Tag Archives: Foucault

The Dogma of Survival

“We think that in this the human being extends, more or less consciously, the spontaneous effort, common to life, of fighting against that which forms the obstacle to her maintenance and development taken as norms.” Canguilhem, On the Normal and the Pathological, PUF 1966, p. 102 (in my own translation, original below)

Canguilhem marks an important split in philosophy in attacking the ‘objective’ notions of health and disease that come with the dominance the empirical/mathematical method of the exact sciences. As a teacher of Foucault he made a first but decisive step against a last push of the exact sciences to explain away the most human of experiences: that of feeling not quite right. Decisive but not final because to this day the positivistic look, on the back of our neoliberal society and value system, dominates to the point of mocking those who speak from disability studies, cultural studies and feminism. It is not, though, this debate which I’m here interested in. I take it for granted that the truth here as elsewhere mostly lies somewhere in the middle. The truth I want to try to speak here is against that which, I believe, is still a common dogma in both traditions: that of survival as an inevitable and enduring norm inherent in life.

Longevity is, I submit, a global pandemic threatening all life, and specifically human life, as it misunderstands and devalues life to something that is to be had instead of lived. The outcome of the normality of survival is pathological: more life, but less worth living. The quote has all of that so let’s turn to it.

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Strangers amongst us

We struggle with strangeness. Whether we fear who’s different or merely fear those who fear the different differently from us, home’s where our differences largely go unnoticed. It struck me how self-evident it has become to see public announcements, on a hurricane for instance, accompanied by somebody translating them into sign language. It’s difficult not to see this as progress; therefore difficult to see it as anything but self-evident. But it’s not self-evident. It’s the outcome of a struggle by strangers incapable of hearing and once discarded by society and probably labeled “deaf and dumb”. Well, it is their struggle and that of caring people who provided an understanding home to them in which they could be understood and, hence, come to their own understanding. How did they realize such a remarkable feat making acceptance of deaf people into something “so general as to make it unthinkable to see it as someone’s original idea”? The latter is Kafka’s description of that immediate insight which, once made, seems to become so entrenched in custom it is like it could not have been otherwise. Wittgenstein would probably say it becomes part of the grammar of deafness that it is a difference that ought to be accommodated. Still, however self-evident it may seem now it was anything but self-evident not so very long ago.

How can that be? What can we learn from it?

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Thursday Take-Down of Our Education

Studying is essentially still this: converting stuff in books to stuff in brains. In order to do well in school you have to have a large storage and excellent read/write access to it. Very much as if processor, programming and sensitivity to context do not matter. It is like our education system is stuck in not caring about anything but our memory capacity. And so it produces the new standard uniform class of power people who have muscled memory, and the disciplined balls that go with it. I’ll try to explain why this is as unnecessary as it is bad and why it’s nevertheless unlikely to change.

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The self was a good idea but its time has come to fade away

Identity is the new Holy Grail. Everybody is looking for something that does not exist, and still would somehow magically transform their mediocre existence into the golden rule. The quest for identity responds to the post-modern question of belonging. Whether they are patriotic nationalist or universal subcultural causes, we constantly contrive collectives within which to identify with other people. This is post-modern because it is a melancholy for modern times when belonging belonged to the self-evident, except for those who self-evidently did not belong – the gays, the displaced, the ill, the Western Easterners, the out-of-luck. It’s the excluded who shaped these post-modern times because they frantically started a quest for being included ‘somewhere’. This was, for them, of the essence because not-belonging was the essential problem they experienced in modernity.

The rule is that the exception always has a tendency to become the rule. The exception is entropy, and it causes energy to shift to keep it under control. This is how in modern times the excluded discovered this problem of identity, that quickly became the post-modern problem for everyone. The meaning of life was transformed into the meaning of me and here we are trying to resolve our selves in an identity with others. Continue reading