Wednesday, July 24, 2013

What Is Philosophy For?

           - What is philosophy for?
- Find new ways of looking at problems.
- Give me an example.
- The problem of property. Is it a right? Is it fair that some have a lot, others have none?
- And you have taken the view that property cannot be a kind of freedom. Property is the exclusive use of some thing. If freedom is to remain a moral principle, that is, a rule applicable to all, then it cannot be applied to the use of property.*
- It can't be moral to be free to be immoral. Do you agree?
- I'm convinced. The new problem is, do people want to have property more than they want to have freedom?
- You think they would rather give up on freedom than property?
- Isn't that the status quo? Lack of freedom, wage slavery in work, escape to buying and using things in private life?
- Philosophical redefinition will be useless because people already are living with and accepting that definition?
- People don't care much about freedom, and care a lot about property.
- Then the philosopher's next job is to redefine property again, this time not in relation to freedom, but to individuality. Do you think people won't care about individuality?
- Pride in ownership comes from a sense of participation in the group of owners. Being a wage slave provides the security of knowing your place. I know the arguments. They are worthless to someone who doesn't remember what it's like to be an individual.
- You know how Chomsky and Zizek talk about each other?
- No. How?
- Chomsky says about Zizek that theorists like him are posturers, say words that no one can make sense of, declaim theories which, even if someone could understand them, would be untestable and so not knowledge. Chomsky describes in detail how things are, says the only way out is for people to organize in communities, to see others think the same as themselves, to work together as equals, to demonstrate their determination not to accept things as they are.
- And what does Zizek say about Chomsky?
- Zizek calls Chomsky a cynic because he doesn't take personally the wrongs he describes, doesn't seem to need or expect any remedy soon.
- How does Zizek take the wrongs personally? Or is Chomsky right, he only postures, makes a show of having to have wrongs remedied?
- I think Chomsky is right. But it's complicated. Zizek wants to make use of a philosophic tradition, draws on both psychoanalysis and Marxism, surplus labor and the superego. In society we lose ourselves in work that we are slaves to, we lose ourselves in personal life by organizing our entertainments around buying and using property that place us within a group of consumers.
- And Chomsky says, we all know that already, where are your theories, your terminology from Freud and Marx getting us?
- That's right.
- What does Zizek answer?
- To not be a cynic, to be an idealist, you have to feel in yourself the importance of the theories. Feel the discredited definition of freedom, freedom to dispose of property, in your very self.
- I don't think Chomsky wants to feel that way. I for one don't. Do you?
- No, but Zizek does. And apparently his large audience does too. Do you want to know how this works? I warn you, it's a little crazy.
- And freedom as a moral right to dispose of property is not crazy?
- Ok. We talked about how our pubic and private lives are both impersonal. We escape into impersonality in our private lives, we work without producing anything of benefit to ourselves. If in our work we use a tradition, and then we escape from it by altering it, adapting it to present times, we seem to be achieving a personal result from both impersonal processes: from our personal alteration of the tradition, which otherwise would enslave us, and from the entertainment of impersonal escape becoming part of the work, of the work becoming a show of our escape.**
- And that is what Chomsky calls posturing.
- Yes. What do you think?
- Zizek says he is called a clown because he feels the importance of what he is saying and he shows it. I suppose he does. But remember our question.
- Will people ever care more about freedom than property?
- Yes. I think Zizek may be right. Playing this game of reinterpretation might help people know what they are missing.
- A therapy. Useful in moderation. Like drinking, taking drugs. Doesn't redefine the problem, but might help you do it later. But later, when a re-definition arises and challenges the traditions their work is based on, undermining their shows-of-escape? Will they give up their drug?
- How should I know? Chomsky criticises Zizek for promoting untestable theories. If you are right, he's a kind of therapist experimenting on himself and his audience. We'll be able to judge by the results.

*See The Right To Property
**The analysis, being a show about ourselves, seems personal. But what the show reveals about ourselves, the story it tells, is of our continuing impersonality. Analysis, once performed, needs to be constantly reapplied as our personality exists only in the analysis itself.