Thursday, August 22, 2013

Models & The Unconscious

Models & The Unconscious

1. Austerity Love
What if our Self is this void itself, what if its core is not some positive content, but the “self‐relating negativity” (Hegel), the very ability to negate every determinate content?
- Let's have some fun with this sentence.
- Who wrote it?
- Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian philosopher. He argues that we live in times of ideology, that we need theory to understand what is happening.
- What is ideology?
- Ideas we act upon that we are unconscious of. Ideas we learn from others in our lives within a group. Unconscious learning, unconscious teaching at the same time.
- Give me an example.
- At our times of economic difficulty governments practice "austerity", when economically it makes no sense. We are told to tolerate others different from ourselves, as if that is an improvement, but in fact means leaving economic relations unchanged, to leave things as they are. We are told to enjoy ourselves, not discriminate between desires, it'll keep us healthy.
- We are supposed to be unconscious of how we got these ideas?
- Yes. And they are supposed to be promoted by people with power.
- And the powerful people promote them unconscious where they came from?
- Yes. But the ideology serves their interests.
- But not the interests of everyone else.
- No. Ideology is unconscious learning, and teaching, that affects politics, that gives some groups more power than others. Suffer for your overspending, tolerate everyone, enjoy yourselves, but don't think about economic relations between people.
- Don't think about economic relations that benefit the people "promoting" the ideas.
- Yes. Here's that sentence again:
What if our Self is this void itself, what if its core is not some positive content, but the “self‐relating negativity” (Hegel), the very ability to negate every determinate content?
Zizek thinks that all ideas are ideology. All ideas are learned unconsciously, so they have to be negated.
- What is negating?
- Made nothing.
- How?
- Obviously, we can't make nothing the idea being passed between people in society. We make the idea nothing by showing to ourselves that, for example, economic troubles caused by speculation are not cured by spending less, or that tolerating people different from ourselves allows us to disregard them, gives us an excuse to not care about them, that indulging in pleasure for our health means not wondering whether some pleasures are better for getting us ready for learning and understanding and sympathizing with others.
- So we negate austerity, tolerance, healthy pleasure. Then what?
- We come up with, for Zizek, communism, practical politeness, love.
- Love comes out of negation?
- "The world is nothing to me if I can't love."
- What do you think?
- We do learn unconsciously, but we can't see "ideology" in the world, or ourselves. No one ever saw in himself a void that is a core ability to negateDo you know what I think?
- I just asked.
- These words themselves are examples of unconscious learning. This kind of language itself is unquestioned.
- I keep asking you to question it.
- It's not so easy! Let's try it like this. If austerity in economics is ignorant of the speculation that was the real cause of difficulty, what is the real self we are ignorant of when we talk of the void that is a core ability to negate? 
- Love?
- What happens when we fall in love?
- The one we love is everything.
- Good. In Zizek's world, when we negate an idea, we add to it. Private property is theft, we say, meaning it results in many people having no property at all. This leads us to the idea of sharing, which has its own problems, do we share children, homes? We create solutions, but they hold us back, and we are unconscious of them holding us back, satisfied as we are with their past success. In this process, there is no description of where the new ideas come from, how we create them. We just do it.
- Like falling in love.
- If falling in love is unconscious learning.
- And you don't think it is?
- I think it is the opposite. That it is even the proof that it is possible for us to learn consciously. Imagine that piece by piece, we reorient our relation to the world, putting the world in relation also to the person we love. We do this effortlessly, because we want to do it, it is our nature to want to do it. When its done, the period of falling is done.
- And love ends.
- No. Love begins! We've constructed out of all these effortless re-orientations a sense of home around the person we love, and we live in that sense of home.
- What is the sense of home?
- Detachment from, safe from everything outside.
- Mystical experience. Nirvana.
- Yes. Falling in love is conscious learning. It gets us a home. We don't have to negate that home, because we know where it came from. We will get thrown out of it anyway. We'll find we don't know very much about the one we love, and have to search for the explanation, or the world will change, and we'll have to remake our home. In neither case do we negate. We have to do what we did before effortlessly, by desire, when we fell in love, but now we have to do it experimentally, testing out each relation to the world. We act on what we know, trying to learn more, at all times consciously.
- World negating love is a sort of like austerity economics?
- Yes. And in general, seeing the world in terms of ideology, we fall in love with ideas. But it is austerity love, making ourselves unconscious of personal experience.


