concur with it. Which is metaphysical bullshit, but it is also the foundation of culture and ‘Realism’. Which makes my position ‘anti-Realist’. Can you see my problem with socio-philosophical labels now!? They can carry sense if used carefully, as you did. In general discourse they mean whatever they want to mean. Which generally means they will be used against you.
“the SPIRITUAL RECOVERY and embodiment of who we really are – PROTO-LINGUISTICALLY and PRE-ONTOLOGICALLY – BEFORE all these MEANINGLESS LABELS get in the way.”
Thanks BigB. I just took the liberty to add emphasis.
Smarty pants (label).
A reply to the article worthy of another Off-G article (or perhaps a book) which would include at a minimum the importance of non-dualistic thinking, misuse of language in the creation of MSM and government narratives and the need to be conscious of living life from time to time while we talk about it. Thankyou, BigB.
Don’t you love how all these people discuss postmodernism without ever bothering to define what it is. How confused. Hicks and Peterson see postmodernists as Neo-Marxists and this guy sees them as Neoliberals. None of the main theorists that have been associated with Postmodernism and Post-Structuralism and I’m thinking Derrida, Baudrillard and Foucault here (not that I see Foucault as really belonging in the group) would not even accept the term ‘postmodernism’ as they would see it as an inappropriate form of stereo-typography with no coherent meaning or definition and that presupposing that one can simply trade such signifiers in ‘transparent’ communication and for us all to think and understand the same thing that ‘postmodernism’ as a body of texts and ideas might be ‘constituted by’ is a large part of the problem under discussion. I often think that a large question that arises from Derrida’s project is not to study communication as such but to study and understand miss-communication and how and why it comes about and what is involved in our misunderstandings. If people don’t get that about ‘postmodern’ and post-structuralist theories then they’ve not understood any thing about it.
You are absolutely right: the way we think in commodities of identities – as huge generalizations and blanket abstractions – tends toward grand narration and meaninglessness. Which is at once dehumanising, ethnocentric, exceptionalist, imperialist …in a way that favours dominion and overpower. All these tendencies are encoded in the hierarchical structures of the language – as “vicious” binary constructivisms. In short, socio-linguistic culture is a regime of overpower and subjugation. One that is “philosopho-political” and hyper-normalises our discrimination.
Deleuze went further when he said language is “univocal”. We only have one equiprimordial concept of identity – Being. It is our ontological primitive singularity of sense and meaning. Everything we identity – as “Difference” – is in terms of Being (non-Being is it’s binary mirror state) …as an object with attributes (substances). Being is differentiated into hierarchies (the more attributes, the more “substantial”- the ‘greater’ the being) …which are made “real” by “Repetition” …hence Difference and Repetition. The language of Dominion, polarization, and overpower is a reified “grand ontological narrative” constructivism. One dominated by absolutised conceptual Being. That’s all.
[One in which we are naturally inferiorised in our unconscious relationship of being qua Being …in which we are dominated by a conceptual “Oedipal Father” – the singularity of the Known – but that’s another primal ‘onto-theocratic’ narrative …the grandest of then all].
One that we are born and acculturated into. Which the majority accept and never question. How many people question not just their processes of thought …but the structure of their processes of thought? A thought cannot escape its own structure …and that structure is inherently dominative. If not in it’s immediacy …then deferred somewhere else via a coduit of systemic violence …structured as a “violent hierarchy” of opposition and Othering.
Which is the ultimate mis-communication of anything that can be said to be “real” …non-dominative, egalitarian, empathic, etc. Which, of course, if we realise the full implications …we can change the way we think and the “naturalised” power structures we collectively validate.
When people let their opinions be formed for them, and commodify Romanticism, German Idealism, Marxism, Phenomenology, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Existentialism, etc as the pseudo-word “PoMo” – only to dismiss it …they are unbeknowingly validating the hegemony of power and false-knowledge over. Then paradoxically using those binary power structures to rail about being dominated!
