The Secular Fanaticism of Indifference

“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 […]

via Secular Fanaticism: Cathedral Politics in a Declining Age — Break The Code

24 responses to “The Secular Fanaticism of Indifference

    • Evolutionary response-ability… I like that. The ability to response to consequential situations via coordinated communicative action seems to me more important than activating ideals of “freedom” or framing the various kinds of struggles via a yearning for rational justification – ALTHOUGH normative reasoning does have a place in the ecology of language games!

      • … if all we are doing is being obsessed with the ecology that is the self center of our own language games, then we are not really evolving, we are not really having, believing or having any faith in ability to be able to respond with what is actually occurring.

        If you read my post comment that I reposted your post:

        I was thinking about this after I wrote it just reflecting upon myself. I don’t think so much that I am saying that I am not involved in a religious ecology of language games..
        It is more that I’m asking why is it offensive to me that I might be involved in a religious cosmology.

        • It is not a matter of being “obsessed” with the ecological conditions, but rather including them in our awareness and operating from a place of awareness of the wider context of communicative action. Without that operational awareness we are slaves to semantics, lost in our own mythologies and without the requisite reflexivity to enact the kinds of openness that afford adaptive response-abilities. Having, believing or holding thoughts, decisions, frameworks, etc., are fine and useful and great, but not taking them too seriously limits us by foreclosing possibilities.

          • “Including them”. Yes. My critique of Jordan Peterson has been that he excludes himself from his analysis, from the world.

            I don’t know if you have listened to any of that guys lectures but, personally I think he has some good lines of reasoning. But I don’t really enjoy the conclusion that he takes from them, and I think it’s because he doesn’t understand what he’s talking about when he uses “post modern” as a kind of catchall trope. While he might use the words and understand the meaning of the text in a certain sense, he’s really not understanding what continental philosophy in general is saying.

            I can tell when I listen to his lectures, the few that I have, I can tell right away from the tambre Of what he is saying that he is not understanding what you (James) just communicated to me right now. I think that you have an ability to coax out the subtleties where I do not. I have come to the same conclusion about things and how to proceed but I’m not able to put those kind of subtlities into words.
            But perhaps I don’t really need to because I can just draw on things that you say to support what I’m trying to communicate 😄🤘🏾

  1. …. but I would have to add that what you are locating in a certain polemic to say, as a generalization, “pure reason“ for example, is not something to be excluded. I would even go so far to say that those types of discourses are misunderstanding what Kant was really saying, the significance of pure reason.

    Because what are you using to even write your post if it isn’t a reasoning that is pure?

    It is exactly in the pure reason that we are able to understand the situation such as you are proposing; it is not an opposition as though now we are understanding something that is true whereas before these other people who associated themselves with peer reason we’re actually kind of deluding themselves. It is more like Harbor Mall said that there is a kind of religious posture contained by these various discourses, I miss reading of what these authors are saying which brings subsequent authors to want to come to certain conclusions. It is these conclusions that we can verify point to and say oh they’re wrong or that’s an incorrect way of understanding. But it is in the extremely religious manner of coming upon reality that were even able to come to conclusion such as your post right here. To say that it is not religious is to continue in that kind of pure reason that you’re proposing is obsolete or somehow limited in its capacity to have a reality.

    I think you’re right on the mark and what you’re saying, but I also feel that there’s a certain obligation to understand the contradiction inherent in what you’re saying. And I think that is really the problem of capitalism right there. But that is a whole Nother discussion

    • My point was that no reasonings, or reason-giving and accepting, are “pure” but always enmeshed in ecological conditions of production hooked to very human interests. There certainly is a place for reasoning done well within the norms of particular tactically charged language games, of which formal logic is an example because it allows us to do very important things with signs. My interest is more in the gestural and navigation layers of language use and communication, and how such uses generate particular relations in the the world, and to what ends.

      • Hmm. I think that’s why I have found your writings over the years very interesting. My concern, the work that I do really is founded in describing or explaining religion. And I think where you get into the subtle intricacies of communication, how it is possible to communicate over mutual alienated states, I draw a line and say there is no communication occurring between what I call “orientations”.

        • Sure. And I agreed. Communication happens between articulating bodies – assemblages capable of expression, reception, and structural coupling – not between “orientations”, which are simply the dispositions of bodies.

          • ….this makes sense. I suppose that I might add that I do not think that those two instances must coalesce into a further unity. What occurs depends on the conditions.

            I think you and I are noticing the same things in general. But are talking about different aspects of the situation.

          • Yes. The condition of “being embodied”. As opposed to the conditions defined by things, by “orientations”. I see Part of my work as describing the universal “thing” that is the human being, the object that is the human being. By being embodied, one is able to view the orientations. Responsibly. Perhaps.

          • You know, I was thinking a little bit about what you just said:

            It is interesting how you are about communication, and that communication occurs between or of articulating bodies, and yet your discussion about the world seems very pessimistic and kind of negative to me, and that appears to me as though there is no communication occurring.

            For if there was communication occurring, don’t you think the world would be a pretty good place?

            I tend to put the darkness, fear, worry about us killing our own planet in the context that people are caught in a condition of not being able to communicate.

            And yet you, who are so articulate in your ability to talk about what communication is or how it occurs, seem to be reflecting an attitude that arises because no communication is taking place.

            Indeed; it seems you and I, at least, have some sort of communication occurring, and that seems very positive to me. I don’t think we’re going to destroy our world. If our world was going to go to shit I would’ve never come across you.

            It seems in the extended analysis analyses, which I’m sure you’re aware of, the manifestation of the world is indeed a subjective correlation of pure reason.

            And yet you and I just right now in these comments have talked about how that correlation can be transcended. And personally I think that transcendence has nothing to do with some sort of group of human beings who are in communication towards killing themselves. 😄

            What do you think?

  2. My view seems pessimistic because the world is a fucked up circus of idiocy and damage. Realist doesn’t sugarcoat their experience because it makes them feel better, they adjust their feels to the situation in which they live.

    Communication is occurring all the time, it’s just not of a high enough quality to generate the kinds of relations we need now. All communication is embodied, or structured, and so with content. So it’s not purely about communication in-itself (no such thing) but about particular kinds and instances of communicative action (physical, speech, gestural, tonal, etc) operating in specific ecological milieus.

    We need better communicative flows disposed to more adaptive interests, not simply ‘more’ communication. We already have a glut of messages and signals swamping the possible conditions for rationality and empathetic regard. If anything we need less, only with a higher quality.

    Fear, worry, etc., are all very real and natural. We should be worrying. I study human ecology for hours every day and I can tell you without hesitation we are heading for near extinction unless we enact a radical societal change NOW. All updated climate models are predicting devastating amounts of global temperature rise. We are 30 years away from all out warfare and billions of people dying – with only 10 years to prevent locking in that outcome.

    Fear and despair and worry AND ACTION are exactly the right responses now.

    The manifestation of the world is a natural process of chemical assembly and evolution. I see very little rationality in the world, other than instrumental reason deployed in the service of monumental greed and stupidity.

    I think you should be less concerned about conceptual production and more concerned about where your water and food will be coming from in the near future.

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