by Patrick Wills
[B]ecause […] the right of conquest being in fact no right at all, it could not serve as a foundation for any other right, the conqueror and the conquered ever remaining with respect to each other in a state of war, unless the conquered, restored to the full possession of their liberty, should freely choose their conqueror for their chief. Till then, whatever capitulations might have been made between them, as these capitulations were founded on violence, and of course de facto null and void, there could not have existed in this hypothesis either a true society, or a political body, or any other law but that of the strongest. (Rousseau 90)
1 — Introduction
The purpose of this paper and the research it is grounded on is to understand the nature of violence; and from this understanding bring about suggested practices to reducing violence. My interest in the concept of violence took root from a curious interest in the recent surge in crimes in the United States denoted as mass murder. The common political reaction is to assert a dire necessity to instate prohibitive gun laws and the opposition to this view is a categorical rejection of infringing on the United States’ constitutional second amendment. The second amendment should not be interpreted as a broadly construed carte blanche right to, categorically speaking, bear arms. Following that the majority of people on both sides of the gun debate are in agreement that the second amendment does not guarantee the right for a citizen to own military grade weaponry — tanks, ground-to-air missiles, armed fighter jets, etc. — henceforth, the question is not: do we have the categorical right to bear arms or not; but, rather, the question is: where do we draw the line between which weapons are reasonable arms and which are unreasonable arms, and, more explicitly, what qualities could be used to differentiate between reasonable and unreasonable arms.
Reframing the argument in this way removes the stalemate of the false dichotomy of assuming the second amendment is an either/or proposition and allows us to approach the question pragmatically. If the objective for any prohibitive gun law is to ensure public safety, then it could be pragmatically rendered that it is completely reasonable to prohibit/limit the sale of weaponry that decreases safety. However, notwithstanding this pragmatic reasoning, gun laws only reduce the instrumental means to violence and not the freely willed desire to be violent.
When examining an act of violence the totality of the act — which is actualized in the same way as all other human action — should be examined. All human action is inclusive of a) the will to act and b) the means to act. Meaning, for any action to occur the first requirement is a freely willed desire to act, which is followed by the actualization of the will to act through the instrumental means of satisfying the freely willed ends of the subject. Moreover, if we call the will to act a cause and the means to act an effect of said cause, I can henceforth argue as David Hume did and denote that there is nothing evident a priori in our cause to assert the probable certainty of any effect (Hume 19). In other words, any actualizing of my will through the means to act can only be a sufficient condition of satisfying my will and never a necessary condition. If an agent has the will to act violently towards another agent this will can be sufficiently satisfied by the means of a gun, but the gun is not a necessary condition to satisfy the violent will. One could argue more explicitly and state that if an agent has a will to act violently with a gun and satisfies this will by means of a violent act with a gun, then their means to act was a necessary condition to satisfy their explicitly denoted will. However, not every will to act is acted out, because it is not necessary that we act on every impulse.
Hence, no means to act or action is necessarily conditioned by solely my will. Reducing will to act and means to act as mere cause and effect is logically reasoned in the idea that an effect cannot arise from nothing (causa sui) — all effects require a cause, but conversely, effects are not inherently conjoined within the cause itself. That is to say, in regards to violence, every act of violence requires both a means to act and a will to act; but, conversely, not every will to act violent and means to act violent requires an actualized act of violence to exist.
Pragmatic gun legislation may — eventually and with limit— aid in reducing the violent will. However, I will hastily accept Pascal’s wager that acting from tacit pragmatism that is inauthentic to your freely acted will can alter your will without assuming we dredge the waters of Sartrean bad faith. As the will to act violent should be negated by the ethos of our essence and not by a false identity projection born from the “facticity” of prohibitive gun laws (Pascal part III §233; Sartre 87-88). Additionally, to assert that prohibitive gun laws will reduce violence is to assume a) a naively narrow concept of violence and b) the absolute dismissal of the elusive and socially destructive power of a non-actualized will to act violent.
