Friday, September 17, 2010

Pure Ideology

I got an email the other day which featured the "purest" example of ideology I've seen in quite a while.

It contained an email that had been sent to my friend (who I won’t name in case she wants her identity kept secret) from a “Marxist” professor which basically attacked her for not being Marxist enough. I only know some of the context, but she had just recently helped organize an Ethnic Studies summit in San Diego and so the listserv for the conference has been the site for a lot of pointless posturing, of which this purely ideological email is a perfect example.

Reading the snarky, snippy Marxist email was both hysterical and depressing. It represented on the one hand something so hilarious in the way in which the author took himself and his orthodox defense of Marxist theory, thought and intellectualism so seriously. It was depressing because it made him look like someone so sublimely out of touch with reality and even the nature of the very theories he was shrouding himself in to argue his intelligence and superiority.

My reason for calling this email (which unfortunately I won’t share here) purely ideological is because it was almost completely self-referential and insular, self-fulfilling and judged itself and everything around it through Marxism. I felt like I had just seen the theoretical metaphorical manifestation of Gaara from Naruto’s Ultimate or Total Defense Jutsu, Kabåles yan Perfekto na Dinifende! His email was perfectly cocooned and cut off from the world in an elegant, but delicate and utterly pointless Marxist prism. The email claimed others to have dared to cite Marx through “second or third hand readings” and also dared to think about the world through other lens such as Third World Feminism which as anyone should know are not properly Marxist and therefore cannot be correct! That was what made the email so perfect in its pointlessness, was that it judged everything through a claim to the rightness and effectiveness of his interpretation of Marx, even things, theories or ideas which don’t give a crap about Marx or are blisteringly critical of it. It was as if the email was not only written despite contrary ideas or evidence, but that it almost seemed to ignore the existence of anything else in the world, and through the belief that everything can be explained in some way through citing something that Karl Marx once wrote or perhaps burped after eating a particularly good meal. That is pure ideology. It is so pure, you might even call it religious.

As should be obvious, my connection to Marxism has always been kind of funky. I never participated in Marxist reading groups like the radicals of yore. Where we all gather together in a coffee shop, an abandoned building or in the college library and whisper to each other about what could Marx and Engels mean in this page in this paragraph in this tome. I never ever went through any experience of being a "real Marxist" where I took his theories to the point that they became my strict ideology. The world in which I grew to consciousness in is the one where Marx had already been killed. His ideology, his side of the battle for the world had lost in the 1980’s, and he could only be called forth, from now on, through a medium, as a spectre as Jacques Derrida so poetically put it.

But that in no way means I haven't read Marx and don't think he is one of the most important thinkers in the world. I appreciate Marx in a detached way, which doesn't mean I don't have any passion for discussing his revolutionary potential, the revolutions that his ideas helped bring about, but it just means that I don't really care about the icon or idol or Marx, nor treat his words as sacred and things to be interpreted and followed in the original essence or intent. Marx is a philosopher to me, and his ideas are philosophical, they are not at all religious.

Part of this distance from Marx proper comes from my Ethnic Studies background. When we read Marx in my department, we read him through others who have reinterpreted and revised him, such as Atonio Gramsci, Stuart Hall, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Oliver Cox, Slavoj Zizek and Gayatri Spivak. For so many of these thinkers, their relationship to Marx is similar to mine. He is important, he is or was revolutionary, but he needs to be revised, revisisted, challenged, re-made and yes in many cases completely ignored pat mana'salamanka.

For example, in Ethnic Studies we often would sift through the ideas which built modern academic disciplines such as Political Science, Economics, Sociology, Anthropology and so on. And part of that exercise would be reading their texts and seeing what role race, difference, reason or exclusion would play in making that imagined academic community or domain. When you read the primary texts from long dead white people such as Hegel, Freud, Weber, Durkheim, Marx, Kant, Locke, and so on, you cannot help but read them through their gaps, their limits. By this I don’t only mean read them through the way their theories have failed to bring about the worlds they envisioned, but I mean the gaps or sheer taihinasso na inconsistencies which you can sometimes find in their work, especially around things such as race or sex.
In the case of Marx, I have so much trouble taking him seriously because I supposedly live in a post-revolutionary moment, where even if I despise the way someone like Francis Fukuyama puts it, I live in a moment where history proper, a sort of real radical and fundamental change in terms of society, politics or economy can never take place. The present world which appears to be dominated by the prevailing ideas of liberalism, democracy and capitalism is just too damn cushy, too damn comfortable, and too best of all possible worlds, and so it will never be surpassed, just reformed in minute ways. This is of course not true, but it is a powerful and potent hegemonic thought which binds together so much of what is considered to be commonsensical or the nature of things in today’s world.

But I also find it difficult because Marx has been proven wrong so many times on so many things, that it seems almost ludicrous to treat his ideas as gospel. Marx is not the person who has been proven most wrong in the world ever, I’m sure that privilege belongs to some market analyst for Wall Street in the past few years. But in the time since he was alive, his ideas have been questioned, rephrased, adapted and sometimes thrown out completely, especially as Marxist true believers struggled with when exactly the millenarian prophecies would be fulfilled, or when the abstract conditions Marx outlined would finally be met and so the gears of his revolution would at last begin!

One thing that I find most interesting is while Marx was clearly one of the most radical philosophers prior to the 20th century, his thinking was still very limited in terms of race. As a result he, like so many others, created hierarchies for races and their prospects for revolution and always placed Europeans at the top and the rest of the world at the bottom or edited of the list entirely.
So when I say that the email I read was purely ideological, I am not saying it is somehow different than this blog post, and my claims are non-ideological, while that professor’s are. Ideology is of course everywhere and it is one of those strange academic terms which you could conceivably warp in order to say almost anything. Ideology is like a sheet in a Cristo conceptual, environmental art piece, which lays over the landscape, giving it a definition and therefore shaping our view and how we perceive the tendencies or power and discourse in the world around us. Ideology allows us to make sense of the potential chaos that is the world, it makes everything easier by limiting our frame, limiting our potential identifications and by narrowing our gaze and dividing the world into allies and enemies, problems and solutions, what is reasonable and what is madness, where resources should be put into and where they shouldn’t, what is sacred and what is not.

But, as Slavoj Zizek notes the ideological statement par excellence is “that this is not an ideological statement.” Similar to the way in which, when you preface something with “I mean no disrespect” it usually communicates that you are about to clearly disrespect someone, when you qualify something as not ideological, that means that it very well could be the most ideological statement possible. Ideology is meant to be natural and neutral, it is not supposed to mean anything, even though it is full of meaning. You are supposed to come to those conclusions, those thoughts as if they are as natural as breathing. That is one of those reasons why the idea of being called “ideological” is so loathsome and is supposed to be negative. It is because whoever is calling you that is attempting to reveal that your ideas are not your own, they are trying to paint you as someone who does not have your own thoughts and more importantly, who does not have natural thoughts, which are rooted in the world, but instead thoughts which come from “special interests” or particular, specific places and are not universal in the sense of being part of the sheet draped over the world which people accept as the world itself.

As such, the personal ideologies of people, the things they take as their true thoughts are meant to function like fanhulof’an, like a sanctuary, a sacred, safe place which can shield you from the uncertainties and indeterminacies of the world. Life is just one minor or major confusion or trauma after another, and in fact you could argue that the condition of existence for humanity, is to live of trauma with a dash of sanity and stability mixed in. So the ideological castle you build for yourself is not just a structure meant to help you debate with people who disagree with you, hinangai-ña gi lina’la’-mu na u hulof hao ginnen i fehman na pinadesi gi lina’la’-mu, it exists to be your shield to and protect you from the regular trauma of life, so instead of feeling like an ant on a leaf which is floating down to the earth from the tree, with no way of doing anything about it, that ideological nexus makes you feel like you can guide that falling leaf, or it at least gives you good reasons why it is important that the leaf fall!


Rashné Limki said...

it wasn't an ethnic studies summit. it was a summit re: the budget cut issues and the next day of action (oct. 7th). i doubt this professor would be seen within 10 miles of anything ethnic studies. after all, he thinks it's postmodernist, middle-class radicalist crap.

RealityZone said...

Thank you.
I am not a highly educated person.
I only have a high school education.
But IMO:

Most isms forget about one thing.
The human spirit.
This can not be taken for granted, because it can not be controlled, or taken away.
The one thing that lies deep in this spirit is freedom, and the need for self respect.
One can not exist with out the other.


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