Our Ideas Are Our Eyes to See Our World, Composing, 04/02/2016

Yesterday's post was more than a little disjointed, and a tad repetitive, I thought. But the idea I was working through will play a major role in the explicitly political sections of my Utopias book, so I want to take another crack at explaining it. That’s what a writing blog like this is for, after all.

We all understand the world through ideas. They’re our presumptions about the way the world is. We need these ideas to operate as our framework for understanding, organizing our experiences. It’s a kind of non-conscious interpretation.

Concepts can restrict and organize our very
possibilities of movement.
Writing this post right now, two versions of this idea come to my mind, which differ in ways appropriate to their context. Both these versions are from Western philosophy, but very different traditions, contexts, and approaches. 

One of these is the conceptual scheme, a concept from the theory of knowledge, whose main developers were Donald Davidson and his Obi-Wan, Willard Quine. It has its roots in the writings of the old Ludwig Wittgenstein.

The other is the concept of ideology, which is a major concept in the marxist tradition of political philosophy. Probably the most important figure in this concept of ideology wasn’t Karl Marx or Friedrich Engels, but Antonio Gramsci. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, as well as Antonio Negri, developed the concept further. 

This political conception of the ideas that shape how we understand our world is my primary focus in the Utopias manuscript. The idea from the epistemological domain makes for interesting contrasts, precisely because it’s resolutely a-political in all discussions of it that I know of. 

Thinking back, this is why I’ve always been dissatisfied with a lot of the Analytic tradition of the theory of knowledge, because the tradition blinds itself to what I thought were the obvious social and political implications of what it explores. 

I’ve always been a bit of a weirdo. 

So enough about the history of Western philosophy and its sources for ideas I might riff on in the Utopias manuscript when I eventually write the bloody thing. What political implications of the conceptual scheme concept appear in Negri’s Empire, the book I’m reading right now?

Here’s how I’m figuring out the idea right now. This is still very much in a state of flux because I’m literally through the implications of the concept and my use of it as I write this post. As my fingers move across my keyboard, I’m philosophizing. You are literally reading a live recording of the act of philosophizing.*

Her music is fantastic, and a great background for
thinking through some weird thoughts.
* And Grimes. I’m also listening to the latest Grimes record.

I get the feeling this post will have two parts. Because there’s much more than I have room to say in one post or write in one session.

As we all move through our daily lives, we don’t usually think about the full range of implications and potential meanings for our actions and everything we experience in society. If we did, we’d never get anything done. We wouldn’t even eat breakfast, and starve to death contemplating.

This isn’t really a sustainable habit, and if we met someone who did this, we’d get them psychiatric help. So for most of our lives, we focus on the tasks at hand, or in our immediate future, or directly connected to our personal and professional life plans.

But these possibilities and potentials don’t disappear just because we don’t see them. The structures of our society that enable some kinds of action and put roadblocks in the way of others literally help build our personalities. 

A human’s subjectivity is built through environmental interaction. And our environment isn’t just physical – it’s social, political, economic, technological, ethical, and moral. That’s at every scale of human life – the individual and her immediate environment, to the whole of human civilization embracing every inch of the Earth.

The social structure of our world plays an essential role in shaping who we are and how we understand ourselves – our identities and our self-images. Now think about the kind of issue I was talking about yesterday – how and why you might tend to think about incredibly diverse societies across three continents as if they were a single global political force.

My hypothesis for the reason why lies in the conflict that shaped how pretty much everyone on Earth understood global conflict for half a century. The Cold War. To be Continued . . . 

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