on evolution and evolutionary reality (me and you)

Archive for November, 2016

Johanna Oksala-Femme Fatale of Neoliberalism

Since humans invented our civilization, the desperate struggle for power has been going on. Many different divisions and alliances were made, along the kinship lines, tribal, national, racial, religious and recently- class lines. And of course, at last, but not at least along the gender divide- this one literally started from Adam and Eve.
Michel Foucault, a historian, a sociologist and a philosopher of the second half of 20th century, analyses forces of the government and discipline in a society mixing phenomenological and postmodernist stances. He sees the members of society as experiencing their subjectivity in Husserlian way, but the society changes for him in an impersonal, mechanistic and post-modernistic way. The phenomenological intentional arc leads him to “biosociality”- the societal forces influencing and disciplining human bodies, trying to subdue them into “docile” bodies.
The early feminist movement uses Foucault to point to the exploitation of women by the male dominating capitalism. Partly for the economic reasons, and partly as the response to feminism and the general human rights movement, the capitalism, late in 20th century, morphed into seemingly gentler, kinder and more enlightened form- neoliberalism. It was also supposed to be an antidote to the powerful ideas involving class relationships- as in socialism, marxism and communism. Many feminists, like Eisenstein and Walby, oppose neoliberalism as leading to more economic and social inequalities. They want to improve neoliberalism by helping women ( and other social groups with limited power-minorities, children, gays, handicapped people) by giving them more equal rights, better pay, better social status.
Johanna Oksala sees deeper problems with the neoliberalism, she uses Foucault arguments to point into neoliberalism as a creator of a new feminine subject. “This implies that women are now also governed and subjected through new mechanisms, namely through the harnessing of their economic interests. It is significant that normative femininity has become firmly attached to economic gains in a new way. Women are increasingly rationalizing their participation in the normative habits of femininity in terms of their own economic interests, not in terms of men’s interests”
Oksala believes the mechanism of power has been transformed from “the subtle mechanisms of discipline described by Bartky — a system of social sanctions and rewards such as shame and sexual admiration”.And she explains: ”We must recognize that the personal freedom and choice that neoliberal governmentality entails is an integral aspect of this technique of power. The idea of personal choice effectively masks the systemic aspects of power — domination, social hierarchies, economic exploitation — by relegating to subjects the freedom to choose between different options whilst denying them any real possibility for defining or shaping those options. This excessive focus on free choice has been perhaps the most insidious aspect of neoliberal governmentality for the subject of feminism.” J. Oksala, Feminism and Neoliberal Governmentality.(2013) Foucault Studies.,(p? This is from the online version of this article)
The choices this system gives to a woman are not liberating , they are pushing her deeper and deeper into “docile”- (again!) member of the economic system, a cog in the well-lubricated machine. It is why Oksala calls for the revolution: “we have to transform not only our political or economic institutions but more fundamentally, our way of life and even ourselves. We need a politics of ourselves that acknowledges that it is through us, through the reshaping of our subjectivity, that neoliberal governmentality is able to function”. ibid.,p. 135.
I couldn’t find any clear answer as to what exactly this new way of life should look like. Is it a meditation in the modern “mindfulness” monastery? A matriarchal, Amazons- like system?
Personally, I am afraid, there is not enough time for these posturings of our civilization. I am afraid that the ecological crisis, with all well-known evils, will limit our women and men choices to simple survival mode. And I doubt the technological miracle ( or any other miracle, for this matter) will hack it.

We’ll have to stop fighting  and be really, really good….. or die.

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Lunch with Derrida ( Human Nature Grilled)

It seems that philosophy has been obsessed with human nature since the beginning of time. And, as times and philosophy change, so does the concept of human nature.
From Aristotle’s (384-322 BC) “Nichomachean Ethics” to Hume’s “A Treatise of Human Nature” (1738) human nature means just the way we understand and know the World, which includes all- ontology, axiology, praxeology, and epistemology. For Darwin (The Descent of Man- 1871) human nature is mostly about how we differ from the monkey, and how we came to have common ancestors. By the way, it looks that, the humanity is getting over this offensive detail of our nature. For E.O.Wilson ( On Human Nature-1971) it is about humans with their qualities to form the pinnacle of the evolutionary and the sociobiological process. For Chomsky, human nature represents an innate neurobiological structure responsible for the development of language. For me, human nature is all the above, but most importantly I see a human being as the evolutionary marvel, able to reflect on him- or herself, and to consciously build a personal world around and with the free will – own life.
This concept was discussed in the domains of biology, history, evolution, theology, and sociology and now the postmodernists want to take it away from us? Derrida in “Differance” denies the importance of humans interest in their history or biology. Absurdly, he preaches the absolute supremacy of text which, he thinks, means everything- but as there is no meaning- so ultimately- it means nothing. He says: “Differance is neither a word nor a concept. In it , however, we shall see the juncture-rather than summation-of what has been most decisively inscribed in the thought of what is conveniently call our “epoch”: the difference of forces in Nietzsche, Saussure’s principle of semiological difference, etc, etc”. (p130, I could not find a better quote). Of course, postmodernists question human nature but also the subject, truth, and moral standards. It is difficult to argue if the person you want to argue with, questions the argument itself, the process of arguing and the existence of the opponent.
Michel Foucault as the social historian and phenomenologist is less radical:
“It was not by studying human nature that linguists discovered the laws of consonant mutation, or Freud the principles of the analysis of dreams, or cultural anthropologists the structure of myths. In the history of knowledge, the notion of human nature seems to me mainly to have played the role of an epistemological indicator to designate certain types of discourse in relation to or in opposition to theology or biology or history. I would find it difficult to see in this a scientific concept.” (1971 debate, excerpts). And, actually, I agree with him about human nature being “an intellectual tool” rather than a biological or moral entity. During their famous debate, Noam Chomsky tried to defend the notion of human nature and pointed to the quality of creativity as the basic, innate human faculty responsible for the creation of the language, which made the culture and civilization possible.
For Foucault the forces behind human civilization are not personal, he sees discoveries and the changes as the inevitable result of societal progress. According to him human nature is just a “shopping list of science.”; humans can not not create anything, until the mechanism of the economy, politics, and psychological development of masses made it possible.
In my opinion, we should keep exploring the concept of human nature. With the progress in global education, improved critical thinking, people have become more and more individualistic, making their own decisions. The awareness of our cultural and sociobiological heritage, of our qualities and capacities for good and evil is very important in this age of the planetary crisis.
Human nature might be not a real thing, but as with the crisis in religious dogmas we are searching for origins of good, it would be useful to recognize the common origins of our character and values, pan-human brotherhood. And postmodernism is of not much of help, may be only by giving us the list of values one can question and telling us what humanity is not.

For myself, I would like to know that I can figure out my place in the world and my plan for action, conscious, deliberate and passionate action. This will be my human nature. And I wish that the people around me would do the same.
Or, would they rather go to lunch with Derrida???