Therefore, it would follow that in order to reduce violence we have to a) understand what the concept of violence means and b) what causes it to be. From this examination I will posit the following thesis: the will to act violent is the product of a disruption in the homeostasis of the validating layers of ideology. To adequately argue this thesis I will preface my argument with an analysis and formulation of a) the concept of violence, b) the concept of ideology and c) the concept of homeostasis; as to sufficiently lay the clearing that I will use to build a comprehensive theory of violence. In conclusion, I will suggest a path for reducing violence in society that is inclusive of a suggested call to action that when applied is potentially wholly exhaustive, but, unfortunately, also uncompromisingly saturnine in practice.
2.1 — Introduction to the Concept of Violence
Before dissecting the concept of violence, I want to draw attention to the ethical underpinning that is perceived as innately conjoined to all violent acts — or all human activity, for that matter. Some manifestations of violence are reasoned as explicitly permissible — such as capital punishment, war and self defense — while others are reasoned as explicitly impermissible — such as suicide and homicide. For the purpose of defining the modalities of violence the ethical implications are wholly agnostic to the violent acts, eo ipso. Dismissing the ethical character of violence may seem contentious and my deliberation thereof as cursory, but, this dismissal is to ensure we lay a clean foundation to our understanding of the concept of violence before we suture the ethics back into the equation.
The modalities of violence I will use to advance this theory of violence will be the three modalities posited by Slavoj Žižek, which are (starting with the most explicit): subjective, objective and symbolic (Žižek 2008, 9-30)— and this is also the order upon which I will explain them.
2.2 — Subjective Violence
The first and most explicit modality of violence is subjective violence; which is the modality of violence used in common parlance. It is, simply put, brute physical violence as actualized in self-mutilation, suicide, battery, homicide, rape and war. It may be intuited that subjective violence’s destructive force is a) violence par excellence and b) is causal in creating violently adverse conditions to the individual and/or the collective— however, the contrary is the case. Violence that is the most explicit and apparent will attract more attention and, subsequently, more effort towards minimizing it will be enacted (prohibitive gun laws). This would be reactionary as mere response to stifle an effect, while disregarding the cause. Additionally, one could argue that the actualization of suicide, homicide and war — or murder in the broadest sense — has incommensurable impact that cannot be negated by any positive action in the spirit of violence prevention. Notwithstanding that judgement, I will posit that the modalities of violence are interrelated through logical priorities and any method of violence-prevention that does not comprehensively work towards negating all modalities of violence are wholly insufficient and, panoptically speaking, it will only serve as a means of amplifying all manifestations of violence. In other words, subjective violence is dependent on the existence of objective and symbolic violence and, with that said, subjective violence is mere effect of the violent system and therefore has, when viewed in whole, the least adverse impact on society.
2.3 — Objective Violence
Objective violence is the modality of violence that is commonly understood as oppression. I would define objective violence as any time an organization of any type implicitly functions by the means of the objectification of a demographic category as instrumentally necessary to actualizing their ends and justifying their means.
Objective violence can be exhibited in the obvious example, such as how the Ku Klux Klan objectified African Americans as a means to actualize their ideological ends, to the less obvious example of how the ‘War on Drugs’ advanced under the Reagan administration objectified inner-city African Americans as a means to actualize their ideological ends (Alexander 5). Subjective violence, as mentioned earlier, is dependent on objective violence and it is the apparatus that creates the social framework that facilitates the objectification of a demographic category and henceforth enables the actualization of physical violence.
Moreover, we can never have an authentic thought of the Other, as Emmanuel Levinas argued, but we can discover our “subjectivity” (and “humanity”) within the Other as a subject gazing into the eyes of another subject that is like me and otherwise sameness (Badiou 18-19; Levinas 8). Echoed further in the notion that the “…empathic cognition of others, and the other’s empathic cognition of oneself” are neurologically correlated (McGilchrist 145). This process of objectification — or what Zimbardo calls “dehumanization” (Zimbardo 352) — applied to demographic categories in whole is oppression and objective violence.
