RADICAL PHILOSOPHY VS. THE OLD CONSCIOUSNESS:
WHAT ROLE MIGHT IT HAVE?
by Aaron Asphar, UK
There is an evolution in human consciousness today that has somehow become aware of itself, even though comparatively little has shifted on the social scale. There are also signs that a vast unification in strands of historical thought is on its way: most of the contemporary Western writers on the new consciousness are recognizing the anthropological significance of early spiritual scriptures describing this imminent evolution, a vast convergence of human sciences in the West – in astrophysics, quantum physics, neuropsychology and evolutionary biology for example – are radically affirming esoteric insights of the various Eastern traditions, even if the final unification itself remains elusive. While the various disciplines appear to be shedding light on each other’s mysteries, we have the absurd situation where none of the most crucial developments in the scientific disciplines are communicating themselves to its axioms in social knowledge – for example contemporary social and political theory, psychology, sociology and the like. When they do, a total revolution in these fields will be inevitable. The evolutionary process in consciousness that we are concerned with appears to be transcending the limited paradigms of psychology, sociology, epistemology and cosmology, and the nuclei of the process may well extend beyond what, at present, we can experience, measure, perceive or perhaps even imagine. As such, the most crucial developments of our times are finding themselves emerging out of a discipline only to find itself exiled into the noumenal space between disciplines, slipping through the fingers of Western self-understanding, which is precisely what the institutions are there to develop.
We need not ask here the exact nature of this evolution of consciousness: it is enough to recognize that many of us feel ourselves undergoing it, and feel that somehow we understand it, and as it turns out, find ourselves understanding it in similar ways. It appears that at present, the vast majority of Westerners are probably in the dark about this evolution, although few will doubt the precarious historical juncture within the development of this global social order, seeing perhaps that some kind of radical change is needed and is maybe already in motion. Many seeking this change will not, as yet, be anticipating any responsibility for these changes, foreseeing instead some kind of intellectual, economic or socio-political shift that will occur in the social order and impose itself: the role of each of us in this change is not yet clear to many.
The biggest hegemonic emotion in the West has to be fear, not alienation, and the biggest problem in overcoming alienation is overcoming our socialized psychic constitution, that which produces both fear and our inability to move beyond social ideology in our attempts to overcome it. To me there is only one satisfactory answer to overcoming this fear, and that is emotional social cohesion, which augments existential confidence and can help support and innervate revolutionary change on a personal level and then beyond. However, such emotional-social cohesion does not exist at present – this needs to be built up from liberated subjects. At present, it will be necessary to wean ourselves off the compulsion, henceforth dominant in left wing Western political activism, to spend our energy on the detached, exclusive intellectual labour of making totally impotent criticisms of governments and institutions, or otherwise contributing to the accretion of reified, hegemonic social knowledge that can no longer explain us to ourselves, and merely provides a language for describing the society that is, rather than instituting that which must be. I say this energy must augment itself, not dissipate itself between itself and the mechanical operatives of the system which operates as a whole, not as isolated institutions, problems and individuals.
In the Yogic traditions, the evolution of consciousness was an achievement of radical, individual praxis – a self-emancipation. To make this process open and social, an investment in emotional-social cohesion could be an additional project for the West, and this would be radical augmentation to Eastern approaches to emancipation, and perhaps prove ultimately inspirational in this latter context also: this would make sense of the reconciliation between Eastern and Western thought that I feel must be on the cards, and it would be to my mind the most radical investment in total human emancipation possible in the West, where overcoming social alienation is the utmost priority in enabling us to see outside our constraining factory consciousness. However, lacking such investment, it seems our other pertinent use of intellectual enquiry would be to elucidate the actual social and psychosocial obstacles to emancipation we find in the specifically Western context, and to elucidate philosophically the grander evolution of the psychosocial order and consciousness – to account for the process dialectically and intellectually in order to persuade the Western mind away from the known, from the anachronistic theory, rather than to impart a new philosophical schema. The role of philosophy here would seem then to be to prise the mind off a dependency on philosophy and theory, thus fulfilling the logic of Marxian, Hegelian and other approaches wherein abstraction would abolish itself, and as Marx put it, “the senses would become our direct theoreticians”. However, beyond that, the evolution of consciousness occurs prior to language and cannot be explicated conceptually without reification and reduction. It does not depend on extraneous political or social institutions, or on fixed ideas, theories or concepts, and no rigid system can usefully be supplied from without. It is about liberation from the past, the known, and the external: so what role might philosophical and other intellectual work play in stimulating or supporting this radical shift in consciousness? I think philosophical language can only point to or elucidate this experience, not proscribe or delineate it in a programmatic way.
