Landzek, you are really going to like this post.
So, I was doing my usual thing, watching one of my favorite TV series, the X-files, when it occurred to me to look up philosophy articles written about the existence of extraterrestrial life. I’m going to do an actual article about that, but I managed to find something a little less off the wall, and much more relevant to what I’ve been talking about on this blog. I found an article on Jacobin Magazine (which I normally like very much) which repeats the archetypally Zizekian claim that the Left must reclaim the banner of the Enlightenment because the alt-right has taken over the idea that truth is subjective with their conspiracy theories, etc. The article I link to above tells the story of one Jason Reza Jorjani, a philosophy professor that combines antisemitism with occult beliefs. Now, the article here makes some great points, including the historical link between Judaism and modernity, through the figure of Baruch Spinoza, and Heidegger’s views on the subject. But, let us be frank for a moment, and talk about some of the things the article does, I say, wrongly.
First of all, the article talks a lot about universalism, and almost certainly plagiarizes Zizek because of this. That is the least of its crimes. The article makes this claim in talking about the new Left and their relationship with the Enlightenment: “This rejection of the Enlightenment was not always consistent or total. Some (Adorno, Horkheimer) retained a tension between the Enlightenment ideas of emancipation, on the one hand, and the Nietzschean critique of reason on the other. Others (Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault) resolved this tension more straightforwardly by moving unreservedly toward Nietzsche.”
This is pretty good, but it goes on to unabashedly call for a return to Enlightenment thinking without mentioning what those “Nietzschean critiques of Reason” are. Nevermind that metanarratives are drying up, that the alt-right’s philosopher is just putting forward one more metanarrative. I will return to this- but what I find most outrageous from a philosophical perspective is that they took the link between Judaism and rationalism argument seriously.
Baruch Spinoza was not a Jew. He was ex-communicated. He was born a Jew. The article goes on to simply say that Spinoza was influenced by Jewish Talmudic scholars and philosophers like Maimonides to confirm the idea that Spinoza was just a product of Jewish culture. Deleuze, probably one of the greatest scholars on Spinoza, was the first to recognize how Spinoza was not just a contemporary of Descartes, but his philosophical foe. The article straightforwardly claims, “From Descartes, Spinoza, and the French materialists to the French and Haitian revolutions to Hegel and Marx, we have a strain of thought that proceeds from an intelligible world to the full emancipation of humanity.” The idea that there is a natural progression of history in this way is so typically dogmatically Marxist that it would even make Zizek flinch. This is what Marxist dogmatism looks like, it is subtle and maybe I am missing the point of the article, that there is a certain irrationalism that is being embraced by the right. But the idea that irrationalism and postmodernism are the same is such a grade school fallacious error. Universalism has problems that are beyond the simple problems of cultural relativism- even Zizek admits these problems have more to them then meets the eye. Take the problem of female circumcision in Africa and its connection to ideas of tribal identity. But I digress.
My point or thesis is that there is a difference in embracing the Enlightenment and embracing rationalism. Descartes, the Cartesian view of the world, is if anything counter to ideas of empiricism, of knowing the world for what it is, rather than the idealization of “Logic”. Who gets to define what Logic is? Thats the problem we are dealing with here. Jorjani isn’t simply an irrationalist- he has a worldview that makes a certain degree of sense actually. It all logically connects to him, its obvious there are connections in his mind of telepathy to antisemitism. A true irrationalist would believe that nothing has any center, we cannot say anything, we are mute as it were. But no man is mute, save perhaps Antonin Artaud, who only wanted to make mumbles and screams.
Another digression. But it is completely strange to me to kind of drop in Spinoza, a kind of precursor to postmodern thinking in many ways, as a paragon of rationalism. Which is why its funny to me that the title of the article is “aliens, antisemitism, and academia”. The title is a clever alliteration, and the allusion is clear, although his name starts with A- I don’t know why they didn’t include him. Alex Jones (“they are turning the frickin frogs gay”!) Probably because this article is an attack on philosophy departments that teach too much Foucault, and somehow that is to blame for the alt-right. I hope they don’t believe that, because it would be ridiculous. However they get around this ridiculous accusation by simply saying that the Left must be more rationalist (pro-Enlightenment).
“Jorjani believes that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an aerial attack and that Lot’s subsequent abandonment of the area indicates nuclear fallout. He thinks “some kind of anti-gravitational beam from out of the cylindrical object hovering over the [Red] Sea” destroyed the Egyptian chariots during the exodus.”
