Nothingness Pregnant with Everything: Hegel and the Dialectics of History

Hegel famously writes that “what is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational” (1991, 20). This should not be misconstrued as a statement that justifies a conservatism which seeks to maintain the status-qou or that would suggest that all ‘actually’ existing forms or patterns present are the the utmost pinnacle of reason and rationality and should therefore be preserved. Rather, as Ian Fraser explains, it is “that the rational is present even within an imperfect world and the Speculative philosopher’s task is to comprehend this rationality” (1997, 90). To understand this one must equally understand Hegel’s view of history, his dialectic, the importance of Geist (translated as Spirit or Mind) and the immense interconnectivity of all three.

Peter Singer writes that “one of Hegel’s central beliefs” was simply “the belief that history has some meaning and significance” (2001, 14). While Hegel can be said to be a teleological thinker his belief in the “meaning and significance” of history is far more a statement explaining that “reflection on our past enables us to discern the direction history is taking, and the destination it will ultimately reach” (Singer 2001, 15). Indeed, Hegel’s teleology should not be considered classical, strong, or wholly deterministic. It seems to be not so much a teleology of the future but, a teleology of the present. Perhaps one could say that Hegel’s is a ‘realized’ or a ‘sapiential’ teleology, especially as it is wholly dependent upon the efforts and actions of humanity for its realization. Here, as Peter Thompson explains, in relation to history, the dialectic, and Geist, “becoming was the password to understanding how the ‘absolute spirit’ [Geist] not only expressed itself but, more importantly, generated itself through the process of history” (2011, para. 7). Thompson continues saying that Becoming is “the process by which Hegel’s absolute spirit was not only working in the world but creating itself at the same time” (2011, para. 7). This becoming is the very essence, purpose, and function of the dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) in which Being is negated by its contradiction Nothingness which is then sublated by Becoming. Hegel makes such a determination through analyzing the sociological patterns and formations constructed throughout ‘actual’ events within human history and reveals the ‘unfolding’ of the dialectic motion of Geist through the speculative approach of a kind of philosophical/historical hindsight. Here, Hegel’s relation to history and teleology is not linear but, is more of a spiral, as the ‘synthesis’ that comes about through the interaction of the thesis and its antithesis is often open ended. As Peter Singer explains “Every dialectical movement terminates with a synthesis, but not every synthesis brings the dialectical process to a stop” (2001, 102) In many cases as Hegel illustrates with his historical overview of societal progression the synthesis is “the thesis for a new dialectical movement, and so the process will continue” (Singer 2001, 102).
This process is representative of a kind of dialectical transcendence and a radical immanence, that is, it is a transcendence (transcending that which exists) that occurs without the Transcendent (a ‘beyond’ or wholly other). For Hegel, history, humanity, the World, and Geist are a holistic totality. Hegel proposes that “spirit[/Geist] is not something individual, but the unity of the individual and the universal” (1991, 197). The Becoming of the world and history is at once the Becoming of Geist, for Geist and the world are one and the same. Thus, the evolution and progression of the world is nothing other than the self-consciousness of Geist realizing itself through itself. It is the world coming to know itself as itself. Any supposed separation is an illusion and brings about what Hegel terms ‘alienation’. Sean Sayers explains that “it is part of the essence of self-conscious spirit to strive to overcome its alienation, its separation, from nature” and as such Geist “strives to heal its breach with nature and be at home in the world” (2003, 120). As Hegel himself writes this “is not intended [as] a self-recognition that regards the specialties of one’s own weakness and defects: it is not the individual that is admonished to become acquainted with his idiosyncrasy, but humanity in general is summoned to self-knowledge” (2004, 220).
Fraser, Ian. “Two of a kind: Hegel, Marx, dialectic and form.” Capital & Class 18, no. 61 (Spring97 1997): 81-12. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 5, 2013).
Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Hegel, G.W.F. The Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. New York: Dover Publications, 2004.
Sayers, Sean. “Creative Activity and Alienation in Hegel and Marx.” Historical Materialism 11, no. 1 (March 2003): 107-128. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 5, 2013).
Thompson, Peter. “Karl Marx, Part 3: Men Make their Own History.” The Guardian, Feb. 27, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/apr/18/karl-marx-men-mak
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Wor(l)d Made Flesh: The Materiality of Interaction

I just finished reading two interesting blog posts by Levi Paul Bryant, whose blog Larval Subjects I highly recommend you follow. In his post, entitled “Thinking at the Edge of Apocalypse“, Bryant emphasizes that the essence of ecological ontology is not ‘nature’ (i.e. “pertaining only to rain forests and coral reefs), which, regardless of how suffuse, is representative of an illusory binary that severely limits ecology to a very narrow scope. Instead, and in all actuality, as Bryant explains, the utter impetus of ecological ontology is, in fact, a kind of inter-relational totality. Here, Bryant writes, that “To think ecologically is to think beings in relation; regardless of whether that being be the puffer fish, economy, or a literary text.” Simply stated, “Everything is ecological,” including and especially “culture and society”.

This in itself is a scathing critique of capitalistic and consumeristic ideology, which precisely proves Bryant’s point. In her article, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” Gillen Wood demonstrates that “It is the character of modern consumer society to promote the idea that nothing is connected”. The orientation of such a societal structure is entirely individualistic, atomistic, and, above all, pathological, propagating a deleterious ontology of false segregation, thereby eliciting deprivation, and disenfranchisement. However, Wood writes that “Sustainability, by contrast, teaches that everything is connected,” as such, “sustainability is truly the science of everything, from technical strategies for repowering our homes and cars, to the ecological study of biodiversity in forests and oceans, to how we think and act as human beings”.

In this regard, Bryant further elaborates the immensity of ecological ‘inter-relationality’ and ‘interactivity’ in his post “Interactivism“. Yet, here he makes the vital distinction that these interactions of ecological ontology are not “ghostly”, phantasmic, abstract, transcendent, nor apparition-like but, instead are unavoidably material, concrete, and fleshly. Byant writes that “there is always a materiality of interactions” and that “Every interaction requires flesh.” He explains that “Even symbolic and linguistic interactions require flesh to occur,” noting that “They require an atmosphere…or electro-magnetic signals, paper, smoke, or any number of other mediums.” Flesh is matter and, as Sallie McFague explains in her book, The Body of God, flesh not only “includes all life-forms” but, also “all matter on our planet” (17). Flesh, it seems, “links us with everything in the most intimate of ways” (McFague, 17, *my emphasis added). Flesh “knits us together with all life-forms in networks of shared suffering and joy” and is without a doubt “the most intimate and most universal way to understand reality” (McFague, 17).

These are but my initial thoughts, reactions, inclinations, and musings based solely upon cursory inquires and peripheral readings. I look forward to delving deeper, thinking further, and researching more…

The Moral Responsibility of Existential Freedom

Below you’ll find a short essay I wrote for an Ethics class I took earlier this year. The essay is a brief exploration and investigation into the moral framework of Jean-Paul Sartre’s and Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialist ethics. Let me know what you think. Enjoy!

 

The key to understanding Sartre’s conception of ‘responsibility’ is to grasp his idea of freedom. Sartre adheres to a radical freedom, perhaps one could say the radicality of a metaphysical freedom. Here, Sartre emphasizes his notion that ‘existence precedes essence’, in other words, he stresses the fact that “man exists, turns up, appears on the scene, and only afterwards, defines himself” (320). Thus, Sartre explains that because of this radical existential ‘freedom’ “existentialism’s first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him” (320). For Sartre, because humanity arrives in an undefined purity of existence or Being it is the utter and absolute responsibility of each human individual to define their existence. As such, Sartre underscores the radicalized autonomy of the individual.

Similarly, de Beauvoir’s stance regarding ‘responsibility’ is also directly linked to her understanding of ‘freedom’. Here, she deviates slightly from Sartre in her description of what she calls ‘situated freedom’, that is, she recognizes that “our capacity for agency and meaning-making…is constrained, though never determined, by the conditions of our situation” (Bergoffen, sec. 2). This is not to say, however, that de Beauvoir denies Sartres claim to ‘radical’ freedom and responsibility, rather she extends them into the domain of the other, emphasizing a kind of autonomous interdependence. In other words, in her recognition of one’s full responsibility to their radically autonomous freedom she senses a deeper call and a deeper commitment, a calling committed to acknowledging one’s simultaneous responsibility to recognize the radical freedom of the other. Debra Bergoffen explains that “Though I can neither act for another nor directly influence their freedom, I must…accept responsibility for the fact that my actions produce the conditions within which the other acts” (sec. 4). In this regard, the ‘situation’ of our freedom/resonsibility is marked by the communal interconnectivity of individuals. De Beauvoir points out that “an individual is always situated within a community and as such, separate existents are necessarily bound to each other” (Mussett, sec. 2.b). Thus, de Beauvoir makes clear that our responsibility to express our individual freedom does not take place within a vacuum. “She argues,” instead, “that every enterprise is expressed in a world populated by and thus affecting other human beings” (Mussett, sec. 2.b). We are each other’s world. As such, for de Beauvoir, responsibility is hinged upon one’s ability “to treat the other…as a freedom so that his end may be freedom” (142). De Beauvoir writes, here, that “To will oneself free is also to will others free” (73). Thus, de Beauvoir concludes that “To will oneself moral and to will oneself free are one and the same decision” (24).
Bergoffen, Debra. “Simone de Beauvoir.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Stanford University, 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
De Beauvoir, Simone. The Ethics of Ambiguity. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp, 2000. Print.
Mussett, Shannon. “Simone de Beauvoir.” The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. IEP, n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
Sartre, Jean-Paul. From Existentialism is a Humanism. In Ethics: Classical Texts in Feminist and Multicultural Perspectives. Ed. James P. Sterba. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 319-325. Print.

The Sustainable Mapping of Ideology

In her article, “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” Gillen Wood demonstrates that “It is the character of modern consumer society to promote the idea that nothing is connected” (Wood). The orientation of such a societal structure is entirely individualistic and atomistic. However, Wood writes that “Sustainability, by contrast, teaches that everything is connected,” as such, “sustainability is truly the science of everything, from technical strategies for repowering our homes and cars, to the ecological study of biodiversity in forests and oceans, to how we think and act as human beings” (Wood). In this regard, Wood does well to note that “Sustainability is a human and social issue as much as it is ‘environmental'” (Wood). Thus, as Wood describes, the primary and most predominant obstacles  to realizing, actualizing, and achieving global sustainability are psychological, social, and ultimately ideological.

George I. Garcia and Carlos Gmo. Aguilar Sanchez explain that ideology is “the generating matrix that regulates the relation between the visible and the invisible, the imaginable and the non-imaginable, as well as the changes/shifts in these relations” (2). Garcia and Aguilar Sanchez propose that ideology is comprised of “three basic moments: ideology in itself, as a series of ideas; ideology for itself, in its materiality (ideological State apparatuses); and ideology in and for itself, when it enters into operation in social practices” (3). Indeed, the ‘psychologically’ “inherited mental frameworks that reward us for the normalization and simplification of complex realities” and the socially constructed “economic and institutional arrangements designed to protect us from material wants,…risk, shock, disorder and violent change” are the very building blocks of ideology ‘in and for itself’ (Wood). Here, the fragmentary self-ishness of modern Western consumer consciousness is nothing short of being ideologically hegemonic. The work of ideology is to provide “an idealised vision of a ‘society’ that cannot really exist” (5). This is expressed and articulated most clearly in the operative practices of consumptive civilization, implicitly promoting the idea that we can continue our current way of life and go on consuming at our increasing rate without experiencing or causing any disastrous or catastrophic effects, suggesting that there is simply no direct correlation between our societal practices and ecological crisis.
Sustainability and Deep Ecology function as radically subversive social critiques of ‘ideology’. Both sustainability and deep ecology emphasize the fact that “we live in a world characterized by connectivity” and that we must adapt our thinking to a complex, connected model of the world and our place in it,” expanding the boundaries of the self, initiating the ‘complete’ integration of personality and consciousness, and adopting a relational ‘total-field’ image of the world (Brennan and Lo). In this way, each and every one of the efforts of sustainability and deep ecology seek to actively engage in “the long and difficult process of de-normalizing” and disrupting the ideological underpinnings of consumeristic society (Wood), awaking us to the “traumatic limit” and the “true horror of the Real” which urges us to activity (Garcia and Aguilar Sanchez, 5-6).
Brennan, Andrew and Yeuk-Sze Lo. “Environmental Ethics.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Edward N. Zalta. Stanford University, 2011. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
Garcia, George I. and Carlos Gmo. Aguilar Sanchez. “Psychoanalysis and Politics: The Theory of Ideology in Slavoj Zizek.” International Journal of Zizek Studies 2.3 (2008). Web. 18 Nov. 2013.
Wood, Gillen. “Sustainability: Ethics, Culture, and History.” Sustainability: A Comprehensive Foundation. Eds. Tom Theis and Jonathan Tomkin. cnx.org. Connexions, 2013. Web. 18 Nov. 2013.