zondag 16 augustus 2015

Derailed ideology

What is worse? A Palestinian baby died in a fire bomb attack by Jewish settlers; or four stabbed participants in the Jerusalem gayparade, one of whom is already deceased and the others probably marked for their lives?

This is no kind of question, of course. For those directly involved this kind of suffering equation is not an issue.

And for us as spectators? Once more we find how dangerous ideologies can be. In both cases, it comes to political and religious ideas that run off with people. They turn them into criminals who in their ideological foolishness know no boundaries any longer.

That finding may encourage us to watch more critically the process of our thinking and to ask ourselves where we get unacceptably ideological. After all, precisely well-intentioned ideas – and at this moment I still want to consider most religious or political ideas as such – can get monstrously ideological.

Apart from that I think throwing the fire bomb is the most evil of the two crimes. Because this settlers action takes place within the framework of ideological infatuation which is not limited any longer to individuals. The desire – whether or not religiously motivated – to appropriate as much Palestinian land as possible is the ideological madness of an entire Israeli cabinet. With government-sanctioned lawlessness and outlawry of the Palestinians as a result. That is really very serious.

I hope this time the bombthrowers wil be identified and brought to court.

Also see Polyphony

zondag 9 augustus 2015

Self-reflection by the other

If you had to nominate a profound value that has been produced and cherished by Western civilization, would that not be the capacity for self-reflection?

This proposition is sometimes suggested during the workshop Thinking for someone else, and I think it is true. The Greek motto ‘Know thyself’, combined with the relentless search for truth by Socrates, has triggered a millennia long tradition of critical research. This has not only produced science and critical philosophy, but as its most praiseworthy result – in this view – also a tradition of self-scrutiny.

For examples of the latter, one can think of the Confessions of St. Augustine, the Essays of Montaigne or the Confessions of Rousseau. Typical of this tradition of self-scrutiny is that the self appears twice. The self is doing the action of the investigation, and thus appears as actor. But the self is also the object of the research performed by itself. Quite an achievement indeed.

Undeniably this capacity for self-reflection is something to be proud of. But is it the best thing a man or a culture can achieve? Will you, as a culture, manage in the end, working with the ability to self-reflect as your highest value? The proposition does not pretend that, but I add the question because I think it is an important question to which the answer is no. And because our culture is troubled by that negative answer.

That trouble, in my opinion, consists in the circumstance that, through the emphasis on the self in a double sense, the horizon of thought will also coincide with the horizon of self. The universe of the self-critical self is that of the self. Self-reflection remains reflection of the self on the self. Autonomy is the norm, the self remains its own initiator and author. Many beautiful things can spring therefrom, but the repetition of all those words ‘self’ also emphasizes the solipsistic character of autonomy thinking. How restrictive that is, is shown if you put another – self-invented – word next to it: other-reflection.

By which I mean: reflection – on yourself – that is not triggered by yourself but by someone else. Because, whatever you come up with in your attempts at self-criticism or whatever discipline you display in that, the world turns out to be just thát bit greater than you could imagine, and the other precisely different from what you could imagine. There are other universes indeed, which I can not get at by myself. There self-reflection – triggered by the self – stops, and other-reflection – triggered by something surprising from the other – starts.

This is difficult for Socrates and his followers. They indeed keep asking questions, but they mostly invent them themselves.

Also see Immune and Levinas and Rousseau