Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Adultolescent Left

Regarding the leftist misuse of language, reader Bryan observed, "There must be something in this kind of nihilism that speaks very deeply to some very strong desires of a lot of people, despite the fact that I cannot understand it at all." He concluded with the question, "I can understand why one might want to be free of the limitations of human nature or economics or gender, but why would one experience meaning itself as fascist?"

My initial reaction was astonishment that anyone is reading my blog. My next reaction was that Bryan had asked an excellent question. I provided an off-the-cuff response, noting that "language is a double-edged sword. Although it is what rescues us from being enclosed in the body and engulfed in the senses--think of the liberation Helen Keller felt when she first learned the sign for water--language can also be experienced as a new kind of prison.

Most people do not speak language, but are spoken by it, and thereby experience it as a restriction on their infantile omnipotence. Think of it as analogous to the collapse of the wave function in quantum physics, from infinite potential to particularized being. If you are something, you can no longer be everything."

Petey has this way of directing me to books and ideas I need when I'm thinking of a particular problem. In this case, he called my attention to the book Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, by Thomas de Zengotita. In it, de Zengotita essentially confirms what I touched on above regarding the infinite plasticity of language.

Remember, this is a problem that only seems to affect the left. If practices such as deconstruction are just unalloyed B.S., then they should result in roughly equal amounts of left wing and right wing B.S. But instead they result in virtually one hundred percent leftist B.S., so obviously, the practice "preselects" a certain kind of individual who is then "spoken" through deconstruction. In other words, leftists don't just use deconstruction; rather, it uses them.

One of the points of de Zengotita's book is that we live in a media-saturated age, to such an extent that it is almost impossible for people to have "unmediated" experiences anymore. In other words, we are shut off from the real, and are surrounded by images and messages directed toward us, which facilitates both narcissism and solipsism: "Everything is firing message modules, straight for your gonads, your taste buds, your vanities, your fears."

This is such a sharp change from previous generations, that we have failed to appreciate its effect on consciousness, on our very being. One of the effects is that the media present us with so many options of how to be, that we become detached from who we are.

de Zengotita makes a direct connection between our postmodern, mediated selves and academia, noting that one can well understand “why destabilizing fixed categories and opening up multiple readings” is “all the rage at the university.” He calls it “intellectual shopping,” that is,

“perpetually entertaining options among undecidables, exercising them provisionally, in accordance with a context and the needs of the moment.... One may lease, as it were, a reading, but one never buys, for interpretations are bound to multiply, and no definitive documentation, no historical condition or authorial intent, will ever secure a settled meaning and resolve the play of language--any more than the purpose of soap or shoes can restrain the way commodities are packaged and marketed as representations of something or other, or the way you construct yourself over time by choosing among all these options--soap, shoes, health practices, readings, relationships, careers, whatever.”

Of course, the purpose of adolescence used to be to sort through the various possibilities of identity, and to eventually settle on one. But now, it seems that people become permanent “adultolescents,” identifying with one’s options rather than a real identity.

The problem is, in the postmodern world, reality is “ironized,” so that people are too detached and reflexive to make a commitment to it. Everything is placed in quotes, so to speak, so that sophisticated people no longer speak of patriotism but “patriotism,” not truth but “truth,” not identity but “identity.”

Beginning especially with the 60’s generation, all of these and other categories were thrown so radically into question, that now they are no longer seen as quite real. I don’t want to suggest that I was unaffected by this. For example, I’m quite sure it was one of the reasons why I waited until relatively late in life to have children--children represent one of our last connections to the real--they are simply “given” in the same way that primordial nature is, thereby sharply limiting one's options. Children--especially very young children who have not yet been corrupted by mediated images of themselves--simply are.

Furthermore, once you are a parent, that is it. One experiences the same thing to a certain extent in getting married, because that too forecloses the limitless choices ahead of us. But nowadays, even marriage has been destabilized by the nagging thought that there is someone else, somewhere, some other choice, who will better complete the self. There are so many choices that we are affected by "buyer’s remorse" in every single area of our being--relationships, religion, career, truth. Everything can be different than it is, and we are existentially haunted by that fact.

The postmodernists are half right about language, truth, identity and being. It is true that, in the past, we were naive about the infinite nature of language and about the diverse possibilities inherent in human existence. Where the postmodernists go wrong is in using this fact to throw out the possibility of Truth--that some interpretations and identities are truer than others.

In other words, while past generations may have prematurely foreclosed the world by insisting on one particular truth, postmodernists foreclose the possibility of transcendent Truth by insisting on absolutizing the relative. Ironically, this is why progressives make progress impossible, because progress is measured by its approximation to transcendent Truth. Instead, they give us only "progress."


Anonymous said...

Now, now...I read your blog every week.

PSGInfinity said...


My we're on a roll this week, aren't we? Now put your keyboard down, and have a great Thanksgiving. And if I don't reply until then, have a Merry Christmas (or Happy Hannukah), and a Happy New Year.

Anonymous said...

I too read your blog- daily, not weekly- but I rarely have time to respond. Don't worry, we're out here. PLEASE KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

LiquidLifeHacker said...

Bob...I would love to see what you got to say about all this torture stuff being debated. In your opinion is torture unethical in all circumstances? I wanna know what Petey thinks about it too.

goesh said...

oh your blog is being read all right - I would hate to take you on in a one-liner contest, or a game of chess for that some of us used to say many years ago, that's a heavy rap you've got, man! I've been reflecting on my own radical days. I miss being able to blame it all on the industrial military complex. That was a nice buzz word, a nice catch- all.... get a bad bag of weed and invariably it could be tied to the military industrial complex. Getting stoned was the only way to make sense of it and cope with it, after all, none of it was our fault. Now there is Halliburton and Bush to blame - the torch has been passed. The convenience of villains - sounds like a nice title for a book, or at least an essay of sorts, hell, maybe even a poem. Oh yeah, tell us what Petey says about squeezing the balls of a terrorist who knows where that suitcase nuke is, waiting to be set off and kill a 100,000 of us and destroy our economy in the process.

Anonymous said...

Another daily reader. You are becoming the Steven Den Beste of the Spiritual/Philosophic realm. Your essays, while short, are complex (to me at least, having always self identified as a rather non spiritual person). Yet in the end the issues you raise are clear and very thought provoking, leaving me stroking my chin long after I have moved on, eager to return tommorow.

Chip said...

FYI: Helen Keller became a radical Marxist. And now you know "the rest of the story."

gumshoe said...

Chip said...

FYI: Helen Keller became a radical Marxist. And now you know "the rest of the story."

"Helen Keller adapted to one form
of blindness,and then,but without the same heroic effort,
succumbed to another form of it."


the Middle Class *was and IS*
the Revolutionary class.
And now you know
"the rest of the story."