Time, Thought, Critique

Imagine the following scenario. In thirty years time (it might be sooner) whatever portion of the globe you reside on has succumbed to any or all of the disasters climate science has predicted will befall our societies. You are in the midst of the sort of social disintegration that many a failed state has already been subjected to in recent times.
Stripped of constitutional and legal rights, you find yourself and your loved ones under threat of homelessness and starvation and at the mercy of armed groups or state forces. Or worse, and this is one of the true horrors of social disintegration and war, you find yourself sequestrated into an armed group; you have become that figure of menace from which helpless children and animals recoil.
That scenario might seem unreal or remote. In fact it is intimately connected with our present actions (or non-actions) and the complex of forces already deployed. Dazed victims are already wandering about the rubble of our future-present –  that future already present as the potential enabled on past in-action.
We are blind to our connection with the victims because the image of victims has been co-opted and commodified as news; news that slides into yesterday as easily as a facebook timeline drops under a thumb greedy for another visual or auditory fix.
And even when we do pause to think, news analysis particularises this or that catastrophe as the upshot of local conditions, alien cultures, extreme ideologies or an eccentric combinations of natural forces (extreme weather). No generalised patterns of development or structures of concretion are conceptualised or communicated to explain the connections between events.
Further, we, as apparently passive consumers of news, exclude ourselves as entities networked into (or englobed by) that object- the eco/cognitive/social world – which we seem only to contemplate as disembodied transcendental subjects. But subjects are as rooted in the world as the television viewer is in the networks of material infrastructure that enables her consumption of news.
The upshot is that our actual lived humanity contradicts the way we exteriorise our predicament as belonging to some virtual or abstracted object. This exteriorisation is the essence of a process in which the real is cleaved form our immediate, sensuous experience, an essentially philosophical gesture imposed on us from a position of power which we introject and auto-replicate as the given horizon of what is think-able and do-able.
We take at face value concepts like being, becoming, existence, extinction, self, personhood, knowledge, determination, freedom etc.
As if there was, for example, a natural and unproblematic correlation between the concept human and the concept being; as if there was some actually existing entity or state – human being – that can be pointed to or mapped.
In fact the coupling human/being, elides a philosophical appropriation of the human in favour of a philosophically determined concept being in which finite and multiple modes of sensuous performativity are subsumed under the authority of the philosopher or the academy of philosophers. So too the concept human is parsed  among various idealisms, materialisms, constructionisms, etc.
The ease with which the term human being rolls off the tongue testifies to the way fundamental philosophical concepts are reified as an inescapably binding and naturalised ground.
Soon, though, the virtual will give way to the actual. What was abstracted, reified and externalised will impinge on us as that traumatising real-of-the-human which we have failed to attend to as identical with our own ordinary experience. That ordinary lived – the sensuous, the immediate, the crudely material – is already and always the unilateral condition for how we conceptualise the human.
It is possible, however, to think this thought of the human free from philosophical, ideological or political presuppositions, since thinking arises out of, or occurs in the midst of, ordinary sensuous experience and is only afterwards expropriated by philosophical systems. Our actual lived experience is prior to scientific objectivisation, philosophical ideality or a synthesis of both in which one pole of the dyad predominates over the other by a process of sufficient self-validation.
Lived experience is, in other words, transverse to the structuration of experience by philosophical, ideological and scientific discourse. It is unilateral across conceptual domains, modes and practices and cannot be neatly subsumed within conceptual systems. But it can be thought outside such systems and without loss of rigour or coherence.
We can be critical in our thinking
All thinking, including forms of dogmatic philosophising, are an instance of the dynamic indeterminacy of becomings embedded in a nexus of material, biological, social, cognitive, linguistic, and conceptual modes. Thinking’s own indeterminacy repudiates a form of closure that would negate in thought the actuality of thinking as one instance of that very same indeterminacy. Only in illusion is there an absolutely unassailable philosophical viewpoint. Thinking is, rather, a democracy of human conceptual becomings in which the term becoming is a placeholder of a provisional kind.
On that basis all critical thinking could include a process of critique-of-the-critique.
Rigid and dogmatic forms of philosophical thought are an illusory exteriorisation of the human made available for philosophical analysis. Such thought replaces the human with a reified or philosophised avatar onto which are inscribed binding designations – ontological, epistemological, empirical, social, psychological, cultural, economic, moral, legal, ethical etc. etc.– that is by a totality of designations constituting this or that philosophical system.
Only in illusion can we reify as object that real we already are  –  the human-of-flesh-and-blood made alien as the objectified image of a news report. The antidote to philosophical illusions is critical thinking; and the antidote to critical thinking – when it becomes Critical Thinking – is critique-of-the-critique or what Marx called “sensuous practice”, (1) inclusive of a thinking that takes account of the multi-various ways in which our thinking is worlded under the authority of this or that philosophical system.


(1) What the concept “sensuous practice” might mean is explored in this thought-provoking essay by David R Cole.

* Image credit: here

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