Those linguistic power structures dominate politics too. The “political unconscious” is binary and oppositional which tends toward negation and favours the status quo …but how many people think in terms of the psychopolitical and psycholinguistic algorithms of power and politics?
Derrida’s project is now our project and it has hardly yet begun. Not least because cognitive linguistics were unkown to Derrida. That’s how knowledge works …by contemporising and updating previous knowledge …from Structuralism to Post-Structuralism to …
…Nihilating anything that can be called “PoMo” (including that other pseudo-label “Cultural Marxism”) condemns us to another 200 years of Classical Liberalism …which should be enough impetus to compel everyone to embrace the positive aspects of PoMo! Especially post-post-structuralism …that stupid naming convention again…
I think a lot of people forget that both Derrida and Baudrillard died before the financial crisis. I don’t think either of them like myself at that time paid much attention to economics and markets as they worked within very specific and focused fields. Derrida spent his whole life analysing phonocentrism and logocentrism throughout the history of philosophy and Baudrillard was more a cultural sociologist then anything else. They like most people assumed that neoliberalism was working and they enjoyed well paid jobs and great celebrity so they didn’t have much cause to pay that much attention to politics. Following the Invasion of Iraq Derrida did come out very strongly against the US calling it the biggest and most dangerous rogue state in the world and he cited and quoted Chomsky’s excellent work. We should also include the UK as the second biggest rogue state.
Once the GFC happened I realized that my knowledge on those subjects was virtually zero and I have since spent years looking at them all very closely. I think Derrida and Baudrillard would have become very political following the GFC and even more so now given current events with the yellow vests in France. Shame those two great thinkers died before all the corruption of neoliberalism was finally revealed. I believe that would have had a great deal to say about it Derrida at least was a very moral and ethical man.
I think you would like this essay if you have not read it already.
There’s a good video by Cuck Philosophy on YouTube covering control societies below.
If anyone wants a good overview of postmodernism and post-structuralism Cuck philosophy has has some excellent videos covering the subject matter and ideas. He explains how postmodernism has nothing to do with identity politics and shows how Hick and Peterson have fundamentally misunderstood postmodernism. He also has 3 videos covering postmodern basics and some others on Derrida and Baudrillard. You will not find the concepts explained better though one can never give a comprehensive review as such things are essentially beyond us.
He puts too much weight on Foucault for my liking but that’s just the fact that my understanding of postmodernism is obviously different to his because all of our largely chance encounters with different texts at different times, which mean that we all come away with slightly different ideas about what these things might mean at any given time. Even in relation to differences in our own ideas from day to day or year to year.
Yes, that’s why I mentioned the article in relation to your earlier comment. I don’t think any of these philosophers would have changed their stances based on the events 20 or 30 post their deaths. They essentially predicted the course that society has taken.
Judith Butler took part in the occupy wall street movement and she’s a post-structuralist so she has clearly changed her mind since the GFC. Deleuze may have to a certain extent have predicted such things but that doesn’t necessarily mean they would have been happy about them. Derrida always spoke of the ‘democracy’ to come. Instead what we are looking forward to is tech based technocratic totalitarianism. I don’t go along with Deleuze on that matter anyway. I don’t see a discreet transition from one to the other but rather see us having to endure the combined worst of both scenarios.
In relation to Peterson. I did write an email to him once and he wrote back to me saying he does indeed like the writings of Deleuze and Baudrillard. But it was a one line response. I’m still assuming he merely uses a false reading of Derrida as a prop to advance his own arguments.
Peterson doesn’t understand that postmodernism is not the source of identity politics or cultural marxism. That source is Anglo sociology. I was doing an MSc in sociology back in 1994/95 and they had been transitioning away from Marx and class conflict to Nietzsche and power conflicts understood within a very simplistic definition of power as a simple binary opposition of forces between and ‘oppressor’ and a ‘resistor’.
