202207252231 📃 explication of neoliberal culture

brief outline, for navigation:

  1. critique of neoliberal culture’s point of departure: givenness in consciousness (¶1)
  2. culture: the interface of the a priori and the empirical (¶5)
  3. (dialectical) cultural critique: the objectification of culture (¶10)
  4. rejection of mental illness - all human science bears a cultural, implicit aspect capable of critique (¶11)
  5. the facts of neoliberal culture (¶13-16)
  6. concluding exhortation: merely speaking one’s mind is an act of resistance (¶17)

¶1. What is neoliberal culture? Where does it begin? It must begin with givenness, or what appears in and before consciousness. But what is the a priori justification for claiming that this or that is cultural? That is, what is the universally valid (or valid for all knowers) condition for the possibility of the claim? This must be present within culture. Why? If the a priori in question is anywhere else but in culture, then culture is subject to a universal premise. But culture is its own subject, and if we propose that it is subject to something beyond it, then we must propose something divine. Why? Because any human knower is already subject to culture - no one can speak without the influence of culture on him. How? Though other examples might be given, language is a priori a cultural object. Indeed, language subsists of rules independent of the consciousnesses of all who speak it - if such rules were given a priori and universally, no grammarians would be necessary. Indeed, grammar, in such a case, would not be cultural but individual, since its premises would be present in any consciousness without further clarification. But grammarians conduct that very clarification. Therefore, linguistic rules are not a priori, but empirical. (What I have in mind by such rules are, for instance, in English the phrasal expectancy that an adjective occur before a noun, as in ‘a ‘fat cow,’ rendering ‘a cow fat’ a priori incorrect.)

¶2. To recap: although the use of language subsists a priori and universally in culture, its rules are empirical and given individually in culture. Thus, language is cultural a priori because language is necessary cultural. However, although the rules or content of language are also themselves a priori cultural, they are not, with respect to any individual, a priori. Rather, they are empirical data, learned from without through the process of acculturation. Thus, that language has a certain correctness is an a priori datum. However, what that correctness consists in is empirically given to any individual. Thus, although Chomsky’s universal grammar may be a priori, these inert roots grow out into empirical practices demanding empirical investigation by grammarians.

¶3. Now, language is a cultural object par excellence because of this simultaneous a priori/empirical character. Even though language is a universally valid means of communication - everyone with whom we can communicate necessarily uses it (aside: here I also mean what GH Mead has termed the ‘significant symbol’ or ‘gesture’ as language, so that even deaf-mutes and those raised without ‘language’ as traditionally understood are linguistic; any empirical datum with an a priori aspect is linguistic, in my view. Thus we speak of the “language of ritual” or the “language of rhetoric,” etc. etc.) - its total content is not entirely present in any one mind at any one time. Indeed, no one at any time remembers all conjugations of a particular irregular verb, “write” for example - he must call them to mind. Thus, when he was doing some other thing, he was not thinking of the conjugation at that time. Only having been stimulated to think of the past tense conjugation, “written,” will he conceive of it. One does not have it “in mind,” or “in consciousness,” except when one explicitly does.

¶4. Now, one might contend that one has at any time a possibility of calling all features of language to mind, but is this so? Can everyone say he remembers the arcana of his 5ᵗʰ grade language arts class if only prompted? Who among my readers can define for me the dangling participle without the use of google? For this reason, I deny any a priori validity to this contention. If one has at any time a possibility of calling linguistic features to mind, this too must be an empirical fact, since one’s memory develops in and through empirical contact with stimuli. If you remember what you googled, you stimulated and remembered an empirical object, namely, the information in question. Now, you might construe it a priori after the fact in use, but this again must proceed empirically, since no language occurs except through an empirical datum, the empirical word, the empirical sentence, the empirical paragraph, and so on. Or, if one prefers: the empirical-vocal utterance, statement, and speech. Thus no language use is anywhere an a priori fact (this too as an empirical claim!).

¶5. It is the interface of the empirical and the a priori through language which determines its cultural character. Indeed, it is this which I define as the cultural as such: that which maintains an a priori form with an empirical content. Anything of which we predicate “culture” will follow this definition. Religion rests in an a priori notion of God but follows empirical rituals. Music rests in a priori affects in response to tones but incurs these through empirical stimulation. In short: anything which demands mass practice but must proceed empirically has a cultural aspect.