For those of us who feel they understand something of this evolutionary process, it is clear that there is a change in consciousness and such a change necessarily implies change at all levels of human experience or ‘reality’, though as a symptom, not as an intention, and this again marks a radical break from the old doctrines. The old progressive social and political theories sought change in the social-economic conditions in order to emancipate the subject, but today we see a revolution emerging as a psycho-physiological or spiritual evolution from within-outwards, hence we are in an entirely different era in terms of the debates around theory and praxis. Really, it seems to me that radical intellectual autonomy today is nothing but simple, unmediated conscious awareness: it has nothing to do with social knowledge in its current form, and will occur only as we free ourselves from the known: there can be no theory for such consciousness or the means of attaining it. The evolution is a personal, intuitive, practical and emotional struggle, akin to the kind of existential responses to the absurdity of twentieth century modernity, in theories such as angst or authenticity. They gesture to experience that which transcends language, rather than seek to construct a reified social knowledge, and this is the kind of philosophy that can be useful today.
Perhaps we can then make a distinction between philosophy for the development of a social or hegemonic knowledge, and philosophy as an essentially artistic praxis of elucidation. Social and political philosophies as we have known them, indeed all philosophy and theory that seeks to contribute to the development of social knowledge, have always presupposed a social consensus framework, bound by social-emotional cohesion, within which our lives are organized and realized, and no such framework or cohesion exists, even though the institutions of social knowledge are structured all the way through by the old consensus assumptions. The argument for thinking the old way – that developing rational, formal or normative theory for example is that it is conducive to the production of social knowledge, that we have such organizational consensus frameworks through which we can organize ourselves and produce, exchange, communicate and so forth – is anachronistic in an egoistic social order where these formal structures are used to conceal instrumental, egoistic imperatives, driven by the negativity generated by social experience. This is the reality of rational, consensus, democratic, discursively ethical life today – a concrete manifestation of the old consciousness. It constrains and circumscribes the expression of desires, needs and capacities, and produces proportionately social negativity. As such, autonomous thought cannot proceed from the assumptions or limitations of social knowledge: language must express our life content, not refer us to the one communal possession that divides us both within and without. What would autonomous thinking be today?
For me, autonomous truth is simple: emotional, sensuous certainty, but for social knowledge, this is the most degraded data, a “metaphysical” complication to thought even though it is the most concrete, the most physical, and moreover, the most autonomous, and most accessible to anyone. Today, our social knowledge acts as a dissolute god through which we alienate our capacities for such emancipated thinking, where we can draw on our actual experience as a magma of embodied truth, a language more extensive and subtle, and far finer, far more elastic than any heteronomous, slow social thinking in words with their definitions over there, and their history elsewhere. If we seek to know the world, then experience will go many times further than any kind of anachronistic political or social theory, and this is the nature of the radical philosophy of the future to my mind: that which elucidates the actual, rather than merely rationalizing its appearance.
All the shifts that are emerging in the Western psychosocial order are occurring outside of knowledge in embodied, lived experience: yet in ordinary academic thinking, our actual life content, our own particular experiences of life, situation or text, become the most degraded kind of truth, the most ‘subjective’ truth, even though it is the only kind of autonomous we have. As such, there is a question whether or not social and political thought has any progressive, radical role at all in this transcendent evolution. I feel the most important philosophies to come will not be seeking to argue or rationalize, but to elucidate struggles within the existent hegemony, or perhaps intervene intellectually in such struggles: we can think of the radical philosophies of the Situationists (e.g. Guy Debord, Raoul Vaneigham) as examples, or the radical, critical philosophies of Nietzsche or Helene Cixous. Such activity seeks to transform and liberate: it is not negotiation with unfreedoms but their negation, and such philosophical exposition will be hugely valuable in communicating the profane social and psychological problems that will doubtless unfold over the next few decades.
To conclude, it seems to me that what is most certain today is that we all need to grasp this reality for ourselves, and no grasp of reality is achievable but for that which grasps – us, as living, autonomous, creative, experiencing beings. This is what philosophers, radical artists and other creative radicals are: this is what we all are. In order to deploy these capacities we must work with our own existential reality, hence must depart from the already-known and already-there. Existential, empathetic or intuitive sense-certainty is what I mean by embodied certainty, and if we use old language to express this new experience, rather than reduce our experience to inadequate social definitions, we speak not of truth as it was or should be but truth as it unfolds in the only place it can unfold: in the living experience of a subject. Because such resources are autonomous, as a basis for thought they allow intellectual maturity, humane critical displacement from the ideas and forms of social life, and allow language to be turned into a creative magma through which you can elastically articulate yourself, not as the object of a wrestling match you have to win in order to gain the right to speak about your reality in its language. Radical philosophy is about elucidating the non-conceptual: it is a symptom of liberated thinking, and we can think of Nietzsche, or indeed of Buddha or Jesus, as examples of the kind of break in thinking that is demanded for today. Its point of departure must be a total negation of the known, so as to become properly philosophical-poetic, and this kind of discourse, to my mind, will be a crucial element in the energetics of the forthcoming revolution of human consciousness.
Aaron Asphar’s SHORT BIO:
I have been writing blogs, poetry, research into critical theory and developing philosophy on blogs while devoted to postgraduate research, but the time has come to chose between an academic or some other career associated with my work as writer and thinker. However, the compromises entailed have, for me, proved prohibitive. Instead, I develop a site to communicate my research and philosophy into the human condition, and develop radical interrogations of the present. The work I am posting at the moment has been developed as a free thinker and I cannot give up this autonomy: owing to my total commitment to the concerns of human emancipation, to do so would amount to sacrificing ends for the means – at least it feels that way today. This site aims to be both means and ends, and the development of it is envisaged as follows. I first publish research concerned with the history of Western self-alienation, that of our lost or negated creative, social and emotional capacities and experiences (or species possessions): critical research into the development of Western civilization: philosophy and analysis of radical and emancipated subjectivity, and the process of self-emancipation and praxis: also work on the somatic or negative moment in writing, and issues concerned with the trajectory of the process of civilization from a critical theoretical point of view. I post my own critical and philosophical work on all these themes, and then having done so, I can devote my energy to research and thinking concerned solely with the needs of human emancipation and radical interrogations of the present.
The reason for this approach is that all my energies as a thinker need to be in one place alone: here and now, and to one cause alone – the content I seek to explore and convey. This seems incompatible with an academic and publishing career, especially today, with all associated intellectual compromises and extraneous consideration this always entails today.
Personally, I am not at all cut out for such compromises and am happy to devote myself to doing what is important to me without recognition, for as long as this is possible. I have published work in journals and am open to and grateful for solicitations, but will not be seeking to publish as this would, and has, compromise my capacity to write and think freely.
For more details about the author, publishing history, and other research see my previous research blog Aaron Asphar: philosophy, critical theory, negativity and the body; for research on music, art, writing and critical theory see also my old blog negative logos.