Moral Ideology III: Philosophy Makes You a Free Machine, Research Time, 20/06/2014

Continued from previous. The typical, or at least stereotypical, reply to this looming spectre of technological processes making machines out of men is to return to nature. I encountered a lot of this notion in my research on environmental philosophy, where witlessly romanticized conceptions of the natural world were sadly commonplace. 

That sad old fox, Martin Heidegger.
The most profound offender in this regard I consider to be Martin Heidegger, though he at least promises philosophical complexity in his ontology of a pure nature and the destructive egotism of the technological drive. He came of age as a philosopher during the period of Marinetti, Gramsci, Fordism, and totalitarianism as well, so developed his thinking in the wider context of that dialogue. He has since become an inspiration to many in environmentalist philosophy, his late-period writings explicitly on the nature of technology giving them at least a starting point for a conceptual framework to oppose the current eras drives to extract from the Earth instead of live on it. 

Yet Heidegger himself was an utter fool in how he expressed his philosophical insights in action, allying with the political movement that was the most intense articulation of the drive to become machine. The reasons for this choice will probably become more clear as his Black Notebooks grow more prominent, but they will always be murky and uncertain. Reality, including human action, always underdetermines our theories of it.

The ultimate ending of the Utopias project, will be a stand against this idea of subsuming all human singularity in a mechanistic system. But it will not be a return to nature. I have learned Nietzsche’s lesson well. Once the old dogmas have been rendered obsolete, you can no longer return to them to defeat the new dogmas. The new dogmas contain the very elements that defeated the old. 

Some of Gramsci’s writings indicate part of what that stand will be. I know it will have to do with some principles of political anarchism, the impossibility of truly representing the needs and concerns of a person through any representative medium but the voice of that person herself. He presents some notes on education in which I can see seeds of that resistance. Education, he says, are about building the habits of a person who can understand himself, which is only possible not only through introspection in one’s own psychology, but through historical and cultural understanding. Not only must you know your mind, but also the history and the world that produced you.

Italian Futurist and First World War casualty Umberto Boccioni's The City
, a brutally organic vision from a group who worshiped technology.
His account is still about developing habits, a mechanistic notion. In this, he has surpassed the challenge of the mechanistic vision of humanity. The brutal efficacy of the mechanistic way of life crushed the plausibility of any romantically spiritual visions of what it means to be human. It was called the First World War. And that mechanistic vision sought to create a human that was literally mindless, a collection of habitual movements, driven by the directions of the wider machine, whether it was used for war or to build cars. Gramsci instead discusses the habits of how to liberate yourself, how to make yourself into a thinking machine.

Anyone can be a philosopher, says Gramsci, a statement with which I profoundly agree. We live in a sea of concepts that we already use to make sense of the world through language and religion, and build a hodgepodge of common sense. The high-intensity professional philosophical writers like me and the others in my tradition essentially do the same thing, but with a lot more rigour than most folks muster. But our art is a popular art, the art of thought. Anyone can perfect that art in such a way that they can resist the terrifying trends of current existence, whether Gramsci’s or our own. Thought is the beginning of resistance.

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