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Something I’ve been thinking about: I’ve been diagnosed as mentally ill for a third of my lifetime now. Time frameworks I used to live and breathe by (Get through the month, you’re a legal adult now, that upsetting event was ‘only yesterday’) pale in comparison to being thirty-two and schizoaffective tout court, crazy without license from a going system of delusions. All that lost time — or was it? Research programs, prolix essays, fevered emails, and in the end this blog too — something to do, something to fill the time, all this time — And fill it I did, even if I ultimately have nothing to show for it. J.G. Ballard once said: “Life is long”. Even if you disagree, twelve years is a long time at least.
In a way, being older helps immensely: young people in their twenties are supposed to be shot from cannons, achieving the world even if they gain little from it. As a “zero-worker” for several years now, I was as “far from the madding crowd” as you could be — and it was okay, but it just takes something out of you to be off the grid that long. A friend of mine once asked me, as we were listening to a Notwist record: “Do you think you’ll still like this music when you’re thirty?” Something for young people in general to consider: do you think that your “idols”, your goals, the standards that you vehemently uphold, the praise you want to win from others — do you think it will still matter to you ten or twenty years later? Never occurred to me —
In my old age, I’ve become something of a naturalist about the mind. Now, even Hegel did not doubt the importance of the brain to mindedness, but “anti-naturalists” think that important facts about rational thought are elided by focusing on the neural apparatus. I used to think this for political reasons, but now the importance of Pavlovian research for the early Soviet Union has hit home; I do not doubt that it is the brain and the brain entirely that thinks, rather than an external armature of facts and norms.
There is really no doubt that a materialist theory of the mind can cope with all the rationally known truths cognized by the mind — and certainly if religious people have little difficulty with the importance of the brain, a certain modernist malaise about all we will be able to do in 70 to 90 years (less if you’re lucky?) must go. “Neurobabble” consists not of some kind of ‘junk’ science, as the anti-naturalist is prone to think, but an important re-weighting of modern discourses about the mind and personal responsibility; it of course works hand in glove with human values and goals to create a more ‘enlightened’ approach to thinking.
I would like to sketch just a brief picture of what an ‘enlightened materalism’ for the 2010s might look like. Jerry Fodor has been critical of scientific Darwinists who neglect “module-less” or general features of thought in their “massively modular” account of cognitive capacities; but I do not see why the suggestion of general features of mentation need upset the materialist. In fact, we might consider the best evidence for materialism as an insouciant attitude about thoughts more complex than can be handled by evolutionary mechanisms of cognitive control: that the brain can think them as a whole might well correspond to a catch-all philosophical category like “intentionality”.
What would this mean, tying the general face of object-directed thought to the neural apparatus as a whole? A “transcendental materialism”: in other words, a new impetus for the “examined life” which comes from realizing that certain products of reflection and meditation will never motivate us the way more primitive drives like hunger and sexual desire do; within the natural world, human thought is a closed but expanding loop that can never transcend its limitations to provide a “predatorily perfect world” absent the most complicated processes of human thought.
It can only meditate and ruminate more, not act outside the more tightly constraining bonds of sentiment. A unique feature, if you were looking for a “unique animal” —
It seems like only yesterday that Barack Obama became our first African-American president. And yet this is 2011, and none of the rhetoric concerning recent “dry runs” at the Republican candidacy discusses Obama’s historic stature. The Republican party is clearly trying to re-orient American public discourse concerning U.S. priorities at present, and has achieved quite a coup by turning budgeting priorities into the new “buzzword” section of government. A similar ‘re-orientation’ of American public discourse helped bring Obama to power; it could, perhaps surprisingly, remove him showing little for his efforts, making him a sort of American Edith Cresson.
Many of us, I’m sure, are not eager to return to the days when a George W. Bush ran America. And yet, like many older Marxists, I am less than sanguine today about a strategy of “Democratic aid” for 2012 and beyond. It isn’t that there is no relevant difference between the two parties, but that Democratic austerity politics now blocks ‘telescoping’ out to leftist social-justice concerns more effectively than ever. The ‘redwashing’ of Hillary Rodham Clinton as the ‘progressive choice’ in 2008 was an important issue worth dealing with, but there is undoubtedly less motivation for 2012 to be captivated by liberal bromides which yet again will fail to meet the political needs of the American majority painlessly and cheaply.
Even if it would be worthwhile to have Obama serve a second term, this is not to say that mass America’s political energies are best suited to being palliated by his Kennedyesque charm. Perhaps radicals could instead make 2012 “the year of the issue”: presenting fuller slates of writing and broader organization dealing with economic and social problems than the Democrats or Republicans provide candidates and ‘framing’. If mass government there is to be, let us try to provide ‘straw polls’ for a systematically ramified and elaborated working-class politics enabling the people to take a shot at governing America.
Ricardo Levins Morales’ essay for Solidarity US, “Let’s Not Take America Back”, started me thinking about these issues. If one ignores the past lunacy of the Weathermen, and remembers the limits of ‘lifestyle’ organizing a la fur protests, it is perhaps a “revolutionary” and not a “procedural” point in American leftism. When arguments count more than rights, it’s time to reexamine the whole ball game.
Another year, another stop on the crazy train. I seemed to have figured out how my college years went off track, without yet grasping how to deal with all the people I’ve alienated in the ten years since I graduated. Manic riffs that sustained me for months seem irreparably delusional — this is probably well and good, as it’s the kind of thinking that centered me before I became insane.
My “Dark Lady” was an ordinary middle-aged professional, with a European timeshare and a ‘boyfriend’; my fevered manifestos (much worse than here, if you’re curious) distributed to uninterested colleagues of same contain little susceptible of redemption. There’s something to stop worrying about and something to give up, and not much else than that.
I guess this is what sanity, or ‘stability’ amounts to: precious little to call one’s own, the stresses and strains of modern society raining down on an immature thirtysomething with a slender curriculum vitae. And yet it’s so much better than thinking a vast, sinister conspiracy had taken exceptional notice of a young radical and aimed to spend years thwarting him in the most recondite fashion. Thusly, I’d like to encourage mentally ill readers (surely a large enough component of the readership) to stay in treatment: after a long time, the world may start to look like — what you really think it is like. Eventually, it is anybody’s guess, after all.
Also, Pere Ubu’s “Navvy”, as good as anything as a manifesto concerning disabled rights.