2.4 — Symbolic Violence
The third modality of violence is symbolic violence, — otherwise known as violence of language — which is the most implicit, most socially damaging and, unfortunately, the most elusive. Symbolic violence has two forms that, for simplicity sake, I will inscribe as shallow and deep. Shallow will be used to illustrate violent uses of language and deep will be used to illustrate the violent structure of language in of itself. The modalities of violence are structured in logical priority; and, just as subjective violence is dependent upon objective violence, so is the case that objective violence is dependent upon symbolic violence. I would define symbolic violence as any and all symbolic expressions (broadly construed) that implicitly or explicitly reinforce and/or enable the manifestation of objective violence through either the outwardly expressed use of language (shallow) and/or the exploitation of the structure of language in of itself (deep) as a means to justify and actualize ideology.
Shallow symbolic violence is illustrated, for example, in sexist language used in advertising and media as a means to justify a patriarchal ideology. Deep symbolic violence is, on the other hand, illustrated as “the Lacanian master-signifier, the ‘signifier without a signified ” (Žižek 1989, 103). Master-signifiers are words that do not have a concrete definition that can be explicitly denoted and because of this ambiguous nature they have the ability to absorb the character of the ideological system(s) they have been inscribed within. An example of a master-signifier would be the word freedom— the libertarian political party in the United States argues that removing minimum wage is an act towards the promotion of freedom and, conversely, the anarcho-syndicalism political party argues that removing the concept of wage labor altogether is an act towards the promotion of freedom. Or, how the difference between a freedom-fighter and a terrorist is only discernible by the ideology they promote/reject — exploiting the “ideological universal” and the falsity that creates a break in the “unity” of these opposing (and sometimes dialectical) forces (Zizek 1994, 306). These two examples illustrate how the elusive master-signifier of freedom can be used to represent the justification of completely opposing actions and henceforth become the fuel in the fire that leads to systemic and institutional oppression and subsequently a causal force in contributing to brute physical violence in society.
2.5 — What is violence?
The concept of violence manifests in three forms: violence towards a self, a non-self and a collective. Moreover, all three modalities of violence (subjective, objective and symbolic) will manifest in all three manifestations. For example, the individual (the self) could use social media as a means of objectifying themselves (objective violence towards the self); the collective culture of consumer America exploits labor in developing nations to manufacture their consumer products (objective violence towards a collective); racist language in military propaganda used to gain support for a war effort (symbolic language towards a collective); and lastly the three manifestations of subjective violence: suicide, homicide and war. Therefore, the totality of violence as a concept —inclusive of structural logical priority — is actualized in nine different manifestations of violence.
3.1 — The Phenomenology of Ideology
Understanding the concept of ideology is on par with attempting to catch one’s shadow, but notwithstanding its elusiveness, I will do my best at deconstructing the concept of ideology. I will begin with Louis Althusser’s summation of Karl Marx in the proposition: “ideology is a representation of the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real condition of exist-ence” (Althusser 181). To unpack this definition further in my own words, I would say that ideology stands as a bridge between a subject’s (ontic) subjectivity and reality, but this bridge — a lá representation via the symbolic — creates an “imaginary relationship” and an illusion that our subjective knowledge can transcend the lacuna between our “real condition of existence” and our imagined condition of existence. An unpacked definition based on Althusser’s proposition would read as: ideology is an unconscious collection of ideas that is composed of actions, motivations, goals, assumptions and expectations of society that implicitly reinforce a social order and permeates into the conscious mind as an internally perceived idea of Truth that manifests externally as a norm. To illustrate, I will walk through this process phenomenologically, as it begins in childhood.
