September 24, 2020•816 words
This might be as good a time as any to resume this bizarre unread blog. For I've read some books that, as Kant put it, awoke me from my dogmatic slumber, and I ache for a place to put my thoughts lest I forget them.
The two books are, somewhat unfortunately for this blog, both in Dutch. They are Theorie van de Kraal ("Kraal" is an enclosure for livestock) and Hints voor een diagnose. I should've probably read them in reverse order, because the former book deals with the current political climate and why we shouldn't submit to the violent tendencies of liberalism (which the writers put on the same spectrum as fascism), whereas the latter book deals with our current dominant mode of operation ("zijnswijze"), its philosophical origins and why we shouldn't submit to its supposed primacy.
So Theorie van de Kraal talks about liberalism and argues that it is a mediocre excuse for a societal structure at best. It presupposes, and therefore forces, people to be finished individuals: people with borders. There's no room for the idea that we might all be incomplete, imperfect, never finished. No, you're a human being with a definite form, and thus you get all the (negative) freedom to do what you want, as long as you don't cross someone else's borders. These borders are projected outwards by liberals in the form of country borders, and countries are another fiction similar to individuals. Liberalism then says that although people are finished individuals, they have unlimited desire: that's their nature. So they have to run, run together (con-currere) to produce ever more stuff, all the way into infinity or death, whichever comes first. And the insidious, or curious, thing about liberalism is that it feels like there's no alternative: of course there's an economy! Of course we need borders! Of course you have to participate to earn your rights! It feels like such a well-balanced system, where all that's needed is the occasional tweaking of some minor law here or there. But underneath the veneer lies the rot, the injustice, the violence, in the form of the people who are left behind, the homini sacri (by way of Agamben), the refugees and other people who somehow lost their 'inalienable rights'. So maybe there is another way, after all. A better way to live together. Maybe love is a better place to start than contract, or law, or sovereignty. Or perhaps the true starting point is to admit that I, like everyone else, don't know how to live peacefully. Not yet.
Hints voor een diagnose is comparably much drier, more technical, and not filled with the frantic urgency that a book published anno 2019 would have. Otto Duintjer takes Kants philosophy as an example of how western civilisation has been fixated on rationality to such an extent that it forgot that anything else exists. More specifically, we see our 'selves' as thinking selves. Being is thinking. And his dissection of every major facet of Kants work is very convincing: Kant clearly considers thinking-being to be the only mode of operation worth considering. Everything else is merely distraction, sidenote, collateral at best, actively immoral at worst. Duintjer argues that there are nevertheless other possible modes of existing. He goes into quite a few of them, but the one I found the most interesting is the mode of 'simply observing'. This is what is sometimes called 'meditation', and it means you simply observe with all your senses, but also your body and mind. Thoughts may still come and go in this mode, but instead of being carried away by them (and identifying yourself with them), you simply observe them; like clouds in the sky, they come and go. By turning off your seemingly unstoppable internal monologue, you gain access to very different kinds of existing next to and beyond the rational-empirical.
It's fascinating stuff, and it ties in wonderfully with Kraal: both implore us to see other ways of seeing the world and ourselves. To look beyond what's given to us. And Hints too talks about the violence of reason, just as Kraal describes the violence of liberalism. It too talks about how thinking is little more than endlessly running from place to place in your head, just as liberal society consists of endlessly running to produce. In fact, thinking is itself production: it uses sense data as raw input to be processed into coherent thoughts.
So what if we didn't have to produce? What if, instead of thinking about the future or the past, we would just sit down and observe? What if, instead of running from job to job, we would just experience life? Contentment seems to be the biggest threat to the primacy of both reason and liberalism. So let's be content a bit more often, shall we?