Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On Political Depression

I am presently writing an article on the conditions for critical, creative thinking in the light of globalized economy. The concepts of Castoriadis on social imaginary significations, and of Arendt on thinking and creating a common world, are my guidelines. There are several ways in which economic globalization can be said to influence the conditions for thinking in general and political creativity in particular. Consumerism, economism, insecurity are obvious factors, but more important is probably the factors concerning meaning, perhaps a general loss of significance that the late Castoriadis spoke about, and the entailing apathy and depoliticization.

(A detour: Loss of significance must also be meaningful in some sense or another, following Castoriadis (1975) in that we only maintain practices insofar as they provide meaning for us. So can there be "insignificant meaning"? And what is significance; and for whom?)

I read the other day a great book by professor Anders Johansen from the University of Bergen, on how he'd been depressed without knowing it - politically depressed - as long as he was writing only for himself and for his career, without publishing. Yet he wasn't aware of his state of depression before he'd started to engage in political activities and publishing for a general audience. That's when he realized that he'd been "lonely as a citizen". From then on, Johansen never stopped writing for a general audience. He had become a public intellectual.
In writing this, I thought maybe "political depression" is a state characteristic of economic globalization? We, as consumers and workers, miss the political community - which of course, many of us never experienced, but still wish for; perhaps we read about it - but do not know it?


At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Hermes said...

Interesting comment.

One question on an unrelated matter. What did Castoriadis say about ethnicity in democracy? Much of his thought stems from Aristotle, and he was very clear that democracry can only work in an ethnically or culturally homogenous society.

At 9:22 AM, Blogger Ingerid S. said...

I'm not an expert on Castoriadis, and do not know whether he has said anything about this (he probably has). My reaction to your comment is more general, and not aimed against you at all: Why do critics of radical democracy so often assume that thinkers like Castoriadis harbour communitarian tendencies? I often have to defend myself against accusations that radical democracy is a hidden nationalism and worse. To address this, I think once again that Arendt's notion of plurality is clarifying. Democracy in her - also strongly aristotelean - sense is based on the premise that thre is always a plurality of viewpoints present in the public sphere. Homogeneity is counter-political in her view. I reckon CC can be read in the same vein. Autonomy means that troublesome questions are kept warm. How is this maintained? Probably through a certain social friction.
This is just a conjecture on my part, though.

At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Hermes said...

Firstly, I find some of the terminology you use discomforting i.e. radical democracy to denote direct political participation. I prefer to use 'direct' democracy and not the word 'radical' because direct democracy is not radical at all. When viewed in the context of history the notion of direct political participation is a very old notion and could be classified as being conservative rather than radical.

Secondly, I believe you are suffering from confirmation bias by seeking answers to confirm prior held views or beliefs. In the modern world we tend to think that homogeniety, tribal loyalty and patriotism is something we have evolved from. However, I believe the modern political discourse is naive and reductionist. Rorty says this: "Officially, to be sure, we are all supposed to be "past" nationalism, to be citizens of the human race. We are all supposed to believe, with the Marxists, that nationalism is just "mystification." But then he goes onto to paraphrase Castoriadis:

To say: 'The proof that nationalism was a simple mystification, and hence something unreal, lies in the fact that it will be dissolved on the day of world revolution,' is not only to sell the bearskin before we catch the bear, it is to say: 'You who have lived from 1900 to 1965 and to who knows when, and you, the millions who died in the two wars . . . all of you, you are in-existent, you have always been in-existent with respect to true history. . . . True history was the invisible Potentiality that will be, and that, behind your back, was preparing the end of your illusions.'

Rorty then goes on to say, Castoriadis is willing to work with, rather than deconstruct, the notions that already mean something to people presently alive -- while nonetheless not "giving the last word to the historical world they inhabit."

I am a supporter of direct democracy, but Aristotle is very clear that it can only work in a homogenous community. And Castoriadis appears to accept some form of nationalism. A homogenous community does not preclude opposing views or social friction. Actually, a homogenous community practising direct democracy could result in an even more robust democracy because there would be no need to muzzle thoughts and expressions that may offend a minority ethnic group(s).

At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

Clever. Firstly, what is the difference between 'direct democracy' and `radical democracy'? Radical coming from radix = root(s), signifies true or deep democracy, which in my view is direct democracy. Whether this is a conservative notoion or not, is a truly contingent, historical question. As for the rest, I'll reply later. Guess the question of nationalism is not as straightforward as I suggested. I keep receiving it from people - but from whom; with what kind of national history? That is an important question.

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Hermes said...

I am Greek so I tend to understand the etymology of words (including English ones) from their original Greek root. The Greek equivalent of radical is rizospasti (rizo=root and spasti=break). Basically, radical means to 'break the root'. I would say that the correct word for direct democracy is not "radical", and not even "direct", but simply "democracy" because as democracy first came into being in a direct form, then direct democracy is hardly radical.

The one thing that attracts me so much to Castoriadis's thought is that he is not a reductionist. He reminds me so much of the Greeks; and indeed, he never stopped reading the Greeks. The Greeks understood man and society as being multifaceted and naturally patriotism was an essentially part of their being. However, like all good Greeks, they warned against the excesses of patriotism. Correct if I am wrong but Castoriadis seems to be doing the same.

You ask where does patriotism (I prefer this word to nationalism) come from? Who gives it you? Firstly, it comes from familial ties, then village ties, then the town, then the city, then the community, then the nation, then the globe. It is not just given to you. You are also an agent in determining what kind of patriotism.

At 9:46 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

I honestly can't see what patriotism adds to Castoriadis's notion of autonomy. Individual and collective autonomy - his concept of democracy - is a critical investigation and elucidation of all that which is socially instituted. Therefore it is a deeper (more radical) concept of democracy that the historical example of the Athenian polis. Patriotism is just another, secondary, imaginary signification that will have to be investigated critically lest it becomes doxic, heteronomous. Thus, in my view, there is no way that patriotism could serve as a prerequisite for autonomy in the thought of Castoriadis.

At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

However, I am sure that "care for our common world" as coined by Arendt, is a central asset in autonomous society as described by Castoriadis. But it is important to see that this "care" is a political one, based on difference and plurality. Homogeneity would kill it. Again, I think Arendt is the stronger thinker in theorising this.

At 4:22 AM, Anonymous Hermes said...

Are you sure care is based on plurality and difference? And why would homogeneity kill "care"? Where do you get these assertions from? It may actually enhance it.

At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Ingerid S. said...

Homogeneity, as a political prerequisite, "kills" the care for our common world of differences, different positions, different people and most importantly, opinions.
Cf. the prime political question for Alain Touraine: How can we live together with our differences, what are the institutions that would secure that we are still a society, in a world where differences are a material fact -? That is politics, in my view.

Otherwise, if there are no differences to be handled, and if different opinions are reduced to a minimum, ethics will probably do.

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At 2:53 AM, Blogger andrew123 said...

I believe you are suffering from confirmation bias by seeking answers to confirm prior held views or beliefs. In the modern world we tend to think that homogeniety, tribal loyalty and patriotism is something we have evolved from.

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