2. Models & The Unconscious

- We have just begun to think, that is the most remarkable fact of history. Our technology, our science, is nothing compared to the job ahead.
- What job?
- To think our way out of where we've got ourselves.
- Where are we?
- Where what we have done without knowing what we are doing threatens our lives.
- Environmental destruction, nuclear war, terrorism, fundamentalism...
- We have philosophers, but...
- What's wrong with philosophers?
- Love of wisdom is beautiful, but are they wise in their philosophy? They make technical mistakes.
- What are they doing wrong?
- They talk about the unconscious, being, appearance, negation, void. They construct models that relate the terms to each other. Because each term has an "unconscious" aspect...
- How "unconscious"?
- They call upon multiple possible associations to give them meaning, and when they are used, the particular meaning is not settled upon. The multiple possibilities are there "unconsciously". Models constructed out of these elements can say or do anything. They do successfully explain our world. They would be equally successful in explaining every other world.
- Can models be constructed with words that don't depend on unconscious meanings?
- Yes.
- Give me an example.
- Use again Zizek?
- Ok.
- He says he can't account for the violence of Stalin against not only the Russian people, but also against his own party organization. Apparently he killed most of his subordinates.
- And your explanation?
- Let's bring in a testable model: ritual. A ritual is:
- a regularly repeated action
- that strips individuality
- performed in a group
- concluding with a sense of power
- How is individuality "stripped"?
- By acting passionately: with hatred, anger, fear. Running away from, and running towards.
- Running towards what?
- The conclusion of the ritual, and the safety found in the repetition of an action among your group. Do you see any unconscious element to any of these words?
- Actually, yes. Power. Safety.
- Power is our expectation to go on repeating the same actions safely, that is, without obstacle. Ok?
- Yes. But how is the model testable?
- Stalin's killing of his own people can't be explained by a theory of social classes in strife. It is explainable as ritual.
- Why practice that particular ritual?
- If you are already murdering millions of people not your immediate subordinates, and you don't murder your immediate subordinates, what is your relation to them?
- They work for you.
- But you are a ritualist. When you stop practicing your ritual, you are uneasy with the world. You're not prepared for what's outside. You work with your subordinates, but regular relation in a group is only a part of ritual, the passionate action and resulting sense of power are absent.
- Why not just say he killed because he was a killer?
- He killed his own group because he was a killer who found his place in his group. Take a look at  Zizek's favorite examples. In our times we are told to please ourselves in any way we want, just don't pay attention to economic relations. We are told to tolerate everyone, just don't do anything to remedy any economic injustice they may be subject to. Tolerance is "love" without individual content, hedonism is pleasure without selection by individual judgment of better and worse. These are passions that establish the ritual of the everyday buying and selling economic life.
- Then you agree with Zizek.
- I see the same things as important: specific economic relations of buying and selling, emotions that are without individuality. You can't test "ideology" of "unconscious" connection between "tolerance" and "capitalism".
- How can we test your model?
- Look for the falsification: regular repetitive action in a group without supporting "passion" in the meaning emotion without individuality.
- In history? In present societies?
- Can you think of falsifying examples?
- Of an organization that was without ritual?
- Obviously there are many organizations that are instrumental: they are tools that individuals use to accomplish purposes outside them. Organizations which serve themselves are, or the model says they are, those that create security for their participants by means of ritual. The question is, is this true?

3.