Shortly after birth, one of the first experiences is one of the “mirroring phase”, where a child recognizes a mirrored response in the face of their parental figure and henceforth becomes consciously aware of their self as a self (Lacan 93) and as the child matures and learns to communicate this process of validating oneself through the empathic and conscious reaction from the Other becomes the process of grounding/validating ideology/subjectivity. This process has three layers of validation that I will loosely inscribe as subjective, objective and imaginary. Subjective validation would be the process of validating oneself as a subject, objective validation would be the process of validating oneself’s objectivity through an Other and imaginary validation would be the process of validating both the aforementioned subjective and objective validation through a perceived authority figure — in Lacanian terms the big Other. The aforementioned mirroring phase is significant insofar as it is the genesis of subjective self-recognition, validation by a perceived objective Other and, lastly, the big Other that helps soften the existential angst of being thrown (Geworfenheit) into the sensible reality of self-recognition. These layers validate each other, like a system of checks and balances that self-validate and henceforth bring about the “imaginary relationship” to the “real condition of existence”— alas, this is the genesis of ideology.
3.2 — Subjective validation
The Althusser proposition, “there is no ideology except by the subject and for the subject” argues that ideology does not exist outside of the subject itself — the material determination of ideology is created for/by the subject. In Hegelian, ideology is in itself and for itself in the (mis)cogntion of the sublation of the subject. And, this occurs through a process of interpellation that Althusser calls “hailing”. Illustrated in the following metaphor: a subject speaks in the street and is hailed ‘hey you!’ (by a policer officer, for example) (s)he instantly turns 180° to face the hailing subject (Althusser 191). Although, non-metaphorically the hailer and hailee are the same person and this is how, according to Althusser, the interpellation of the subject occurs. In other words, subjectivity is created and validated through ideology; “the existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects are one and the same thing” (Althusser 191) — subjectivity is perpetually validated throughout life by the subject and for the subject by ideology. However, this is only one layer of the process, because ideology cannot be created for and by the subject in a vacuum — Others are required to (in)validate the material determination of ideology.
3.3 — Objective Validation
Göras Therborn has a process and vernacular to describe this process of (in)validation that he calls the process of “affirmation and sanction,” where an individual (as subject) can encounter an idea, action, motive, assumption and/or expectation of an Other and decide to ‘affirm’ or ‘sanction’ that ideological content based on the content of their accepted ideological system (Therborn 82-84). In other words, this is a way of explaining what happens when two unique ideological systems collide through the process of a subject encountering an Other. The significance of this idea — as it relates to the theory of violence we are building towards — can be reflectively illustrated through the following Marxist critique.
Devout Marxists will utilize the quasi-axiomatic idea of “false consciousness” (Engels 1) as a means of explicating a particular “social consciousness” that is the material byproduct of the base-structure of society, viz. the mode of production (Marx 11-12). The distinct difference between Marx and Therborn is in their pre-conceived value judgement (or lack thereof) in the (categorical) content of ideology. To use the expression ‘false consciousness’ is to imply the Derridean trace of true consciousness and, moreover, it is therefore implied that we are using one ideology as a metric to determine the Truthness (and/or falseness) of a secondary — albeit competing — ideology. But, if ideology is ahistorical in form as follows in the Althusser negatively determined — and Marxist inspired — proposition “ideology has no history” (Althusser 175), then the aforementioned Marxist formulation is begging the question, by asserting that the Marxist concept of ideology has a Derridean “full [metaphysical] presence which is [conversely,] beyond the reach of play.”
That was the long way of alluding to Terry Eagleton’s “right-wing criticism” of Marx (via Derrida) — to which I interpret as implying — that Marx’s formulation of ideology was not a formulation of ideology in the universal, but rather it was a formulation of ideology in the particular and Marx’s system (base/superstructure) is merely the ethos of the ideological system he was affixed to (Rorty 230). This does not contradict the historical materialism that reasoned the Marxist ahistorical notion of ideology but rather, conversely, it underlines the elusive ahistorical immanence of ideology that — akin to Geist — begs for a Hegelian interpretation that any individual pronouncement of ideology as such is both a “pragmatic” and “petty” historical reading that acquiesces to “personal motives” (Inwood 119-120) — the Marxist reading of history is no exception to this. In other words, Marx(ism) was assuming (echoed more explicitly in Lukác) that “truth is either wholly internal to the consciousness of the working class, in which case it cannot be assessed as truth and the claim becomes simply dogmatic; or one is caught in the impossible paradox of judging truth from outside truth itself (emphasis added), in which case the claim that this form of consciousness is true simply undercuts itself” (Eagleton 183). Explicating this paradoxical assumption of Marx helps us draw attention to the words affirmation and sanction, as these words do not imply any ethical value and are as simple as: does the content of the ideology of the Other conflict with the content of my own ideology? If yes, I affirm, if no, I sanction (reject). This — and by this I mean objective validation — is done without ethical judgement and is more a process of social/subjective validation than it is a process of moving us closer to (non)truth.
