|Open Forum: Are Cultural Myths
Honest Representations of Current Social Practices..?
And Can We Be Aware of Contemporary Mythology…
Or Does it Remain a Cultural Blind Spot?!
An Examination of Ideology
Let me quote a passage from Alain de Botton’s recent book Status Anxiety.
…In Marx’s phrase, ‘The ruling ideas of every age are always the ideas of the ruling class.’
Yet these ideas never come to rule if they were seen to rule too forcefully. The essence of ideological statements is that, unless our political senses are developed, we will fail to spot them. Ideology is released into society like a colourless, odourless gas. It is embedded in newspapers, advertisements, television programmes and textbooks – where it makes light of its partial, perhaps illogical or unjust, take on the world; where it meekly implies that it is simply stating age-old truth with which only a fool or maniac would disagree.1 (1)
The above passage makes a number of points that perhaps should be debated:
That ruling ideas are ideas of the ruling class. Is this correct?
That ruling ideology is difficult to appreciate for those within that culture?
That ideology of any persuasion is always partial, somewhat illogical and unjust?
That to disagree with such prevailing notions is to be regarded with suspicion?
That ruling ideology tries to stamp itself on all forms of the media? (2)
Before we debate these issues I would like to discuss, very quickly, some of my latest thoughts on the nature of power and ideology because, I believe, a clarification of our thinking along those lines might well be able to help us in our examination of this topic “Is there an inherent cultural blindness in a person’s appreciation of their own culture, and, are we able to overcome such a handicap?” (3)
What is the Relationship Between Power, Ideology, Myth and Metaphor?
In my own investigations into the nature of the hermeneutic circle, the relationship between parts and wholes, and v.v., I have created a form of examination that involves distinguishing three dialectical moments, namely:
1. the textual, retrospective phenomenological treatment of analytical parts,
2. the meta-textual, prospective hermeneutical treatment of synthetical totalities and
the non-textual, ‘immediate’ existential treatment of the (transcendental) suspension of the first moment and the second moment…
…the hermeneutical circle is then found to be fully functioning through an ongoing dynamic balance of all three moments, as an overall transcendental suspension… in a not-textual like state of experience. (4)
Early on I realized that our phenomenological investigations must be of a ‘text’ and therefore the necessary implication of the hermeneutical dimension. In the light of this tripartite scheme I also realized the necessary implication of an existential moment.2 Historically, the phenomenological philosophical movement has veered towards either the hermeneutical (e.g., Heidegger) or the existential (e.g., Sartre). As I have investigated in some depth phenomenological and hermeneutical aspects I have now re-directed my recent philosophical interest towards this third element of the existential. Such a component is interested in the present, the spontaneous, the sense of the mediated ‘immediate’, the chaotic indeterminacy that imparts a sense of dis-continuous immediacy in the course of natural mediation, the simulation of ‘presence’ and the presence of ‘simulation’, etc. In other words, a concern oriented towards the very dimension of power as we experience our engagement in this World-of-Life (with ‘others’ and ‘things’ that are neither ‘other’ nor ‘non-other’ or ‘self’). This existential aspect is realized through the harmonization involved in and through a resolution of the relationship between the dissonance of textual difference, etc., and the consonance of the background field in which that sense of text is inserted, discerned, etc. What is realized through such resolution is the semblance of power whose differentiation produces a sense of the inequality of power-relations. My recent readings of the French philosophers Deleuze and Foucault have assisted me greatly in finding concepts and a broad language that can insightfully discuss this topic of power.3 Under a short series of headings I would like to discuss some of these ‘insightful’ ways of treating this topic. (5)
1. Power is not just negative or repressive or merely domineering. It also expresses a complex dimension of the positive. The way power is seen and experienced, expressed and suffered, also creates an associated theoretical discourse – nominating and defining therein the object(-state)s of that discourse. In a practical dimension various technologies (of the self) are also created and utilized in the direct and indirect light of that discourse. Lastly, from a critical point of view various programmes are attempted in order to establish their thematization of goals at the same point of time in the ‘present’ through such planning. Unfortunately, these three dimensions should not be treated as absolutely harmonious and, as a result, a certain degree of discontinuity is manifested between them. E.g., Foucault tells us that although prison have been designed for the reformation of their errant residents the failure of this programme has not stopped us from expanding this technology of the prison nor has it created a serious revolution and reconstitution in the nature of our discourse in this respect. We, as potential objects of this discourse, should now conceive of ourselves as potential targets if caught committing criminal acts and/or to have been judged to have committed such crimes that ‘merit’ such processes of ‘correction’ (when studies generally seem to show that the process of incarceration is neither corrective nor appears to act as a cultural deterrent). Furthermore, this style of discourse has seeped over into a number of other areas of ‘social concern’ and v.v., such as, e.g., hospitals, psychiatric institutions, nursing homes for the elderly, the general nature of parental supervision (to the extent that ‘most’ school children today seem to be ‘locked in their homes’ and escorted to and from schools, or, to the extent that that is seen as a ‘norm’ in this regard??). Again, these practices are also more self-repressive in nature to the extent that we impose them upon ourselves or allow them to occur. Another instance of this type of mentality is the omni-present presence of security cameras, etc. Rhetorically, one could ask “is there no one now who is not already in jail?” (6)
2. This brings me to note another feature of power and that is this fact that power is essentially all-pervading, coming from everywhere and going everywhere within the ambit of the associated relationship dealing with those types of power-relations. Power does not just radiate, e.g., from the king or parliament through their agents, etc. It totally infuses the relationship and is both directed inwards and outwards in its expression and experience. In accordance with my understanding of the existential nature of relationships, the relationship comes into existence in and through the resolution of the dissonance in its consonant field of endeavour. This sense of resolution and ongoing harmonization constitutes that relationship and the essential nature of that relationship is experienced through its differentiation of power (within that relationship [w.r.t. its ‘objects’] and between relationships) throughout the ambit and scope or range of that relationship (in its relational context vis-à-vis all other relationships both ostensive and non-ostensive to intentionally directed discrimination, and, thence, their current degree of ‘visibility’ or ‘invisibility’ to consciousness) (7)
3. Although I perceive’ power as born in the midst of an overall transcendental suspension, i.e., in a state of psychic balance, its irruption into existence is always partial, differentiated, biased, etc. Hence this concept of power-relations since in all relationships there can be no true equality of power shared by objects in that particular discourse! Of course, that does not mean that between relative equals there can be no sharing of power, just that on an event by event basis there can be no absolute equality of power-relations. This sense of difference does not impinge directly on another dimension of being in the world with others, namely, the mutually beneficial or placing oneself in an authentic mode of being-there-with-others! Still, it is salutary to note that power-relations are not inherently equal between objects located in a certain or particular discourse. In society there will always be differential flows of power that are not symmetrical in their being exercised and suffered!4 (8)
4. Now, power cannot be directly represented - only presented and re-presented? To represent power can only mis-represent it. Let me explain. To ‘talk’ about something, anything, is to talk ‘about’ the same. So, any representation of power is going to mis-represent it. So, if one class of people is going to refer to some other class of people there always will be a process of mis-representation. Even if a class tried to represent itself, to itself or to others, there will be, automatically, this process of natural mis-representation! Now, as a process of de-mis-representation it is possible to understand in what way our titles, arguments, definitions, metaphors, examples, rhetorical devices, conclusions, processes of verification are going to distort the matter to hand. However, thankfully, understanding how that distortion is operating allows us to compensate to some degree or other for the same through the balanced re-imposition of a transcendental suspension. Unfortunately, the very irruption of power in our ongoing breaking of that suspension (through a suspension of the suspension) will again re-start this cycle of unequal power-relations, processes of mis-representation, etc. A process when critically supervised, none the less, that can assist us in a process of still being able to discern the relatively real through the ongoing re-imposition of an overall transcendental suspension, critical reflection, adequacy of information, and, when and where relevant, through processes of empirical testing, examination of authenticity, investigations of essential propriety and contextual appropriateness, etc. (9)
5. Power has, through the positivity of its own discourse, the power to ratify its own facts in accordance with its perception of that field of endeavour (and, that, in this light, power is never just repressive!). The values that its values are valued and hence over-valued! All other values in contravention of this style of evaluation will be dis-valued! Fortunately, the objects of one discourse can be the same ‘objects’ of another and therein given another set of evaluations. This can be salutary or merely overlooked. It can also lead to dangerous times when two (or more) discourses are competing for ideological supremacy.5 (10)
6. Lastly, power is knowledge and knowledge is power, etc. With a dominant source of power we get with its extension a dominant ideology. For a variety of reasons, habitual, cultural blindness, etc., that ideology naturally defines the standards that we more –often than not accept as standards, as standard! So habitually ingrained is this process of perspective, or rather loss of perspective, that it colours much, if not all, of our thinking. That, to obviate its all pervasive presence we have to literally put ourselves outside its compass and therein risk being treated as outsiders when insiders become aware of our past or current efforts to try to stand outside the square or circle (for what ever reasons we find ourselves being motivated to adopt this type of attitude towards this all-pervasive, omni-present sense of a ‘current social reality’). (11)
Now, in the light of the above, let us return to our list of observations noted by Alain de Botton (in paragraph section no. 2). To this list let me suggest some additional points that we might also like to debate:
The role of metaphor in the formation of ideology.
The role of knowledge and knowledge specialists.
The role of various myths in the formation and reception of culture/s, and, in this regard would like to note that some of the following as possible candidates for discussion?
The myth that there is a pill for every medical and non-medical problem?
Re-consideration of whether our pioneering early settlers were noble, etc?
What role has the Australian ‘bush’ in our psyche and how has it changed?
The myth that our society is, was, will be egalitarian?
The ‘Freudian myth’ that if you have a problem just talk about it!?
The optimists/pessimists take on whether this is the best of all possible worlds?
Just how should/does our society treat/mistreat whistleblowers? (12)
So, let us return to the points noted in paragraph 2 and open this forum for debate. Let us also look at how we can circumvent both this ‘cultural blindness’ (w.r.t. our own culture and the cultures of others) and the mistrust that seems to issue when this type of ‘insightful’ project is conducted and put into practice? Indeed, finally, let me ask, “just how is cultural ‘insight’ profitably and safely instigated?” (13)
Noël Tointon, Sydney, 24.8.04/12.9.04.