Monday, February 07, 2011

Axioms in Epistemology

I have been trying to figure out my own blindsides. As in trying to ascertain where the holes in my critical epistemology lie. The places inevitably that will lie the most effectively are the ones that I think are not lies, but truths. I would like to explicate what I faithfully believe as truth at this snapshot point in my being/becoming.

1. Pain is real and every living thing experiences pain. 
Although You will never experience My pain and I will never experience Your pain, our pain is real. Suffering CAN be worse than death: life as torture is not a life worth living. Although such a belief can lead to an extreme of solipsism on the one end or an extreme of utilitarianism on the other, the reality of pain and pain residing in reality is an important element of making morally justified decisions in life. This assumption about reality is very important for understanding empathy and agency.

2. Death is real and every living thing dies. 
Although nobody has died and lived to tell about it, we can safely assume that the corpses are not all pretending. No matter your religion we can all agree that "death" is an event that happens at the end of one's life when whatever a person was (apart from their fleshy shell) exits this reality. Some people think this consciousness is a soul which will be assigned a specific home, a single unchanging role to play in an "after-life". The point being that this life is only a temporary place for our consciousness whether you are a religious person or not. This exiting consciousness and vacant fleshy shell is real and inevitable. In fact believing otherwise leads to ridiculous narcissism and political action to control random events. Immortality is impossible in this world death could be around any corner, and as blind Oedipus would tell you: trying to escape the inevitable just exacerbates the problem. Although there is much traffic regulation motor vehicles are still a top killer, although there are endless ways that have been shown to increase the probability of not dying from heart disease it is still a top killer, and although there is endless credible evidence linking health problems with smoking the activity still continues. Death is something often cognitively deferred and is therefore not as ubiquitous in human's motivation for action as suffering or empathy for a sufferer.To borrow an already loaded phrase and employ it differently: "the sanctity of life" is another important baseline assumption for moral decisionmaking. When evaluating this sanctity one must reject the idea that any life outside of our current life is more valuable than our current life. By current life I mean the de facto life you are living demonstrated as life through consciousness and actions in this world or this here-and-now. Dying this life for a life that cannot be demonstrated as real is pure folly. This idea is what my assumptions about the sanctity of life have arisen out of.

3. History is real. History explains reality better than simply sensing it.

History is real in multiple ways the two I would like to draw out are: History is real insofar as the narrative we (re)produce is viewed as the true story of our past and History is real insofar as our past restrains us because we are on a certain historical trajectory. It is not possible to colonize space next week or next year in our current historical trajectory. It is not possible to stop the over consumption of carbon based energy in the next week or year in our current historical trajectory. History is then something that makes the future possible in the latter definition. The former definition that our (re)production is viewed as a true story is a necessary pre-requisite for any other analysis of history. Because one is always (re)producing history in their present actions/inactions then this history must be viewed as real by the people (re)producing it.

For even if we forget that we have had a history (which our memory forbids) for example we were all struck with simultaneous amnesia,  this event of forgetting would be the defining moment of our history and our successive present(s) from then on. We would excavate the buildings we now live in and stare curiously at complicated machinery. Writing down incorrect assessments of the artifacts as we allowed such assessments to discipline how people lived their lives in this alternate present.. In this extreme example our forgetting of the past would be central TO our past in such a situation where history CAN be forgotten.To forget history would be an infinite amnesia, an end to self, and an end to homo sapien.

Because history can never be forgotten is why people will continue to need to believe it is real, even though it is just a recreation of the past from an interpreter's flawed memory in the future, and can therefore never be "real" or even adequate to explain an entire time period or all the nuances of an event. The most effective type of history that I am aware of at this point is  using historical trajectory as the point of analysis: genealogy. An investigation of the various turning points/syntheses or dialectics that twist and turn their way through history to reach where we are standing today. But an ideal genealogy is impossible, it is too much information to be written. So genealogy is historiographical or episodic, written in big brush strokes thusly homogenizing/essentializing just like history before it. The attempt to come to terms with subjugated or counter-hegemonic truths by looking at the dialectic "losers", still disciplines identities and assumes stable subjects. It is more informative though to see the dialectic's aufhebung as a domination rather than a synthesis in this regard.It is a more "justified knowledge" than regarding the here-and-now as universal and neutral. Instead it should be acknowledge that the hear-and-now is built upon the battles of the past. I think a helpful concept in understanding this idea of history is another Foucauldian concept, that is the inversion of Clausewitz: "politics is war by other means". Even our shared homogenized(nationalized) identity or any other type of identity is marked by battles that are not war because they are happening within the state, but are still oftentimes violent (see: Matewan).