3.4 — Imaginary Validation
The last component of the validating layers of ideology and the most significant as we slowly move towards the thesis at hand is the validation through the big Other. The process that we have stepped through thus far can be seen in the following chronological steps:
- Subject speaks an utterance
- Subject hails itself through said utterance and validates its subjectivity
- Asserted (assumed) subjectivity enables the assertion of free-will
- (Assumed) free-will enables the subject to assume their validation by/for the Other via affirmation when the Other echoes a like-minded utterance (or sanction/reject)
When this process is amplified among a collection of people who are ideologically like-minded an infinite loop of validation is created for each individual’s subjectivity, free-will and perceived capacity to be objective.
As shown in fig.1 the subject validates itself with its objective self (Hailing), the subject validates its position through the Other (affirmation) and the subject validates through the perceived notion of authority known as the big Other. The ideological content of the subject/other/big Other is pushed through a process of Truth validation where it becomes assumed via the subject that the process of validation is in of itself a process of confirming Truth, as big Other/ideology situates outside the apperception of the subject and it assumes/perceives that the collective validation of an ideological system has the capacity of validating the Truthness of their propositions — transcending the lacuna between the real condition of existence and the imagined condition of existence and creating the illusion that Truth is created from the process itself.
3.5 — Ideology and the Process of Truth
As I conclude this section I want to note the most significant component of my analysis: ideology fabricates a perceived capacity towards objective Truth that is perceived to the subject as manifesting internally as a freely (and discursively) willed act. The hasty example would be a Nazi sympathizer in 1940 Germany who convinces himself/herself that the Nazi ideology was discursively reasoned as True by them without any influence from the other and big Other. But, however, ideologies are always arrayed in disorder and overlap and one’s willingness to affirm and sanction is purely non-discursive (Therborn 77). The justification one gives to accept/reject ideology is contextual, erratic and malleable by ideologies with more mass (power), creating the conditions where the dominant ideological system validates its own will-to-power by exploiting the mechanics of ideology to elevate the Truthness of its (own) content. Creating what Antonio Gramsci refers to as the “function of organizing the consent” through the “apparatus of coercion” (Gramsci §49 201); in sum, the loudest voice — assumed as reasonable — is perceived as the Truest voice.
Balanced State of Imbalance
The aforementioned formula on ideology is rooted in the idea that the individual, as subject, validates their free-will to an objectified (hailed) version of themselves, to the Other and to a perceived source of authority. These layers of validation are also power struggles and are metaphorically like a tug-a-war that is being constantly waged on three fronts. The concept of homeostasis, as it pertains to my thesis, is positing that there is a position of balance between the individual and these three perpetual power struggles. My use of the word homeostasis can be seen in contradistinction to equilibrium as Hegel refers to it as a balanced state in social ethics/justice (Hegel §462 277) or similar to how Carl Jung uses it to describe the “self-regulating” balance of the psyche (Jung 17). Equilibrium, in both the Hegelian and Jungian sense, can be seen as more of a fixed position that persists to balancing itself, as opposed to homeostasis which I posit as more of a floating middle that can find balance in positions of imbalance.
We can now attempt to suture ethics back into the equation, as I’ll go on to posit that this floating middle of ideological balance is also the ethical fulcrum for creating a non-discursive determination of what is ethically permissible and what is not. For example, Žižek has made the hasty and stigmatizing comment that in practice the problem with the Nazis is that they were not violent enough and, conversely, Gandhi was too violent (Žižek 2010). The insight that can be interpreted from this comment, as it pertains to this investigation, is that the Nazi party was able to move the floating middle of power (without disruption) between the German people and their respective ideological validations to create the conditions where the horrid crimes against humanity could be actualized without an ethical conflict (Arendt 1963, 277-278) for the agents entrenched within the Nazi ideology. But with Gandhi, he was so violent in his attempt at rocking-the-(ethical)-boat, that he was unable to slowly shift the floating middle (in the opposite direction to the Nazis) to allow a shift in the ethical fulcrum. This is to say, to use Derrida’s “over-arching insistence”, “meaning [— inclusive of ethical meaning —] is positional rather than absolute” (Berrett 67), and if our perception of (non-)Truth is subjectively manufactured by ideology in a position that is relative to a floating middle — or in Derridean, the place of “metaphysical appurtenance” (Derrida 14) — then it follows that perceived ideas of right/wrong will follow, ipso facto, in conjunction with perceived ideas of truth/non-truth as a product of ideology and for ideology.
To illustrate, say we perceive all human activity as being represented on an imaginary (and arbitrary) image of a red to blue gradient; anything that is absolute red is ethical and anything that is absolute blue is unethical. In this image that is arbitrarily chosen to be 100 pixels wide, one row of pixels will be absolute red and one row will be absolute blue and the remaining 98 rows of pixels will be some combination of red and blue. Ideologies can slowly move activities from one side of the fulcrum to the other and change their ethical permissibility (either direction), and as long as this process is achieved by working with the mechanics of ideological validation (as opposed to attempting to work against it or disrupt it) a state of homeostasis can be created, even in conditions of abnormally skewed ethical balance. The ethical fulcrum that slowly shifts the balance is elusively buried in that space of red/blue color ambiguity and although I arbitrarily chose the width of the schema as being 100 pixels wide for the purpose of cursory illustration, the real ethical schema contains the aggregate of all potential human activity and, henceforth, is infinite in size and impossible for any particular agent to comprehend or predict, especially so when one is (as we all are) entrenched within the system(s) we are trying to comprehend. And this, I posit, is how we create a state of homeostasis — or, a
balanced state of imbalance.
5 — The Violent Will
Although this paper was born out of an inquiry into understanding the nature of brute violence like mass murder and such, the end result has been an exhibition into the complexity of violence as a concept but also — and perhaps more importantly — it has been an examination into the interplay between ethics and ideology. And it is from that interplay that follows the consideration that what society perceives as an unethical act of violence is only unethical insofar as it goes against the ethics of the dominant ideology and violent acts of any manifestation can be perceived non-discursively as ethical or unethical. Moreover, what defines a permissible act is any human activity that the dominant ideology has pushed to the left side of the ethical fulcrum and, conversely, the definition of an impermissible act is any human activity that the dominant ideology has pushed to the right of the ethical fulcrum.
The hasty example used earlier about the Nazi’s ethically justifying their transgressions through their ideology does not imply that we will only find evidence of this merely in the outliers. As, in the United States, institutional racism has replaced the racism of the civil rights era and created an ideology of “colorblind racism”, which is perceived, in comparison to Jim Crow, as “racism lite” but, conversely, this is not the case as it shrouds itself in ideology to “maintain white privilege without fanfare, [and] without naming those who it subjects and those who it rewards.” (Silva 2-4) — where the system itself justifies the morality of its own racist underpinnings by rendering the system itself as ethical and incapable of being unethical. Therefore, even if the product of said system renders racially unequal social metrics, the system, in its process of truth validation and fabricated ethics, creates the perception to the subjects entrenched within the system that as long as they follow (sanction) the contents of the ideological script they are, by categorical assumption, acting ethically sound. That is to say the Nazi ideology justified acts of subjective violence to a collective and the American ideology justifies acts of objective violence to a collective — and both of these conditions are created/allowed through the mechanics of ideological validation.
