“…what do I see from my window, but hats and coats which may cover automatic machines? Yet I judge these to be men…”
From the vantage afforded us today, it is hard to imagine any other conclusion to Descartes’ rationalist subjectification of the world than postmodern suffering. After all, anyone who has come to understand himself as the rationalist’s metaphysical subject and who, at the same time, idolizes a totalization of the universal powers, will eventually realize that even if this totality could be completed he would find himself a mere peripheral within a strange machinery. And anyone who then, at the same time, had come to experience the Death of God would find himself alone in a world of cold mechanisms beyond his comprehension — a machinery which had no concern for his interest. And while Immanuel Kant’s epistemological project is said to have improved upon Descartes’, despite all his excruciating detail, we were left without a story of how a metaphysical subject transcends its own subjectivity in order to meet another subject — a story which might bring a me into contact with a you. Of course, looking into our historical continuum, this solipsism did not go unacknowledged in the years following Kant. However, the problematizing of subjectivity hadn’t become explicit until the beginning of the twentieth century. Not until the writing of Edmund Husserl do we find an explicit problematizing of what can be called intersubjective transcendence. And still, over the next several decades following Husserl’s pronouncement, the problem of intersubjective transcendence went unsolved, such that we inherit it today.
“And in regard to any corporeal objects, I do not recognize in them anything so great or so excellent that they might not have possibly proceeded from myself…to these it is certainly not necessary that I should attribute any author other than myself…”
In looking at our historical record we understand the foundation for this wall had been trenched long before Jefferson’s pronouncement; yet, its popularity signals a utility. In as much as governance-as-law regulates, it curates, and develops fair exchanges in the economy of man, Jefferson’s separation animates a spirit of mercantilism. This animation is in favor of other activities for governance — such as, for example, toward any good in-itself. Yet, we must also admit that this liberation does not entirely free the soul of man. If we are highly inhuman, we can even explain liberalism as a mere rationalization for the sake of productivity. After all, from the perspective of mercantilism, even liberalism itself is a mere rationalization which has granted expediency to productivity — the businessman the mere vessel. And in looking at later testimony, this separation had led to a common critique against mercantilism. In 2013, James Gustave Speth, the US advisor on climate change, championed for a spiritual renewal. He warned of a disintegration of morality from within this economy. “Greed, selfishness, and apathy” were causing destruction to nature. But today, with a bit of distance to the disgust, we can ask ourselves, where else was the creative self-authoring spirit supposed to find satisfaction within market economy? When the value of a product is determined by the market, the individual creator is forced to look towards his activity, his busyness, as the object of his own value. It should be no surprise that career success became the barometer of anyone’s contribution to his people. The entertainment industries pandered to Enlightenment values. Friedrich Nietzsche’s “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger” was repeated to this end — satisfying that spirit which idolizes individual strength and self-reliance. Residue from Enlightenment Reason and Will.
“Believing that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
“Metamodernism not only rejects epistemological foundationalism, but further dismisses these concerns as insignificant in comparison to other more pressing issues. Metamodernists tend to emphasize the operation and orientation of power.”
“Jürgen Habermas, for instance, unequivocally declares himself to be postmetaphysical.”
Though, this turn towards the project of a deconstruction of authority was not entirely healthy for liberalism. After all, as part of the deconstruction we find a commitment to abandoning epistemological fundamentalism — an idea ushered in by way of Martin Heidegger. In its place, these metamodernists adopted something of a socially conditioned understanding of the metaphysical subject — a social condition which Gadamer called “tradition”. However, in abandoning the solely accountable epistemological metaphysical subject, these metamodernists found themselves in the middle of a paradox. Feldman framed this paradox as the problematizing of critique within the metamodern paradigm. That is,
That is, if there is no objectivized ruler of the standard then “metamodernism problematizes critique”. And this problem “leads us into the political conundrum”. But what is exactly this political conundrum which Feldman announces? — well, nothing other than the problem of liberalism, outright. If all interpretation and understanding is not only affirmed and valid, but celebrated, and at the same time, conditioned by a tradition beyond the accountability of any individual, then how do we integrate into cooperative activity? How do we constructively build a thoroughly liberal and now globalizing society? What is the one-and-only liberal narrative?
“If we are always situated in a communal or cultural context, then how can we criticize either a particular interpretation of a text or, more broadly, a societal arrangement or organization?”
“…Instead of overcoming the ‘world’ by moving towards salientness, man tries to overcome it by gaining preeminent wealth, power, science, or indeed any imaginable ‘sport’…He is driven to build up a monster economy and to seek fantastic satisfaction, like landing on the moon…This economy of giantism is a left-over of nineteenth-century conditions and nineteenth-century thinking and it is totally incapable of solving any of the real problems of today.”
“An entirely new system of thought is needed, a system based on attention to people, and not primarily attention to goods…and what was neglected in the nineteenth century is unbelievably urgent now. That is, the conscious utilization of our enormous technological and scientific potential for the fight against misery and human degradation — a fight in intimate contact with actual people, with individuals, families, small groups, rather than states and other anonymous abstractions. This presupposes a political and organizational structure that can provide this intimacy.”
Here Gadamer appeals to that primordial experience of the world which has been studied under the name phenomenology — a discipline which starts with the very appearance of phenomena and proceeds to understand the conditions for any definitions which follows. It is from the position of this primordial experience which will offer us insights for materializing the prophesies of Small is Beautiful. Only from a phenomenological position can we resolve the feeling that life is becoming more and more complex — and that we require more sophisticated forms of data processing to render this complexity manageable. In the second half of this work we will meet with the aesthetic experience of the beautiful — an aesthetic which presences once we remove the unnecessary and superfluous. A beauty which accompanies simplicity by way of logic’s ability to “release complexity” from the world (Bonnitta Roy) such that affectivity can be animated. A beauty which Schumacher captured in the word small.
“Anyone who takes seriously the finitude of human existence and constructs no ‘consciousness as such’, or ‘intellectus archetypus’, or transcendental ego’, to which everything can be traced back, will not be able to escape the question of how his own thinking as transcendental is empirically possible.”
Lecturer on Philosophy at Spinderihallerne, Vejle Denmark. Philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, metaphysics, and political metamodernism