This post is selfish, because it helps me but I have a strong hunch it will be gibberish to most of my readers. It is about philosophy, about which I know very little because it is complex, arcane, and turns human thinkers into adjectives — one studies these guys and then refers to them as shorthand for their main theories. They are all constructs using rational methods, logic but not research. Therefore in the end their ideas comes from their life experiences, their context. To know their stories is always my favorite means of understanding their ideas.
Their lives dictate their “point of entry” into the field of thought and since most of them enter through academia as invented by Europeans, the path markers are degrees, articles and books. Few, if any, consider my fav philosopher, who is Suzanne Langer — her point of entry is feeling. She is part of a tissue of thought that I take to include Eliade, the new neurology research, the actor’s “Method” thought to be justified by Stanislavski, and so on. This lets me consider the thought of indigenous people, poets, and sexual nonconformists, whether based on biology or not. Once, I was interested in the “structure of the subconscious” as pursued by psychoanalysis, but it is a dying art, outdated by lack of time and money though there are still people fascinated by their own dilemmas. Luckily, Lakoff’s ideas — which have a literary dimension through metaphor — have come along and I embrace all that.
Doesn’t this sound pretentious and learned? I assure you my grasp is weak, but sometimes this stuff is actually useful. Here’s the “cheater” provided by Colin Koopman in his Aeon essay called “The Power Thinker,” which is showing up in several publications.
Plato = forms
René Descartes = mind
John Locke = ideas
John Stuart Mill = liberty
Jacques Derrida = text
John Rawls = justice
Judith Butler = gender
Jacques Lacan = the unconscious is structured like a language
Richard Rorty + Jurgen Habermas = ‘grounding the social sciences in a theory of language’
Foucault = power
“Foucault remains one of the most cited 20th-century thinkers and is, according to some lists, the single most cited figure across the humanities and social sciences. His two most referenced works, "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison" (1975) and "The History of Sexuality, Volume One" (1976), are the central sources for his analyses of power.”
“Herein lies the richness and the challenge of Foucault’s work. His is a philosophical approach to power characterised by innovative, painstaking, sometimes frustrating, and often dazzling attempts to politicise power itself. Rather than using philosophy to freeze power into a timeless essence, and then to use that essence to comprehend so much of power’s manifestations in the world, Foucault sought to unburden philosophy of its icy gaze of capturing essences. He wanted to free philosophy to track the movements of power, the heat and the fury of it working to define the order of things.”
Foucault is fascinating right now for several reasons. One is that his topics of prison and sex are so “hot” in several dimensions. Another is that he paid no attention to boundaries, moving from one formal “discipline” to another and ignoring the conventionalities of them all. And maybe one of the most intriguing attractions is that somehow he managed to escape his dominating and punishing father, the preoccupation with morbid self-destruction that seems characteristic of a “queer” man trying to justify himself at adolescence, and the ordinary forces of conformity. It’s hard to know how he managed this. Probably through a series of intimate and admiring relationships plus a huge capacity for work. Some will want to know whether SF gay culture, the study of Zen, his practice of kindness to others, or some other “defined” context or practice was the source of his final serenity. He did contract AIDS and died from it in the early wave of SF infections at the beginning of the Eighties. His partner’s reaction was to start an organization to address the pandemic.
“The theme that underlies all Foucault's work is the relationship between power and knowledge, and how the former is used to control and define the latter. What authorities claim as 'scientific knowledge' are really just means of social control. Foucault shows how, for instance, in the eighteenth century 'madness' was used to categorise and stigmatise not just the mentally ill but the poor, the sick, the homeless and, indeed, anyone whose expressions of individuality were unwelcome.
— Philip Stokes, Philosophy: 100 Essential Thinkers (2004)”
It is a given among counselors that “power” in the sense of socially compelling people to behave in certain ways, believing that it is their only option, is not just a matter of forceful domination (sovereignty). The underdog, the dominated, the co-dependent also have their power. (Watch what happens on a rez, where sovereignty is being pursued on grounds of victimhood.) An obvious example is that Trump, who seems so powerful and rich, is controlled by what Vaknin calls his praise stream, which to Trump is a product of media — mass sensational stories. It appears this is also what creates the reality of the people who voted for him.
Foucault “queried” (as they say) hierarchy, its source and structure. I take Trump et al as being driven by a desire for “status”, for being at the top of the hierarchy, but accepting indicators on the terms that North Korea would recognize: the power of weapons, inheritance, titles, and control. Marked by vulgarity of display, poor persons' idea of sophistication. In my life experience the hierarchical indicators of status my family accepted (education, helping others, and the middle class indicators: neatness, fashion, and possessions — matters of presentation) have been emptied by some social movements with a religious dimension, valuing simplicity and humility, living close to nature. Hippies, granolas, Bioneers.
More painfully, my family’s respect for teachers, doctors, religious leaders, police, soldiers, has been challenged by removing the protection of secrecy over their mistakes and shortfalls. The larger society now seems to value only power and status in terms of money and laws, esp. those controlling imprisonment and investigation. The sexual revolution has meant not only that everyone is free to “sleep around” but also that things like abuse of children, hypocrisy among religious leaders, and betrayals of trust cannot be covered up. I find all this so painful and confusing that I elect not to participate. But not to deny the mess. And not to become “a docile subject” in Foucault’s phrase.
Now the practice of data collection, the details of our ordinary lives, is becoming a surveillance with power. One of the first studies, “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” about the recorded sexual proclivities of people who used the internet to access pornography, was a challenge to realities of people who didn’t know much about conventional forms of interaction. (Of course, those without access to computers remain unknown.) Recently, the makers of a device that translates telephone or computer code into genital stimulation were sued. Each use of the codes was recorded — a little diary of where and how much stimulation with whom. The lawsuit required the destruction of the records but there’s no way to use code without it being recorded. And cyber records are never really wiped.
So the international use of code for spying has the same dimensions. It’s a form of intercourse. The conventional (weapons, money, oppression of the weak and needy) is right up front. But what about “queer” intercourse among nations, especially the ones that are “deconstructing”. Is the result disease? Dissolving borders between nations? Or is it an evolution towards a whole new reality, not yet negotiable because we can’t quite see it. So far, we only feel it.
This post discusses government use and misuse of data compiling.
This post discusses government use and misuse of data compiling.