4. The Social (or the creation of inter-subjective reality through discourse with the other)

Human is a political animal: Zoon Politkon ; the self cannot exist without differentiating from an other ; without contact with other humans: psychosis manifests. These are three basic reasons why I feel that the need for human interaction is inherent in all humanity. This also has implications for how one can read philosophy. The idea that the path to truth or enlightenment comes through seclusion cannot provide answers to political questions. This long standing belief that removing yourself from the milieu and objectively observing from this other place is the preferred form of philosophy, social science, or any explanatory measure cannot be true if humans need other humans. The most effective form of philosophy, social science, history, etc. is to explain these narratives, being attentive to the fact that theory and practice are one. Any narrative of explanation will (re)produce a certain reality, to pretend otherwise will just lead to discourses which are not conducive to humans as a whole. Instead, by focusing on its' theory as practice, these justified narratives immerse themselves in the milieu giving far better explanatory sketches than epistemologies of feigned objectivity ever could.

5. Hybrid human motivation
My final attempt to assemble justifiably factual or legitimate evidence for my own de facto epistemology that is constantly changing but must be used whenever I make a decision or make a decision not to make a decision. Every keystroke and every pause between them is a decision that I am making with whatever formed my snapshot of an epistemology for my arguments and the ontologies of the words I'm using to explain them. What is my motivation for writing this down? I want to practice writing, I want to practice interacting with concepts I find interesting, I want to interact with the world through this medium of the internet, I want to rant, etc. Can it be said that either Emotion or Rationality is my primary motivator? Socrates' and Decartes' rehashing of stoicism just to name two are huge events in philosophy which still dominate modern western thought on what makes a good decision and what motivates individuals to make decisions.
The Stoakon was a porch, dudes hung out on it and talked. Sounds like the opposite of classy right? But it turns out between them they hammered out a plank of thought that has become an integral part of  western epistemology ever since and became especially supercharged after the enlightenment: emotions bad, logic good.
Socrates followed their thought and then Plato started writing shit down, philosophy apparently being dominated by speaking rather than writing (although there are many writings). Rationality and logic became the panacea for all that is good. Sex as an emotional paroxysm was irrational. Desire became the enemy of good decisions. Whether this evolved out of an attitude towards gender or whether this discourse helped create a an attitude towards gender I am not in a position to say. Feminist authors point out that this same discourse is applied to gender where males are seen as logical and rational (neutral/normal) while women are seen as overly emotional. When you go to a movie theater and a guy is crying holding a woman's hand is that normal? I don't want to discipline, crying is something humans do, but for the most part this act is associated with femininity. This attitude still pervades, I just give that one example, but we should understand that there is philosophy behind everything whether someone recognizes it or not. There is philosophy behind who cries at movie theaters. This discourse is so tied in with gender that it makes suppression based on gender easier and easier.
Orientalism shows us that cultures are feminized. Through our discourse(or the accumulated academic and media works) we create an image of an exoticized other in the east. This other is either feminized by being painted as emotional and sensual. Picture the exotic harem. Or they are hyper-masculinized as too stoic and thusly irrational based on the fact they are too rational! Think about the discourse of the japanese man as the us was opening that country to capitalism. Inscrutable and unpredictable because of their inscrutability far too stoic.
Once a culture or population is feminized it then becomes easier to authorize violence against such populations. The populations are irrational! What they need is management. The subordination of the feminized population is neccesary, because as we were constructing the other as irrational it meant we were really constructing ourselves as rational. The next logical step then is to manage the emotional population for their own good, to subordinate their feminized identity with our performance of masculine identity.
I am taking a long time to get here, but my point is that all motivations for human action are hybrid motivations. There are elements of materialism/self-interest and emotional/intrinsic motivators in all action. In fact if there was not an "irrational" emotional element to decisionmaking amongst humans war between families would be the norm and we would not understand the meaning of the word friend. Why do we stand by our friends and families when they have tough times? Why do we fall in love? Why do we wake up every day for work? It is not simply because we will receive material rewards, it is also because we seek to perform our selves. We adopt roles in order to use the discourses within those roles. We desire to be ourselves and being is a constant process. Work is not just money it is an identity, a social event, a disciplining of time, a responsibility, etc. When countries go to war with each other it is not ONLY because they want to control their natural resources. It is also because a discourse was used to justify violence against such a country which gives the population some intrinsic motivation to fight. People do not join the army because if they didn't then foreign invaders would kill them or for money, they also want to adopt a role. Oftentimes the roles we adopt are based on masculine and feminine identities, if we can start to move away from this bifurcated model for human motivation and instead move toward a hybrid model I think it is a way in which to deconstruct the violence which is visited upon subordinate identities and justified through feminizing discourses, the same discourses which are guilty of subordinating the identity to begin with.

With that said all of these ideas have aporiae with eachother and internal contradictions. Also my epistemology has changed since I began writing this and when I finished it changed again. :D

No comments: