Sunday, January 21, 2018

Deflating Modernity (Part 5) Against hyper-objects

Modernity posturing as bundle of (bundles of (bundles))

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Modernity's (M) mounting troubles tell a persistent problem with the methodologies used by M-theorists.

These theories are propagated and legitimized without proper immanent critiques appealing to standards of reference, explanatory power and future predictability. In the last four posts we've presented theoretical conclusions that are not viable, such as M-normativity, Hegel's axiomatics, presentism, etc. We confront the same problem with M's main methodology: hermeneutics.

The basic tenet of the discipline is that of interpretation, understanding, etc. And here is the problem: interpretation, understanding, etc, are not enough to anchor truth. Theorists overlook that many of these inherited constructs are structurally epiphenomenal, which redundantly relate back to its material base. Heidegger has no choice but to recognize hermeneutics' raison d' être and re-frame it as structural:
The "circle" in understanding belongs to the structure of meaning, and the latter phenomenon is rooted in the existential constitution of Dasein—that is, in the understanding which interprets. An entity for which, as Being-in-the-world, its Being is itself an issue, has, ontologically, a circular structure.1
We get it: Dasein has the ability to understand, and this ability is already —as it were— wired into Dasein. So, any understanding is bound to be Daseins' own! That Heidegger accepts that understanding is structural shows that circularity is an intractable problem for hermeneutics. There's no way to validate one's understanding of the world beyond one's (own) understanding of the world.

Once we pass hermeneutics' structural redundancy, we find that it's possible to build hermeneutic validity if we keep close attention to immanent standards of critique to rule out poor, or substandard interpretations. Admittedly, Heidegger's thesis in Being and Time opened up new avenues in the field of phenomenological research.

Here is a text by Umberto Eco, an expert in the history of hermeneutics. While in his early years Eco defended "open ended" interpretations, late Eco became more suspicious of what he saw as eroding standards of interpretation:  
One can object that in order to define a bad interpretation one needs the criteria for defining a good interpretation. I think on the contrary that we can accept a sort of Popper-like principle according to which if there are no rules that help to ascertain which interpretations are the "best" ones, there is at least a rule for ascertaining which ones are "bad." (169)
How to spot over-interpretation? Eco conceives of a model reader who would be able to discard some over-interpretations as ridiculous. We come back to the hermeneutic circle: understanding is a part-to-whole-to-part exercise. The model reader is capable to ask the right questions about the parts vs-a-vs the whole based on what she determines are the intentions of the text.


In our previous posts, we've hinted at hyper-objects as extremely large metaphysical entities, feeding off other entities.

Let's come back to M's paradigmatic definition:
... a bundle of processes that are cumulative and mutually reinforcing: to the (a) formation of capital and the mobilization of resources, to the (b) development of forces of production and the increase in the productivity of labor, to the establishment of (c) centralized political power and the formation of national identities, to the proliferation of rights of political participation, (e) of urban forms of life and of formal schooling, to the secularization of norms and so on (letters are mine).2
We get it. A bundle of processes which makes for a (bigger) process.

the hyper-object devours its own tail -as if justifies itself

Some stubborn questions

*If M is a "bundle of processes," why not a bundle of (a bundle of a bundle) and so on? Let’s call this the infinite regress objection. Clearly infinite regress presents an intractable problem for a theory, since the explanation of the theory must not be contained in what the theory is trying to explain.

* How does a "bundle of processes" remain the same through its changes? Let’s call this the change-over-persistence objection. Since a process happens in time the question here is when does the process begin and end. And Modernity is notably obscure, since according to M-normativity, M produces its own standards.

* If a "bundle of processes" is a sort of activity, how does it supervenes over its parts? Let’s call this the activity-over-substance objection. The explanation of supervenience is delicate. It requires a top-down causality, but all it’s explained is the bottom/up part and thus, supervenience becomes a sort of mystery. What keeps the bundle going? This is explained with a further process: Capitalism.

* How can M define itself as a "bundle of processes," while ultimately referring back to the processes constituting the processes? Let's call this the constitution objection. This brings us back to the Humean problem. How do we know that M's predicted bundle of processes will always produce the same effect? Hume's point is that the idea that the same cause always produces the same effect is not a logical truth, nor can it be known a posteriori, because any attempt to prove it would assume its truth. We're not being difficult. No question is of little value: Categories relate to questions, not to answers!

The so called bundleofabundleofabundle cannot be sorted out by invoking the very thing one needs to explain.

Here is "the making of" M:

The theorist uses ad hoc methods with diverse  received theories to describe his (our) socioeconomic present; the assembled "bundle of processes" so presented as the explanation of his present condition. Then as part of the received theory, the postulated M will not submit to a critique outside M. 3  Is this a reliable methodology? Is this the best M-theory can do ?

the gradual decay of M-theory 

A brief history of M

a. At some point during early Nineteenth Century, German Romantics come up with the idea of "modern,"
b. Hegel brilliantly introduces axiomatics! 
c. The effort to legitimize Hegel determines two opposing currents: Right and Young Hegelians struggle to give an account of M anchored in, what else, the present!
d. Marx/Engels develop political economy and dialectical materialism as eminent presentist disciplines.
e.  Due to the contributions of Weber, Durkheim, Mead, etc, M-theory comes of age during the first fifty years of the Twentieth Century.

At each step of a. through e. we have a real shuffling of ideas: Given the early M-theory, anchored in metaphysics, history, teleology and Romantic literature, M-theorists proceed now to justify socio-historic and economic patterns in terms of bigger socio-economic and political processes, and in so doing they use more generalizations to ground previous ones. But bigger isn't better. In the end M becomes a rundown Paper Tiger, paralyzed by its inner unexplored peripheries and contradictions.     

Revising M 

In PDM Habermas defends human rationality. What's interesting about his program is that it makes rationality an inherent capacity within language acquisition and expression. In other words, rationality expresses itself in our capacity for argumentation. And argumentation is grounded on validity claims which are vindicated by a process of inter-subjectivity.4 This communicative interaction of participants becomes a promising social cohesive force. Postmodernity appears and subverts these tenets with a discourse that is vitiated by self-contradiction. Reason has its flip side: the "other" of Reason, which, in the end, is actually, Reason.

The problem is that Habermas makes M a cardboard model for rationality. But M is, at bottom, a motley crew. To make up for this aporia, M-theorists turn M into a hyper-object in the company of other hyper-objects, such as Capitalism, (the gang provides much needed esprit de corps).

Our approach is that hyper-objects should metaphysically answer to objects. An object, a thing, is a primitive. A required first step. Surely, objects get together with other objects to become big, sometimes very big. But we should talk about stuff that is actually at our empirical, conceptual, level, instead of assuming —up above—  at some epiphenomenal level. We suggest to come back to a differentiation between what the object "is" and what we "make" of it. Obviously, this is not the place to go into such detailed discussion of object/metaphysics.

A deflated idea of M:

* Like with any other historic period, let's deflate M to finite future bounds.

* M's self-imposed teleology is metaphysically redundant.4

* Self-normativity and M-normativity are goldbricks! From a normative standpoint, M has to be necessarily connected with previous historic periods. Normativity has to be trans-epochal.

* Instead of dwelling high and above at hyper-object level, the theorist should come down to earth and look at actual things. Don't rule by fiat.

* Make M less hyper-symptomatic and more predictive.5

* To avoid hyper-objects' recurrent redundancy, make them subordinate to objects (things).   

Indeed, the present is real but it can be presented as a counterfactual to hyper-objects' redundant influence. For instance, one can conceive of a world without Modernity in it.6

What if Modernity is a fluke?

1 M. Heidegger's Being and Time (New York: Harper and Row, 1962) p.195. .  2 PDM, p. 2, Habermas enumerates the different influences of what we could call "the received theory of M": Baudelaire, Weber, Mead, Benjamin, Durkheim, Blumenberg,  Koselleck, etc. See Hegel's axiomatics.  3 Suppose a theorist comes up with a theory in defense of "aura analysis." Suppose furthermore that there are many people don't fit the predicted patterns of "aura analysis." Rather than accept this fact as refuting evidence of the theory, the theorist presents a new category: the non-aureatic. Now, whenever the theory does not seem to work, the contrary evidence is systematically discounted! 4 Grounding validity claims intersubjectively grounds truth as coherence. But theoretical coherence alone is not enough to ground truth claims (whether as pseudo science or social consensus, as in here, here and here). 5 True, the future is unpredictable, but we have this and this to entertain comparative forecasts. 6 As well as other well known socio-economic hyper-objects, such as Capitalism, Terrorism, Globalization, etc.


Dr. Daniel Medina said...

Precisely because of the inevitable decay of M-thinking and its innate propensity for self-destruction - case in point WWI, WWII and the Cold War - the question railed against the M-theorists, those either aggressively intended to keep it on life support and/or to those in suspended animation overwhelmed by the sensory overload of structure and piece meal bytes of information, was ultimately a question of meaning. A spiritual one as so many of the early Dadaist promoted either through a re-connection with religious thought or through political action. Nonetheless, Hegel's intention to move all history toward an end wasn't only due to the prevailing religiosity of the time and place he lived in. Granted it was his hermeneutical reality and bias. It is also due to the inevitable reflection of mortality. I know, I know, existentialism. I am biased, but the nature of the endlessness of time, of eternity, despite M-theorists and its sympathizers, to “end things”, let’s call it their eschatological neurosis, is really a valid point. In fact, the question of mortality, quality, value and meaning, are brought into question by avant-garde artists due to the insistence that order and meaning was found in the superstructures of life. Alas, facing death in trenches and under school desks waiting for alarms to cease brought about a re-evaluation of order. This is where Heraclitus’ view of the Logos as the underpinning of chaos is worth revisiting.

Alfredo Triff said...

Tx, Daniel, interesting take of yours. True of M-theorists to end things, since in hardcore Hegelian "there's no more to go through."

Dr. Daniel Medina said...

Well, there is a telos, though, through which the Geist unfolds history. Ends, as it were, are pauses, rather than shut and sealed closures without any possible reopening. Taking this interpretation of Hegel into consideration, the ramifications for Modernists is bleak. Like much of conventional Renaissance humanist writings suggesting (with hubris) that humanity had reached it's acme of achievement along scientific, spiritual and social lines, modernist (with hubris) argued much for the same while applying smoke and mirrors to Flanders fields and missile silos. And yet, the Geist continued to unfold history. Epochs, phases or to take from Malraux, the human condition. So, although Modernists may have sought to pull a Patty Hearst on Hegel, it ultimately failed. Much of the confusion is the result of language being illegally sampled by self interested automatons and pundits. The great Hugo Ball, founder of the Cabaret Voltaire, wrote passionately about this very same collective sin. Language is manipulated and perceptions affected directly by the ways and means that words are impressed or oppressed, empowered or disenfranchised, by those seeking to reconfigure reality.

Alfredo Triff said...

Daniel, Tx for your comment. We definitely share the admiration for dada!