¶6. Thus, we speak of a “political culture” - that which everyone shares in concerning politics and the state a priori but which is simultaneously empirically given in the actions of politicians and voters. We also speak of a “dating culture” - that which everyone shares in concerning romance and dating a priori but which is simultaneously given in the actions and experiences of those who date. Entailed herein are “expectancies,” “probabilities,” and other conditions and consequences of human action. We subsume all of these under “culture” for their inner ambiguity: the interface of the a priori and the empirical.

¶7. Now, the ambiguity arises and must be subsumed itself under the cultural practice of using the predicate “culture” because we have nowhere else for the set of practices to which the term extends. When we mean to talk of that which is not definitely studied under a human science or that which is otherwise incalculable, we give it the moniker “culture.” Hereby we partake of something cultural - the assumption that some actions given in consciousness warrant no further investigation and are, therefore, merely “cultural.” “Culture,” then, is nothing but a thought-termination mechanism, a stop-gap to prevent penetration into the order and grammar of action. Where culture begins, science ends.

¶8. I might recap and say, then, that culture is the implicit, whereas science is the explicit. Thus, Aristotle’s political philosophy is deeply cultural since it accepts slavery a priori, on numerous readings of his work. Aquinas’s moral philosophy is also cultural because it accepts faith a priori, although Aquinas himself admits this. In the modern period, only Kant (himself cultural insofar as he postulates God, though I must bracket this for now) sought to critique the cultural in the philosophical. Thus, Marx follows Kant and claims that the critique of religion is embryonic criticism of all culture since, hitherto, all that was assumed a priori about man was justified in and through divinity, a cultural artifact. The probing into culture is, therefore, the critique of implication, of “mystical consciousness obscure to itself.” Hereat I return to my opening premise, that culture must be its own subject, lest we posit divinity. It is only when culture is a natural force, subject to nothing but itself as the highest accretion of biological, chemical, and physical law that it can be probed into and critiqued. When we posit natural law of culture, as the economists often do via the market, we bear for ourselves a new God, a new highest subject to which we must submit. Anyone who dismisses the critique of culture does the same, culturally.

¶9. Now, where most sit still before the possibility of cultural critique is what with Hegel we can call “picture thinking.” This is the notion that the empirical datum is irreducible. Yet, science everywhere disproves this fact - as inquiry into causal probability, science demands logicism, or the incorporation of empirical data into law. Thus, most will cringe (perhaps rightfully) from the explanation of human behavior in general terms. Such explanations are often reductive and totalizing, subjecting culture rather than objectifying it. That is, reducers make culture subject to laws (typically their laws), rather than inducing the laws in culture subject to it. For, we are already in culture and, I repeat, the moment we subject it, we unconsciously posit a divinity above it. Thus, misogynists will posit the quasi-divine “natural” character of female submission; neoliberal pansies will posit the quasi-divine “natural” character of self-interest, etc. Here Spinoza returns in a most hateful garb! Such “natural” posits are only attempts at prophecy: “I, dear mortal, have the laws of Divine Nature, to which you are inevitably subject! Only follow me, and you will forever see paradise!”

¶10. If, then, we are to define neoliberal culture, we must critique it as an object. Any other definition will subject it to something beyond it, which deifies. Similarly, we can only proceed on this definition via our own experience, since any other definition of any culture in which we live is objectified through our encounters with it. Anything else will posit culture as a subject beneath us, rather than an object within us. It is this haughty, ignorant, illegitimate move which wins the ire of so many milquetoast thinkers who deny the possibility and necessity of cultural critique. Such thinkers would rather “do their part!” within the system, accepting it and its cultural baggage as pre-given. Yet, those who go to far and reject so ideological thinking become self-enclosed, as they posit themselves as the quasi-divine object which subjects all culture beneath itself. A dialectical view of culture, by contrast, puts the self in the position of subject while making culture its object, so that the question of culture’s subjectivity is at worst bracketed and at best answered in the negative. I have attempted to perform that negative answer here through the datum of language. In ¶8-10 given the worst case scenario - moving on in quietist terms without absolute security in my point of departure.

¶11. Now, this dialectical view denies the a priori possibility of mental illness. How? Because individuals are everywhere subjects to culture, no givenness before any one individual can be dismissed except culturally. Why? Because all speech-acts entail a cultural moment, or a moment of subjection before a superior power of which they are unaware (culture), all givenness is valid qua cultural. Now, culture itself can and will pick up demands for expediency, the sustenance of life, and so forth. Thus, on my (admittedly radical) view, no view (even the most extreme and heinous) is wrong a priori. It can, at most, have a moment of a priori wrongness, but this is insufficient for its being wrong. Sufficiency accrues only when a culture empirically sanctions that a priori moment. Is this cultural relativism? No, for reasons that must be specified at a later time. In brief, if we assume that culture is its own subject and that it moves in and through consciousness, then, as with the rest of evolution, either consciousness will suit its niches or it will not. This suiting will demand a right and wrong in and for consciousness, and it is hereat that any so-called “objective” morality will arise - sustenance of human life, a priori moral dicta, etc. All I mean to say is that even this objectivity stands on historical ground, accreted through collective practices, and that we cannot deny this fact. For individuals, this means that there is nothing a priori about their givenness which can be denied. Rather, all diagnoses concerning the critique of that givenness (the first point of departure for symptomization) are in the last analysis cultural, and cultural critics (like Foucault, MacIntyre, Butler, and Agamben) are necessary to justify the final cultural move.

¶12. Thus, the point of departure for cultural critique in general and the definition of neoliberal culture in particular cannot be forestalled by a critique from individual eccentricity, or mental illness. Rather, because all such critique will proceed culturally, and it is exactly this which cultural critique aims to critique, the critique must be accepted in good faith, or else whoever would dismiss it a priori erects a new God before which all men must submit. I do no such thing. Let all speak, and let all listen! Then, let those who want life to win out quiet those who threaten it. Isn’t this all cultural history as it has ever proceeded, even in the darkest of nights? What demagogue has appealed to death as his winning principle? None exist.

¶13. Having defined culture as the a priori/empirical interface and its critique as undeniable on a priori terms, all that is left is to apply these generalities to neoliberalism in particular. The first fact (1) of neoliberal culture is the bifurcation of life into work and play. One works to play and one plays to work. One does his 9-5 so that he can reap the rewards of other goods and services produced by others on theirs. The second fact (2) of this culture is that, when playing, one ought be entirely at rest and present in his play. Play must never be a work, since one intentionally reserves his working thought for his job. All cultural critique is therefore automatically suspect, since this would be a job which ought exist within the confines of the academy. The third fact (3) is that persons are the data of culture and that culture must end with its own utterance. As said in ¶7, “culture” terminates thought as a “That’s just how things are,” and then implicitly, “don’t dare look further into it.” With the second fact, the termination thereby says “if that’s what you want to do, go be a social scientist and leave us out of it.” The fourth fact (4), then, is the implicit inadmissability of all culturally critical thoughts on grounds of hubristic subjection of others to oneself. Many will, in fact, dismiss this paragraph because each sentence implicitly invokes them. This fact alone will warrant their disgust for the thought “He thinks he can read my mind!” All minds are, thereby, assumed absolutely inviolable and subject to no theorizing. That is, of course, until marketing agents, psychologists, and sociologists perform their work! The fifth fact (5) is that a set of expectancies for social comportment must be admitted in consciousness as “normalcy.”

¶14. The first datum (a) of normalcy is the sui generis character of the social. That is, social relations and formations are assumed to have a natural character unto themselves whose consequences and conditions are inviolable. One automatically should have friends and should associate with others. This formality is a priori; its content is left an empirical datum subject to those with whom one associates. This datum is the condition for the possibility of all contemporary literature which stereotypes subjects based on friend groups and clothing. Such thinking permeates our language. One cannot say “jock” without thinking of a definite character type who associates with others of the same type - those who like and play sports. The same can be said of a “goth,” a “band nerd,” a “starbucks girl,” a “finance bro,” a “cs coder,” and so on. Each evokes a determinate constitution, the character of which enters the social sui generis. That is, how one comes to incur the moniker and associate with others of the same sort boils down only to some vagary about “feelings” or “desires.” The rest is social life in brute normalcy - people just somehow associate and accept the world in a pre-given manner; some associate based around one kind of pre-givenness (e.g. sports), others around another (e.g. a form of music), others around another still.

¶15. The second datum (b) is the universal subjection of men to other men. Unless one happens to associate with Marxists or anarchists (a fact already subject to fact 5.a above!) one is never free to speak his mind about how power rules over us. No, instead this fact will be sublimated into humor and jokes. There is a liberatory praxis herein - power is disarmed beneath its finitude. Comedians, particularly George Carlin, are adept at this kind of thinking. However, this remains unconscious and mystical insofar as humor maintains 5.a unto itself - it picks up sociality as something unquestionable and pokes fun at the fact it has not yet been questioned. Now, if one happens to associate with those leaning right or misogynistically, this fact will be taken up under a primitive deifying of “nature,” so that “power” is just a “fact of life.” Hereby thought is once more terminated, as culture becomes a subject of something about which we cannot control, “nature”. (How it is we have controlled any aspect of nature is, then, never mentioned). In most cases, however, (5.a) and (4) will be rallied to critique misogynists and fascists (if one is a liberal neoliberal, particularly Rawls) or Marxists (if one is a conservative neoliberal, particularly Karl Popper) to subject the individual in question and his analysis before the premises of neoliberal culture: the inadmissability of culturally critical thoughts and the sui generis character of the social. This constant thought-termination smacks of anti-intellectualism, status-quo-ism, and do-nothing-ism. It is, at its best, milquetoast harm mitigation. This is necessary work. However, it does little more than keep the Sisyphean rock of human culture in place while the gravity of ignorance pushes it down.

¶16. The third datum (c) of normalcy is the practical application of (a) and (b) as working and playing well. Working well means admitting the sub-datum (i) that the division of labor is all well and good and (ii) that we cannot know or question the total orientation of that labor, since it denies the normative character already already affirmed in (i). Thus, each must go to his job, put in a hard day’s work, then return home. Playing well means going out with friends, joking with them about how aimless the world is, then returning home so you can go to work the next day and make money to do it all over again. This is the final compression of all neoliberal subjects into (as Herbert Marcuse terms it) a one-dimensional mold: work, play, and (iii) shut up. For, to speak is to violate the cultural expectancy which binds us to our work-play cycle; to speak is neither to work nor to play in the traditional sense. To speak and enter upon the critique of culture is to risk everything, since culture (as J. Huizinga, Hegel, and Marx argue) is the highest human achievement, “Objective Spirit” in Hegel and Theodore Adorno’s words. (Aside: one can only speak as an individual victim of other individuals. Here speakers assume (5.b) such that, for instance, African Americans are victims of white power (which, to be sure, they are), without ever questioning the condition for the possibility of that power. I affirm instead: African Americans are victims of white power foisted onto them by a cultural totality (neoliberalism) which uses white power to its advantage as a means of keeping groups separate and preventing an (admittedly romantic) universal brotherhood of men. The difference: while in the first speech the totality remains unquestioned and other practices of violence can be perpetuated, in the second the condition is struck a blow at its cultural root.)

¶17. Speaking, then, is the first and final act of cultural criticism. To merely expose what is given to oneself of the evils of the world is an act in resistance to that world. To break the mold of normalcy: to dare to blaze a path of absolutely self-given autonomy, to be a free spirit in the Nietzschean sense; this is cultural criticism complete and entire.

summary outline:

  1. critique of neoliberal culture’s point of departure: givenness in consciousness (¶1)
    1. otherwise, we assert divinity (¶1)
    2. because culture is its own subject, to which all else is subject (¶1)
    3. as demonstrated by language, which is a priori and empirical (¶2)
      1. language is never actually present a priori in consciousness (¶3)
      2. language is never possibly present a priori in consciousness (¶4)
  2. culture: the interface of the a priori and the empirical (¶5)
    1. “culture” as itself cultural (¶6-¶7)
    2. cultural critique as depending first on the critique of religion (¶8)
    3. cultural quietism is a cultural deism (¶9)
  3. (dialectical) cultural critique: the objectification of culture (¶10)
    1. necessarily given the empirics of language (¶10)
    2. possibly given the pre-established critique of religion (¶8)
  4. rejection of mental illness - all human science bears a cultural, implicit aspect capable of critique (¶11)
    1. as denying wholesale dismissal of cultural critique (¶12)
  5. the facts of neoliberal culture (¶13-16)
    1. life = work + play (¶13)
    2. work ≠ play (¶13)
    3. culture is ineffable; only persons can be spoken of (¶13)
    4. cultural critique is personal irresponsibility (¶13)
    5. normalcy is a set of expectances for social comportment (“how you ought to behave”) (¶13)
      1. the sui generis character of the social (¶14)
      2. men are universally subject to other men, a fact which can only be laughed at (¶15)
      3. the only normal activity is to work and play well, as (¶16)
        1. accepting the division of labor normatively (¶16)
        2. denying the possibility normative critique from the standpoint of totality (¶16)
        3. keeping quiet about your thoughts (¶16)
  6. concluding exhortation: merely speaking one’s mind is an act of resistance (¶17)

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