ALIENS! The article is right to say this reminds them of horrible History Channel programming (which has become the opposite). But why would blaming a philosophical camp be the target of the anger, rather than the History Channel? Biblical mythology, Biblical history has always been apart of American life. The belief in extra-terrestrials, as Jung shows, is one of the biggest developments in modern mythologies. It represents a widening of what is known to be possible, the idea that there are other beings out there in the universe.
What strikes me above all as odd is the idea that the universe is always perfectly opaque, and our perception of it never skewed in any way. A kind of naive empiricism. Even Descartes recognized this problem, but resolved it pretty quickly with a belief in a perfect God. The scientization of Biblical belief is actually a rationalist move- it maintains belief in the Bible, a kind of cultural belief, but doesn’t need the belief in a creator God. This makes sense with the alt-right worldview, the Nazi worldview. The founding myths of Western civilization still need a degree of reality or importance, and so the paranoid pseudoscientific theories provide some sort of deeper meaning to them. I think something should have written about that.
If the History channel doesn’t do enough real history, Jacobin hasn’t done enough historiography, or philosophy of history. The fact stands that you cannot put the blame for the Holocaust on the shoulders of occult beliefs, as many a History channel documentary has tried (Hitler and the Occult! tonight at 9pm). But what the authors do not want to do is indict Western culture, they are trying desperately to salvage Western culture, because it has given them Science! Microwaves! Technology! Progress!
Progress was also the rallying cry of the Nazis. Of course their theories about racial hygiene were based on bunk science, but the problems of eugenics, and eugenic thinking, as bioethicists realize, remain. Antisemitism was not invented by the Nazis, it was a product of Christian Europe. The authors desperately want a philosophy that has remained untainted by the atrocities of the past. Hegel has no real relationship to colonialism- or so they claim, without reading what he wrote about Africa. History is messy.
We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. But to argue for looking at the world correctly would be a much less strong thesis then “the values of the Enlightenment”. The idea that people didn’t look at the world scientifically until Newton is only true with respect to physics. I think Levi-Strauss has demonstrated that quite clearly. This isn’t even about a Heideggerian right-leaning glorification of ruddy lived experience of the peasant vs. the bureaucratic Jewish functionary who only sees numbers. The problem the authors don’t want to admit is that Heidegger was often right about science, despite being a Nazi. What Heidegger didn’t realize is that the Nazis would be as scientific as their predecessors, perhaps more. History is messy! (Heidegger was not however a morally courageous man).
In conclusion, the authors of this article need to go back to the books, and realize the absolute prescience and foresight of Adorno, also a Jew, and his critique in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, still the essential text on this subject. They also need to read some critiques of Cogito ergo sum, some David Hume, and maybe a few more koans, and there belief in a completely understandable totalizable universe may be shaken for a moment. They may even realize they don’t exist! Most of all, they should make clear to their readers that just because an alt-righter has read some shit about Zen Buddhism doesn’t mean they interpreted it the right way. If they did, we would have never heard of this man, and he would getting drunk in a bar somewhere. Just because the Nazis believed that every Mystic is a born anti-Semite, doesn’t mean that’s a true statement. Does that deserve saying? Isaac Newton himself was a follower of mystical Christianity.
This is where Zizek himself errs in indicting poets as generally right-leaning, etc. I wrote a huge paper on the German poet Schiller and his connection to the rise of German nationalism and patriarchy. The thesis is that poets and artists are the ones connected to the excesses of nationalism. But why on earth should we forget that poets and artists were involved in the Haitian and French revolutions? They are necessary for revolutions. Revolutions are not made by philosophers- they are made by breathing human beings, who sing songs. Unfortunately, so are counter-revolutions.
What we need now is a return to soft thought, to ideas of care, compassion, and love. Not the Enlightenment. Because at the end of the day, poverty and even countering structural violence perpetuated by an economic system are spiritual issues. This is why this article will not stand the test of time, and will only resonate to the already converted. This is how we will argue for a society that takes care of each other, rather than a society based on the ideal of the individual. This is the socialism of liberation theology, of popular unions, of the struggle to remake the world, not of scientific Marxism and Stalinism.
There is a role I think, as Zizek claims, in the Western tradition, and in arguing for the continued existence of a state. But being an uncritical ideologue of the Enlightenment is equivalent in today’s modern debate of being an uncritical ideologue of Science, and everything that comes with that (Atheism, a non-critical attitude toward the scientific and medical establishment). Science, even the Lefty field of conservation, is a political battlefield.
The possibilities of history are endless. Who knows? Maybe the authors will find they missed something if they read this, even come to believe that we may not be the sole source of Reason in the universe.
And also, aliens exist:)