What is defined as wrong, or unethical or illegal is merely that which challenges the ethics of the dominant ideology and their manufactured power. And the thing that causes one to have a will to act violently and, more importantly, a willingness to act on this freely willed desire is a response to a perceived disruption in the balanced power (homeostasis) in the validating layers of ideology. Meaning, the balance of power for any given individual or collective relative to their ideological validations could be — at any given time — in a state of great imbalance and as long as this power is undisturbed violence will not erupt. Violence (of the ethically impermissible variety) erupts when, and only when, any agent or collective perceives a very abrupt shift in the power that disrupts the homeostasis of the power dynamic of any ideological system they are entrenched within. This is, as I posit, the cause of a will to act violently in society.
However, I am not, by any means, downplaying the ethical determination of permissible action, but, on the contrary, I am advocating that violent acts as defined in the three modalities of violence in section two should be the broad definition of how we perceive violence and, henceforth, freely disconnect ourselves from the notion that there is a such thing as an ethically permissible act of violence. In other words, the system to which I have described in this paper is violent eo ipso and if we want to adequately and meaningfully reduce violence it would be prudent and wholly beneficial to advocate in favor of social practices that reduce the means to act violent, the will to act violent and lastly, and most importantly, reduce the seemingly innate and dogmatic adherence to ideology that is and brings into existence a violent state of affairs.
6 — The Aims of Society
The only thing we can ask now is, what now? Karl Popper argued that utopia cannot be achieved unless we unhinge ourselves from the dogmatic falseness of ideology (Popper 139-145) and notwithstanding the fact that he argues this in light of his championing of scientific objectivity, he still fails to be prescriptive in how this could be achieved, if at all. And is removing ideology in society any different — effectually and/or efficaciously — than promoting critical pedagogy that converts the elusive and transparent layers of ideology to opaque and obvious to the extent that it requires an active and keen will to perceive the ideological contents — like putting on the “ideology glasses” as Žižek concludes in the Perverts Guide to Ideology (Fiennes 2012)? Regardless of whether we are trying to banish ideology or transcend it, the fact remains, the process will be equally abstruse and laborious as attempting to actively remove a metaphysical — in the Derridean sense — assumption that has stubbornly lodged itself into the core of the épistème of Western civilization. This is, without a doubt, no easy feat.
Maybe this could come to fruition from the product of a social revolution as capitalism folds in on itself as Marx proselytized (bottom up) or through a politician that preaches radical reform like the 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (top down) — representing the two common approaches to trying to achieve “social transformation” (Kautsky & Simons 7-9). Not to trample on the political ambitions of Bernie Sanders — or of the “petty bourgeois”, as Marx would inscribe — but social change cannot be created from the top down because a) for a politician to project their social aims on to the body politic is to assume enslavement of the masses and b) social conditions — viz. neoliberalism, et al. — that foster a naive and narrowly focused education system that “emphasizes obedience [and “test taking”] over critical thinking” (Russom 115), creates conditions that do not allow democracy to “flourish” (Dewey 226) — this is, conversely, how you create totalitarianism. Or, in other words, critical thinking education is necessary for fostering an informed body politic that, subsequently, leads to a healthy and flourishing democracy. And, moreover, a healthy democracy is necessary to ensure that the elected governing body is capable of top-down social reformation that does not a) negate the democratically willed determination of the body politic and b) does not enslave the masses by enforcing aims that are disingenuous to the people at large (as materially demonstrated in social metrics). That is to say, a meaningful solution for radically reducing violence of all types in society is promoting critical thinking skills at all education levels as the highest education priority. The fruits of this labor — namely, the reduction of all modalities of violence — will come to fruition slowly and although its difficult to justify actions without the semblance of progress, the exigency to act is undeniable.
To conclude, the aims of society — if any should exist — should be, simply put, ensuring the long term sustainability that the body politic is properly poised and educated to meaningfully and thoughtfully answer this question, ad infinitum — what are the aims of society?
Well, I would answer: to promote philosophy.
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[Thank you Patrick for this contribution. Lead picture credit: Tony Gutierrez/AP.]
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