They borrow a bit from Foucault but they cannot accept his postmodern conclusions as power is necessarily revealed as a positive force that actually constructs us all: in which case one cannot really object to it on political grounds. Let’s face it, these cultural ex-Marxists (now actually an elitist Nietzschean ubermench) don’t seem to object to power’s miss-functioning at all on any kind of institutional level but solely concentrate on supposed power relations at the personal level.
That’s all if you buy into ‘power’at all as such. Baudrillard wrote ‘Forget Foucault’ and that ‘the more one sees power everywhere the less one is able to speak thereof’. I try and stay clear of any theory that tries to account for everything with a single concept or perspective as they end up over-determining and reductionist.
A major benefit (for the elites) of postmodernism is its epistemological relativism, which denies the fundamentally important commitments to objectivity, to facts and evidence. This results in the absurd situation where all the matters is the narrative. This obvious fact is partially obscured by the substitution of emotion for evidence and logic. https://viewsandstories.blogspot.com/2018/06/emotion-substitutes-for-evidence-and.html
Yup. Among other things, po-mo ‘theory’ enables Orwell’s doublethink.
This is exactly the misunderstanding of a mythical “po-mo ‘theory'” – if such a thing exists – that I am getting at. ‘Po-mo theory’ is in fact a modernity/postmodernity hybrid theory. Pomo theory is yet to emerge.
For instance: Derrida talked of the ‘alterity’ of language and consciousness that was neither subjectivist nor objectivist. He also spoke of ‘inversion/subversion’ – where one bipolar oppositional term becomes the new dominant …ie ‘black over white’ or ‘female over male’. This, he made specifically clear, was just as violent a domination as the old normal. How is this enabling ‘doublethink’.
If you actually study where Derrida, Baudrillard, Deleuze; etc where taking their ‘semiotics’ …it was to the ‘Middle Way’ of language – much the same destination as Buddhism. This is the clear and precise non-domination of either extreme of language. Only, they never supplied the praxis; and their followers and denigrators where not as prescient.
There is so much more to come from de Saussurian/Piercian semiotics and Bergsonian/Whiteheadian process philosophy. We have barely scratched the surface. One possibility is the fabled East/West synthesis of thought that quantum physics and neuroscience hint at.
What yo do not realise is that our true identity is lost in the language. Specifically: the Law of Identity and the Law of the Excluded Middle of our current Theory of Mind prevent the understanding of consciousness. To understand why you actually have to read and understand the linguistic foundations of the very theory you have just dismissed.
“Specifically: the Law of Identity and the Law of the Excluded Middle of our current Theory of Mind prevent the understanding of consciousness.”
Yes, but. What do you mean by “our current Theory of Mind”?
Was that a promo for Po-mo theory, BigB ? (chuckle)
In fact: if followed through – PoMo leads to the point of decoherence of all narrative constructivism. Which is the same point the Buddhist Yogacara/Madhyamaka synthesis leads to. Which is the same point quantum physics and contemporary cognitive neuroscience leads to. The fact of a pre-existent, mind-independent, objective ground for reality is no longer tenable. Objectivism is dead. But so is subjectivism.
What is yet to appear is a coherent narrative that accommodates this. Precisely because language does not allow this. It is either subjectivism or objectivism …tertium non datur – a third is not given. It is precisely within the excluded middle of language that the understanding of consciouness lies. The reason we have an ontological cosmogony without consciousness lies precisely in the objectification and commodification of language. All propositions and narratives are ultimately false …especially this one.
Crucially, just because we cannot create a narrative construction or identity for ‘reality’ – does not mean we cannot experience ‘reality’. Which is what a propositional device like a Zen koan refers to …
All linguistic constructivism – whether objective or subjective – acts as a covering of reality. We take the ontological narrative imaginary for the real …’abhuta-parikalpa’. Both object and subject are pratitya-samutpada – co-evolutionary contingent dependendencies. The disjunction of all dualities via ersatz spatio-temporality creates Samsara. The ending of Samsara is the ending and re-uniting of all falsely dichotomised binary definitions. About which: we can say precisely nothing.
Does this mean language is dead? No way. Language is there for the reclamation by understanding its superimpositional qualitiy (upacara). A metaphoric understanding that George Lakoff has reached with Mark Johnston …totally independently of Buddhism. I call it ‘poetic objectivism’ of ‘critical realism’ …which is the non-nihilational, non-solipsistic, middle way. Which precisely nihilates both elitism and capitalism: which is why there is so much confusion around the language. There is more at stake than mere linguistics. The future of humanity will be determined by our relationship with our languages.
@BigB: “The fact of a pre-existent, mind-independent, objective ground for reality is no longer tenable. Objectivism is dead.”
Do you mean that there is more to life than just “atoms and empty space”? Plato, Dante and Blake (to name the first 3 who popped into my head) would have agreed with that: the ground of objective reality is mind — the mind of God.
“The atoms of Democritus, and Newton’s particles of Light,
Are sands upon the Red Sea shore,
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright”.
Funnily enough, I was only writing just yesterday on OffG’s ‘India’s Tryst with Destiny’ article, just what poor standards we have in the Education of our children today, in urgent need of massive revisions, which I’ve highlighted and how the guilt lays squarely on the shoulders of Scientists & Academia in our Universities, from Physics to History & Law & the ‘Physiology of Psychology’ these guys really just don’t ‘cut it’ anymore … resting on Laurels, living in Fear and corrupted by capitalism >>> wholly !
Somebody should be shot, I say … for Terrorist Acts !
Corruption is the Destruction of Culture &
“The Destruction of Culture is a Terrorist Act”, now officially,
in international Law @UNESCO (thanks, Irina Bokova)
Would the author of this piece like to review & correct some obviously glaring errors ?
Good article. On this topic, I read an essay by the late Ellen Meiksins Wood where she noted that our splendid “new Left” are all at once too pessimistic and too optimistic. Too pessimistic because they blandly assume that socialism is dead and so all struggles in that direction are futile. Too optimistic because they assume that this (up till now) bearable capitalism around them can simply continue with its shopping sprees, pop celebrity culture, soap operas, scandal sheets, ineffectual though comfortable tut-tutting over corrupt and stupid politicians and – best of all – its endless opportunity for writing postmodernist deconstructions of all those phenomena. Why bother getting your hands dirty with an actual worker’s struggle when you can write yet another glamorously “radical” critique of the latest Hollywood blockbuster (which in truth just ends up as another advert for it)?
During the 50’s and 60’s most folks living in Western cultures were happy with their lot: One house, one car, one spouse, one job, three or four kids and enough money to live the ‘good life’
Then along came Vance Packard’s ‘Hidden Persuaders’and hell broke loose.
The One Per Cent saw an opportunity of unlimited exploitation and they ran with it.
They’re still running (albeit in jets and yachts) and us Proles are either struggling or crawling.
Greed is neither Left or Right.
It exists for its own self gratification.
Excellent article and very true. Just one minor quibble:
Actually, post-modernism doesn’t include everybody — just the ‘marginalized’ and ‘disenfranchised’ minorities whom Michel Foucault championed. The whole thing resembles nothing so much as the old capitalist strategy of playing off the Lumpenproletariat against the proletariat, to borrow the original Marxist terminology.
The following facile claim doesn’t bear scrutiny: “At the very moment when the “threat” of real existing socialism was not felt anymore, due to the Western economic and military superiority in the 1980ies (that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall), the economic paradigm in the Western countries shifted.”
The economic paradigm shifted well before the 1980s and it had nothing to do with “Western economic and military superiority in the 1980ies”. The death knell of Keynesianism was sounded with the de-linking of the US dollar and the gold standard in 1971 and the first oil crisis of 1973. Subsequently, the 1970s were marked by a continuous and escalating campaign of capital strikes which produced both high inflation and high unemployment (‘stagflation’) in the main imperial centres. These strikes persisted until the bourgeoisie’s servants were able to implement their desired ‘free market’ measures in the 1980s, the key ones being smashing of trade union power and consequent devastation of working conditions and living standards, privatisation of essential services, dissolution of social welfare and all the rest. All in the name of ‘encouraging investment’.
The fear of ‘existing socialism’ (and of the military might of Eastern Europe and the USSR) persisted right up to the restoration of capitalism in the USSR in 1991-92. The post-soviet triumphalism (to that moronic and ultimate post-modernist war cry, ‘The End of History’) only opened the floodgates for the imposition of the neoliberal paradigm over…the whole globe. The real essence of the ‘globalisation’ ideology has been this imposition of imperial monopoly and hegemony on economically backward but resource-rich countries that hitherto could gain some respite or succour from the USSR and Eastern Europe as an alternative to the tender mercies of the World Bank and IMF whose terms correspondingly centred on the neoliberal paradigm.
The key class-war victories of the 1980s by the ruling class, especially in the main Anglophone imperial centres (exemplified by the air traffic controllers strike in Reagan’s US and the Great Coal Strike in Thatcher’s England), were the necessary condition to them getting their way domestically. However, the dissolution of the USSR not only allowed the imperialists to rampage internationally (through the World Bank, IMF, WTO, etc) but gave great fillip to their initial class-war victories at home to impose with impunity ever more grinding impoverishment and austerity on the working class and oppressed — from the 1990s right up to fraught and crisis-ridden present. The impunity was fuelled in many countries by that domestic accompaniment to the dissolution of the USSR, the rapidly spiralling and terminal decline of the mass Stalinist Communist parties, the bourgeoisie’s bogeyman.
Finally, productivity in the capitalist west was always higher than in post-capitalist countries. The latter universally have been socialised economies built in economically backward countries and saddled with stultifying Stalinist bureaucracies, including in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Capitalist productivity didn’t suddenly exceed that in the USSR or Eastern Europe in the 1980s.
So, overall, the ‘triumph’ of the neoliberal paradigm didn’t really have much to do with the imperialist lie of “Western economic and military superiority in the 1980ies”. That fairytale might fit into some post-modernist relativist epistemology of everything being equally ‘true’ or ‘valid’, but in the real world it doesn’t hold up empirically or logically. In Anglophone philosophic academia at least, post-modernism really picked up only after Althusser strangled his wife, and hyper-objectivist structuralism correspondingly was strangled by hyper-subjectivist post-modernism.
Not really, no. In fact, we still do have Keynesianism; but now, it’s just a Keynsianism for the banks, the corporations and the MIC rather than the rest of us. But check the stats: the governments of West are still heavily involved in deficit spending–US deficits, in fact, haven’t been this big since WW2! Wish I got some of that money …
I find this kind of a pointless discussion on Keynes & so on …
“Capitalism has Failed.” Christine Lagarde 27/5/2014 Mansion House
“Socialism for the Rich” (Stiglitz: Nobel Economic laureate, 2008/9)
More important is the structuring of Central Banks to discuss and
Richard A. Werner’s sound observations in the link…
Riddle me this Seamus: this year we just got a new statue of Woodrow Wilson in Plovdiv BG.
Last year we got a statue of John no-name McCain in Sofia Bulgaria …
See the patterns in the most poverty stricken EU nation ?
Not difficult … !
Seamus, me too! At least, wish I could get some of my own money back.
Whenever I think about some serious R.O.I. of time & money & family contributions to Tech. Designs, lost in the ’80’s, I have to play some music or switch to Zen mode 🙂
@Tim: “R.O.I (Return On Investment)”. The first time I have come across that P.O.V (Point Of View) on this site. The essence of Darwin’s theory of evolutionary progress: to slowly build on an initial slight advantage. The 80s (I was there), Maggie Snatcher, Baroness Muck, no such thing as Society, the years that the Locust has eaten. Little ROI despite a tsunami of fiat money swirling around the electronic world. Where is the ROI from capital in the WC.Clinton / B.Liar / Brown regimes, that were so boastful of their economic policies. Where are the snows of yesteryear?