- If you're right, when we look behind the everyday life of buying and selling we will see battles between masters and servants. Even in our times of scientific, efficient management of society.
- Yes.
- Alright. Show me. Here at Starbucks.
- In the corner, the bald or shaven head guy. From Iran, Muslim. About 40, been in L.A. most of his life. Has been writing a book about himself, in English, the last four years. 1,000 pages now.
- How's the book?
- Drivel. Written in a primitive English stumbling from word to word with every choice of  tense, article, number wrong. And his thinking...
- What about his thinking?
- It's absent. He's looking at us now, looking at him. What's happening?
- What do you mean?
- Do you see any expression on his face? No. Expression is a social act, a communication. He's not communicating with us. So what's he doing?
- I don't know. Tell me.
- Calculating. Determining if he should take the position of  master or slave in relation to what he sees.
- Us looking at him?
- Yes. This book I'm reading, Moll Flanders: Defoe's early 18th century story of a desperate woman's adventure with one man after another. With each attempt she tries to establish a position of greater wealth, fight what she describes as a power struggle between men and women. Power is gained from taking the position of master, through deception, pretending to have money to get money from men who want to get the money they think she has.
- That is what you think the writer in the corner looking at us is doing? Thinking, who are we, why are we looking at him, can he get money out of us?
- More or less. I know what he is not doing. He is not expressing a sense there should be a beginning of a relation between us, as strangers. Not even expressing anger at being stared at, or fear at our possible hostile intentions.
- Which by the way you talk about him you really have.
- Like in Moll Flanders' adventures, nothing personal, no liking or aversion, enters into his calculation until the master/servant relation is established. If it is established.
- And it is not. Not yet. That, you think, is the reason for the blank face.
- Yes.
- Couldn't the calculation be about personal interests? How can you know?
- Because personal interests are personal. They involve the body. Bodies respond. Liking someone or disliking someone drives us to move towards or move away. Doing nothing, going nowhere, goes against personal interest, results in tension, confusion, visible tension and confusion. Calculation of strategy, if it is about individual, not class relations, would take into account the particular situation of personally sitting, as here now, in that corner, looking over at two guys looking at him personally. Doing nothing would be a communication. Is he communicating with us?
- I don't know. No. I don't think so.
- Pursuing her calculation of social power Moll Flanders falls into the most outrageously undesirable personal relations. Secretly engaged to and loving one brother, she is forced for economic advantage to marry the other, younger brother who soon dies. She marries again into what looks like economic power by pretending to be wealthy, but her husband turns out to be her very own brother. She gets into intense personal relations, but the wrong ones. Not from not knowing what she wants but by circumstances of poverty forcing her to improve her economic position. Defoe wrote Moll Flanders in 1722, right at the beginning of these times of putting efficient economic relations ahead of everything else, something then new and astonishing, not yet made unconscious in ritual. A few years before he'd completed Robinson Crusoe, another book concentrating on economics, but this time, the practical work of life done on a desert island by a man alone.
- And you see yourself as Robinson Crusoe?
- Surrounded by all these blank faced dumbed-down Moll Flanders?
- Might as well be on a desert island.

4.

- Look at these people. Look at how they look back at us.
- The writer in the corner has some serious competition in the blankest face at Starbucks contest.
- The question I can't get rid of is, what's going on there, behind those looks, the blank expression that precedes and follows the words they say?
- You've already said: calculation of social advantage. But how do you know there is anything?
- When I choose my words I'm sure there's something in my mind previous to speaking, there already, but incomplete. Levi Strauss' anthropology says there is something there. Something that is brought into order when we experience listening to orderly music or hear a myth recited.
- So the blank passive face is in the grip of an idea?
- Yes. If myth is our idea, a relation of society to the individual is expressed. A better myth better expresses a more balanced relation of individual and society, as better music more completely expresses resolution of tonal conflict.
- I know you're going to object there are better and worse relations of the individual to society. So I'll skip ahead and ask, do music and myth express this better and worse?
- Yes, they can, but don't usually.
- Why not?
- Because for the most part they are collectively produced. Popular literature, like myth, like popular music, is a product of individual writers each projecting what would secure the collective better, each adjusts the common forms in that direction. Better and worse relations of individuals to society requires an individual author. It's the difference between Levi-Strauss' interpretation of the Oedipus myth as a balancing of too much attachment to family and too little, and the tragedy by Sophocles in which Oedipus' own mistake causes the crises and imbalance of too much and too little attachment.
- So anthropology says that the social order is the product of explicit rules to be followed, and a general sense of safety that is felt when we are reminded that the rules, all together, keep us all together. Not in a better or worse way, only in the simple meaning of not killing each other. Or do you mean something else?
- That is what I mean.
- Then Anthropology has been enlisted to support our free market economics? While pretending to be morally neutral?
- Well, it's not all bad. If it can help describe what's going on behind those blank Starbucks faces it's done something useful.