“Maybe we need an indifferent politics, as well. A politics that no longer seeks to erase, exclude, and shame the opposition into hyperconformity. Without oppositional thinking, without contrarian thought we are doomed to self-lacerating annihilation. But then again maybe it’s time for the liberal heritage of democracy to slice itself into finality… isn’t this what they are doing in our time. Are we not seeing the end of democracy and the rise of new forms of tyranny in mind, heart, and flesh? What the new Left condemns in the Right is its own mirrored truth, for the actual militant violence and oppression is the core faith of the new Left in its inquisitorial secularism.” – S.C Hickman
This is just some quick and dirty thoughts on S.C Hickman’s latest dark musings on tolerance and discourse politics, “Secular Fanaticism: Cathedral Politics in a Declining Age“:
There is much to like about Hickman’s analysis, especially the bits that seem to suggest how openness and flexibility in dialogue can produce advantageous compromises that bolster understanding and insight. That, I think, is the measure of a mature interlocutor and a prerequisite for any rationality grounded by an awareness of the inherent (ontological) fallibility of perspective-taking.
Yet, I’m left wondered if there is any room in Hickman appeal to “indifference” as arbiter of truth for an approach that appreciates discourse politics as an ecological (in the widest semiotic and materialist sense) and evolutionary struggle for fitness/existence? Such an approach considers the eco-social conditions from which communication, influence and subjectivity are produced at the same time as analyzing the abstract contents of our discursive expressions. And, I suggest, initiating such expansion of our consideration requires a view of human discourse that doesn’t axiomatically privilege abstract notions of pure rationality as “indifference”.
At the core of this ecologistical view of discourse politics is an understanding of articulating assemblages (bodies with enunciational capacity – as species-dispositional mode of adapting) as always already locked into a struggle for express-ability through what the nerds call “assertoric force”. This struggle is ultimately for semiotic survival and influence in the general wilderness of possible meaning proliferation. In another sense, this eco-evolutionary struggle is a literal war for expressive opportunity and influence waged on many fronts – several of which are pre- or non-linguistic. It is a struggle and war on a general communicative theater of causally efficacious influence and pragmatic operations, and never simply happening at the register of some imaginary plane of possible transcendental rationality.
Which is to say, sense-making and communicative action are never “indifferent”, much less capable of becoming structured by a clear and present regime of logic.
There are no psychological, social, or political conditions within which rationality can sort speech-acts and discourses according to some universal “indifferent” truth. Utterances, assertions and performative discourses are conditioned and given meaning by power and cultural/institutional (and technic) systems oriented towards contextually specific ends.
The habits, practices, and contexts of speech-acts and discourses amplify or dis-intensify schema, attentional dispositions, sentiments, and affects – influencing and generating subjectivities and cognitive interests in ways that have little regard for the normative procedures of logic, or any given style of fact-weighing. Therefore attacks on positions that deploy de-platforming and semiotic warfare can often seem to me to be rooted in an obsolete model of pure reason as mediator of truth.
There are no possible points of indifference (“views from nowhere”) wherein pure reason (or even practical reason) dictates what should be held as valuable references and contents for communication. Semiotic ecology matters.
Such an obsolete theology of truth-rendering only seems to offer the confident reasoner hope of some ecstatic achievement of logical order, but this is just another fantasy of ego and intellect. Truth-rendering always remains predicated on an all too human desire to cognitively overcome ecological complexity (and with that ontological incompleteness) through some sort of triumphant semantic closure: a perspective that believes itself to be outside looking in on the mangled ecology and politics of discourse as such.
Which is to say, the fantasy of indifference is itself predicated on the same “bestial substratum of enthusiasm” (Cioran) that produces every other kind of fanaticism: a will to over-power complexity and transcend the inherent limits of synthetic thought.
To bring it back to Hickman’s post, I wonder if the ‘whatever it takes’ approach (of de-platforming and silencing) he criticizes might now be better understood more simply as a non-linguistic set of tactics that operationalizes an ecologistical view of communicative action in the struggle and evolutionary war for semiotic existence and influential dominance?
Engaging in such non-linear and ecologically geared ‘whatever it takes’ memetic warfare might then come to include an ethics of discourse ecology. This would be an ethics of difference and differentiation (rather than indifference): of sapient navigations still grounded in immanent human-to-posthuman interests. From an ethics of discourse ecology toxic semiosis – that which leads to pathological eco-social outcomes and conditions – might then be seen as that which can be selected out of circulation via more communal valuations of some desired patch-able life, habitat, and communicative milieu.
Our very real struggles for articulation, influence, and instantiation can and do lead to equally real developments in cognitive orientation, social practice, and niche-carving (infrastructure) that then feeds back upon our existence in ways that have deep ecological (in the widest possible sense) consequences. These impacts are, IMO, much more significant and consequential than anyone’s need to satisfy fanatical desires for some supposed cold truth of indifference.
Put concretely, toxic interlocutors such as Yiannopoulos, Richard Spencer, Alex Jones, and others of the hate and misinformation web, generate certain kinds of semiotic and referential fauna that seek out existence via the same evolutionary theater of struggle/war as the various humanisms, communitarianisms, utilitarianisms, etc. An ecologistical view of these different struggles and milieus de-emphasizes theologies of rational indifference in order to take a closer look at the cybernetics of influence, and how actual discursively charged outcomes are generated and socially instantiated in the world – and what this entails for collective world-making.
So maybe its not the case that “there is no place for oppositional thought or politics”, or that certain thinkers want to “systematically purify the world of heretical thought and praxis”, but that there is an operational benefit of taking Darwin and Foucault serious – and seriously enough to wage the war of influence and enunciation at different levels beyond the egocentric ideology of freedom of thought?
Even when he turns from religion, man remains subject to it; depleting himself to create fake gods, he then feverishly adopts them: his need for fiction, for mythology triumphs over evidence and absurdity alike. His power to adore is responsible for all his crimes: a man who loves a god unduly forces other men to […]