Well said, Stephen: this wholly weird wee article certainly begs the question, how old is & where was this tainted memory & member of academia in the ‘Winter of ’79’ ? and how could he have possibly missed all the denationalisation/privatisation, beginning with NFC and onwards, throughout the ’80’s, under Thatcher ? Culminating in screwing UK societal futures, by failing to rollout Fibre Optic Cable in the UK, (except for the Square Mile city interests of London) which Boris now promises to do today, nationwide,
a mere 30 years too damn late, when it would have been so cheap, back then and production costs could have been tied to contracts of sale of the elite British Tech. at that time…
Worth reading both part one & two of that link, imo … scandalous !
Nice wholly suitable reference to Althusser 😉 say no more.
Talk about ‘Bonkers’ 🙂 we shan’t be buying the book, for sure 🙂
Your comment was way more valuable. Do people get paid for writing things like this, these days. I was just outside Linz for 2 months, just before last Christmas and I found more knowledgeable people on the street, in & around Hitler’s ole’ ‘patch’, during his formative years, on the streets of Linz: where the joke goes something along the lines of
“If a homeless unemployed artist can’t make it in Austria, he has nothing to fear, knowing that he can be on the road to becoming the Chancellor of Germany in just another year… “
I was right with you to the end, Stephen. Althusser killed his wife for sure: but he was deemed insane and never stood trial. He was almost certainly suffering from a combination of conditions, exacerbated by a severe form of PTSD, as we would call it now.
Whether or not one has sympathy for this has become highly politicised. Classic Liberals, anti-communists, and radical feminists always seem to portray the ‘murder’ as a rational act of the misogynistic male in the grips of a radical philosophy …for which wife murder is as natural a consequence as the Gulag. His supporters try to portray the ‘mercy’ killing of Helene as an ‘act of love’. It wasn’t that simple though, was it? Nor that black and white.
I cannot imagine what life was like in a German concentration camp …for someone who was already suffering from mental illness. From what I have read: the ‘treatment’ available in the ’50s was worse than the underlying condition. He was also ‘self-medicating’. I cannot imagine what the state of his mind was in 1980: but I am inclined to cut him some slack. A lot of slack.
I cannot agree with your last statement. Althusser’s madness was not a global trigger event – proceeding as a natural consequence from “hyper-subjectivist post-modernism”. Which makes for a literary original, but highly inaccurate metaphor. Not least because Althusser was generally considered as a Structuralist himself.
Other than that, great comment.
I understand your sentiments toward Althusser, and am sorry if my remarks about him were insensitive or offensive. However, I know from personal experience of hardline Althusserian academic philosophers who suddenly became post-modernists after the unfortunate incident. The point I was trying to make was that his philosophy wasn’t abandoned for philosophical reasons but non-philosophical, moral ones. It wasn’t a condemnation of Althusser. It was a condemnation of many of his followers.
I made no claim that this was some kind of ‘global trigger event’. Philosophy departments, or ideas as such, don’t bring change. If post-modernism didn’t become useful to at least some sectors of the ruling class at some point, then it would have remained an academic backwater (as it should have). Nor that post-modernism was some kind of ‘natural consequence’ of structuralism (which is what I think you meant). Philosophically, it was a certainly one reaction to structuralism, one among several. Other more rational reactions to structuralism included EP Thompson’s and Sebastiano Timpinaro’s.
As Marx said, “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas” [German Ideology], and if the ruling class finds some of them useful they’ll adopt them. Or as Milton Friedman, one of the main proponents of neoliberalism, proclaimed: “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.” Post-modernism, as a philosophy ‘lying around’, serves as a nice philosophical/ideological fit for the intelligentsia to rationalise the anti-science ideology the ruling class today is foisting on rest of the population.
Politically, Althusser was disowned by many French leftists for his support of the thoroughly counter-revolutionary role of the Stalinist PCF in the 1968 May events. His authority lasted for over a decade longer in the Anglophone countries.
“In Anglophone philosophic academia at least, post-modernism really picked up only after Althusser strangled his wife, and hyper-objectivist structuralism correspondingly was strangled by hyper-subjectivist post-modernism.”
Wonderful sentence. I’ll keep that – if I may – for some imaginary dinner table with some imaginary academic friends.
I was thinking exactly the same and imagining the window of opportunity to provoke … 🙂
some sound conversation, after some spluttering of red w(h)ine … 😉
Thank you. I’ll rephrase it to improve it slightly if you like:
In Anglophone philosophic academia at least, post-modernism really picked up only after Althusser strangled his wife, and in revenge hyper-objectivist structuralism was strangled by hyper-subjectivist post-modernism.
Mr. Morrell’s use of the phrase “stultifying Stalinist bureaucracies,” to describe the actually existing Socialist societies of the Eastern bloc, indicates to me that he is very much of the bourgeois mind set that he purports to criticize. This “plague on both your houses” attitude is very typical of the lower middle class intellectual in capitalist countries, c.f. Chomsky, Zizek, etc.
On the contrary, all the remaining workers states (China, North Korea, Viet Nam, Laos and Cuba) must be defended against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution despite the bureaucratic castes that hold political power in these countries. Political, not social, revolutions are needed to sweep away these bureaucracies to establish organs of workers democracy and political power (eg soviets) which never existed in these countries (unlike in the first years of the USSR).
To his last days, the dying Lenin fought the rising bureaucracy led by Stalin, but Russia’s backwardness and the failure of the revolution to spread to an advanced country (especially Germany, October 1923) drove its rise. Its ideological shell was the profoundly reactionary outlook and program of ‘Socialism in One Country’ (and only one country). And while Stalin defeated him and his followers, it was Trotsky who came to a Marxist, materialist understanding of what produced and drove the Soviet Thermidor. Trotsky didn’t go running off to the bourgeoisie of the world blubbering about a ‘new class’ the way Kautsky, Djilas, Shachtman, Cliff, et al. did.
The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union was a profound defeat for the working class worldwide, as it would be for the remaining workers states. Now if that’s a ‘bourgeois mindset’ of a ‘lower middle class intellectual’, be my guest and nominate the bourgeois or petty bourgeois layers that hold such views. Certainly Chomsky, Zizek et al. couldn’t agree with such an outlook, but it’s only the bourgeoisie and the Stalinists who contend that the workers states are ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’. Only a true post-modernist could delude themselves into concurring, or claim that the political repression, censorship and corrupting bureaucratism of the Stalinist regimes were indeed not stultifying.
Thanks for your intelligent response. I am very familiar with the Trotskyist positions you outline. I could give you the Leninist rebuttal to each of them, but you are probably familiar with them as well. I don’t want to waste your time, or mine. However,
if you don’t mind me asking, exactly at what point do you feel capitalism was restored in the USSR? It was, I take it, with the first Five Year Plan, not the NEP?
Also, the Socialist or, to use your nomenclature, “Stalinist” system, that was destroyed in the the USSR in the 1990s–it was, in truth, just one form of capitalism replaced by another form of capitalism? Would this summarize your view accurately?
Capitalism was restored in the USSR in 1991-92. Stalinism was not another form of capitalism, as the Third Campists would contend. The Stalinist bureaucracy rested on exactly the same property relations a socialist system would which were destroyed with Yeltsin’s (and Bush’s) counterrevolution. Last, I’ve never labelled the Stalinist bureaucracy as a ‘system’.
Perhaps if you changed your moniker to: “Troll Allover” one could take you seriously, well, not really – ‘seriously’ – but at least in a sort of weird, twisted & warped post-modern sense – eh?
I’m sorry, what is the argument you are making? I know name calling is beneath intelligent, educated people.