Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Meet the Half-Empties and and the Half-Fulls

Nietzsche sired two distinct dynasties of anti-metaphysical thought. The European clan hopped on the Marxism Express only to end up stuck in the inescapable departure lounge of Postmodernism. Long delays are anticipated; Duty Free anyone?

Their American cousins on the other hand had no need to go anywhere as they were convinced that they had already arrived. The future was a part of their present, the past somebody else's problem. These pragmatists argue that certainty should be replaced with imagination and knowledge with hope. Obviously, it's much easier to do this when you already think you live in the future. "The vista, not the endpoint, matters", asserts Richard Rorty, American Pragmatism's tribal elder, but it helps the endpoint is actually part of the vista.

Rorty and his relatives aspire to manage reality rather than represent it. In serving transitory purposes with a "hopeful, melioristic, experimental frame of mind" they hope to fashion a society that is rather like Denmark. But the really scary part is that they seem to think that the United States of America is Denmark!

Rorty's Darwinian spin on the world historical significance of the USA is quite explicit: America is the "next evolutionary stage" after Europe. You'll have gathered I'm not all that convinced. Jean Baudrillard's description of America (from the dirtiest, smokiest corner of the departure lounge) as "the last primitive society of the future" seems rather more apt.

I'm not even sure about the validity of the project from a neutral perspective. Hope and imagination are more dissimilar than certainty and knowledge. Hopes can be satisfied, imaginations can't.

Even if we aim to build a world where the majority of humans are content there's going to have to be more on the table than just comfort. Experience of a whole range of emotional states, subjectively, vicariously and imaginatively is part of being human.

Capitalism probably continues to thrive, not because it fosters an egalitarian, participatory political system, but because it continues to develop the technologies of sensation. It long ceased to be a mode of production and is rapidly transforming itself from a mode of consumption into a mode of stimulation.

No comments: