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philosophical living as event of appropriation

gary e. davis
  July 28, 2014    

Habermas was interviewed last June in an unusually comprehensive way (though not especially long). The interview in honor of his 85th birthday, titled “Internet and Public Sphere: What the Web Can’t Do,” is not much about Internet life, while the Internet is about more than Habermas acknowledges, which is ironic because his work can be very useful for thinking more broadly, intimately, and complexly about this medium that evinces talk of so-called “extended mind” in a planetary singularity of The Conversation of Humanity—perhaps.

The interview touches (12 topics) on his sense of being a philosopher (6 topics, as I see it), as well as public intellectual (6), which provides an opportunity to note the difference in terms of those topics, but also becomes an explicit theme for him, toward the end of the interview.

Communicative bridging—philosopher as public intellectual—can be an ongoing invitation to dwell more broadly or intimately or complexly with respect to lifeworlds’ real complexity, potential, and scale. Communicative bridging is an event of appropriation which—given a dyadic trope—goes both ways. The dyad would be usefully characterized as, on the one hand, (A) difficult or high minded, innerworldly, and deliberative; and, on the other hand, (B) easily accessible, sociocentric, and opinionated. The philosopher (inviting to the public) and the intellectual (philosopher in public) address different kinds of audience: long term (across lives) and near term, hoping (I think) for integration of the one, the other “handedness,” so to speak (i.e., by-way of dyadity), as if philosophy as such works to address a generative singularity of holding good.

I’m going to merely touch on the 12 topics of the interview, but in a different order from their emergence in the interview; and as 8 sections of discussion (10 | 2, 4, 5 | 8, 7, 6 | 1 | 11 | 9 | 12 | and 3—aren’t you glad to know? The numbering only expresses that I’m organizing my discussion by drawing on interview sections out of sequence).

10: being a German philosopher: It’s a matter of what philosophy really is, then also what’s valuably German, after Germany destroyed the credibility of being German. Beyond “the strength of our tradition,” there is philosophy itself (“unattached thought”), which belongs to the Conversation, including every tradition. So, the German, once redeemed (Habermas long ago moved beyond his 19th century mentors), faces the address of philosophy itself in Our Time, which Habermas has greatly exemplified, though this is dimly recognized in the U.S., where he’s mostly at best a notable social theorist, but largely seen as a European public intellectual (among “those Europeans” or, more graciously, as part of “Continental” thinking). Besides, market society rewards low-deliberative living. (And readers don’t want too many links; sorry. I’ll only have a couple more old links of mine, nothing new to offer, but some readers may be interested.)

2, 4, 5: public sphericality, democratic living, politicality: One feels at home with the notion of “public sphere,” but philosophically it’s about the sphere-ness of democratic life. Germans after The War faced need to move from no Sphere to appreciation of the Western Sphere as methodically appropriable for their national needs. We who have the Construction but felt loss of Sphere (the Cold War years) could work in solidarity to make It prevail methodically, be it to be retrieved or to be first gained. We shared the historical ethos of the UN. U.S. federalism proudly has European roots (as “America” was a European idea). We are European because Western humanity is essentially a grandly idealistic humanism. In theorizing this, Rawls has no peer other than Habermas.

Yet, Time doesn’t await the theorist, as Our Internetted evolving seems to outstrip theorization. Habermas mentions important “centrifugal movements,” yet there’s a basic centripetal-ity to trending and networking that is likely concealed by “demanding” conditions of issue crystallization. So, what is the best balance—the centripetal/centrifugal “breathing”—of our pointillistic ecologies? Such organic trOping may be integral to conceiving sphericality beyond mechanistic pretensions. (After all, the Greek dream of Theory turned out to be essentially mechanistic, leading to ontotheological messianisms of empire.)

Habermas’s pragmatic modeling invites ecological thinking, but it’s not part of his public idiom. But I would argue that ecological thinking isn’t basically pragmatic, in the relevant sense that political imagination grows from private cultural flourishing, which nurtures the sustainability of political solidarity.

How may education, community engagement, and public culture work to durably enliven genuine political life? The “cognitive dimension” of durable solidarity is not basically a matter of “pragmatic premises,” and importances or values may be usually grounded in non-cognitive engagements.

8, 7, 6: EU recession, nationality, and transnationalism: I feel I’ve exhausted what I have to say briefly about the EU recession, but it’s worth mentioning how little patience most people have for complexity, which standard journalism serves by inviting forgettable “opinion,” while political-economic crisis managers have to deliver as best they can in critically arcane time periods. In short, I have no problem with EU policies, but engaging Habermas on this would be a matter of disagreeing in detail with his very extended views. His interview opinion (a just-so story) looks specious, but it’s not; but my view, in brief, that he misunderstands the economics of crisis management, looks specious, too.

Re: nationalism, Habermas’s animus toward geographical mitosis is undermined by the common division of regions into more-governable states, provinces, counties, and municipalities. Also, he seems to miss the fact that the European notion of nation is originally ethnolinguistic, which is also about accessible public spheres. Croatia and Kosovo have found their ownmost way. Ukraine will find its own way. The Russians will find the proper scale of “Mother Russia.” Cultural geography is a real feature of humanity. But marginalization of culturality in social theory might conceal the reality of nationhood. Nationality is not, at heart, about nationalism.

Inasmuch as nation-based governability cannot yet derive national support for a specified “quota of power [that] heads of [national] government should transfer to [a European] parliament” in the middle of severe recession, then the German theorist might better understand fears of German hegemony, especially since the EU already has a detailed program of transnational integration that is apparently satisfactory enough. It’s not a matter of constraining Merkel’s policies for the sake of a shifted Center. It’s a matter of how decentration works in globalized localities. It’s a matter of The 20th century Wheel/Axis vs. The 21st century Lattice/Netweave. Habermas’s social-evolutionary theory of communication is better for the latter than he may appreciate.

1: biography: What is being “Habermasian”? The philosopher is singular, like being “Derridean” or “Rawlsian.” What is the nature of high-scale conceptual insightfulness that makes philosophy so appealing, yet gives us so few milestones in the evolution of mind? “The intellectual experiences [in his self formation] can easily be led back to specific people.” A high degree of individuality hallmarks intellectual history. “I had the fortune of meeting brilliant collaborators.” We want to know about the character of brilliant collaboration. Books on genius always sell, like windows into Olympian singularity. We want to know the mentality—the Mind—of leading humanity.

It includes a brilliant lack of pretentiousness, including more than appreciation of how “there are much more important things than intellectual stimuli.” It includes excellence of balancing appreciations—living appropriativity as comfortable belonging together in the same world, ideas that really matter with engagements that matter more. It’s no sentimentalism; it’s love of Sophia wholly. It’s why there must be philosophy after Philosophy (after metaphysicalism). Mystery is with us now as much as it ever was, and life is as finite as ever.

11: being difficult: “My world is that of the university.” Indeed, philosophy is Of the university as such, i.e., attuning discursive inquiry to all that the conceptuality of The University engages—while never losing love of enabling youth to advance what waning lives leave to the future. An agelessness of The Conversation belongs to the self-originating intergenerationality of academic life that may be paradigmatically philosophical.

9: social evolution and religious life:

JH: If we place the adoption of language—as a mechanism of communication—at the centre of evolution,...

GD: Yet, language is not, as such, adopted; it’s not basically an adaptation. But, for the sake of modeling, we can certainly do so, in which case...

JH: becomes likely to assume that processes of socialisation, for a constitutively antisocial species...

GD: a remarkable comment, coming from Habermas! To my mind, we are basically psychological—thus interpsychologically social—and drawn into sociality (conventional adaptation, individuation through socialization) because we’re drawn into individualizing aspiration (socialization through individuation), which intrinsically wants its ownmost life (postconventional, individuation beyond all socialization—which is so ordinary for teens and the more so, as education and experience advances).

JH:...processes of socialization...should be passed through a strong tension between spirit and motivation.

GD: There is the eros of aspiration and the Appeal of the world catering to a child’s intrinsic curiosity about [whatever]; and a child’s enjoyment of broadening and building appreciation of the world.

JH: It is apparent that the “religious complex” was what kept together and stabilised first communities, shielding them from inner tensions.

GD: In the interest of social efficacy, thus sustainability, shielding would be vital. But the human interest has been intrinsic curiosity and desire to make one’s world by design, thus welcoming the tensions that are turned to creative and innovative ways of life. The religious complex was an amalgamated longing for public health, ethical grounding, and focused aspiration, yet always for the aspiration, given health and stability. We are the aspiring species.

JH: From the start, classics of Sociology identified the source of normative conscience and social solidarity in myths and rituals.

GD: Yet, that was part of identifying the source of creative aspiration, as creation myths evinced sanctification of creative processes, and individualization through decoration, symbolization, and stylization is as old as cave society. Sanctification of creative insight is as old as valuation.

JH: I am currently linking this interest of sociologists to the Hegelian premise according to which, many concepts of practical philosophy—despite having Greek names— are substantially the fruit of a secular process of assimilation and semantic translation born from the Judeo-Christian tradition.

GD: But eastern Mediterranean societies had been Hellenized for centuries before Judaism came into its own, and the impulse of Christianity was the humanism of Jesus. Greek humanism (secular virtues of poetry, drama, and material arts—Aristotelian virtue) was already native to eastern Mediterranean life when the “protestantism” of Jesus departed from Judaic politics (and messianism).

JH: If we think of writers such as Bloch and Benjamin, Buber, Levinas and Derrida, we can see that this assimilation is not yet complete.

GD: Good for them, because retrieval of the humanism that politicized Christianity concealed has been part of advancing beyond the great Renaissances of retrieval that aspired to advance beyond Classical humanity. Erasmus and Shakespeare antedate Luther and Calvin. The great legacy of Western humanism was not about Christianity; rather, Christianity was, at best (getting back to Jesus), about the Western legacy of humanism.

JH: For a post-metaphysical line of thought concerning itself with normative resources in a global society derailed by capitalism, all of this could be an occasion to finally embark on a change in perspective.

GD: Indeed. A truly post-metaphysicalist thinking concerns itself with humanistic, enhancive resources in a planetary society whose green regionalism (in this era of climate change) learns how to exploit capital for purposes of human development (in the UN-oriented sense, e.g., UNESCO, the World Bank, the IMF).

JH: Instead of exclusively focusing on the sciences, philosophy should be able to put itself in relation with religious traditions that remain crucial.

GD: Yes and no. The humanities, heralded by the university, can and should be brought into consilience with the sciences for the sake of enabling democratic culture. Religious life may be easily drawn into that as a legacy of Our shared humanity that is commensurable with scientific understanding. Philosophy is best positioned to show such commensurability. Yet, religiously speaking, only an interfaith comprehension of spirituality can be appropriate for the real multiculturality of human development and flourishing.

JH: However, I do not want to be misunderstood. I am by no means proposing that post-metaphysical thought should renounce its secular self-understanding, but rather, extend this self-understanding in a bifocal direction.

GD: Yes: The bifocality is humanistic: cultivation of humanity (paradigmatically shown through university humanities) that is scientifically sophisticated; and scientific community that aspires to enhance and advance “True” humanity.

12 living in uncertainty: the evolutionary condition: Once called “future shock,” we know it now as the learning curve of Our evolving. But anxiety about change and complexity is brought to bear by those who lead the change and cause the complexity that results from aspiration and talent. Our mental speciation left biology long ago, so we all live with a variability of humanity that is incomprehensible—an exhilarating landscape for some; a scary unpredictability of that for others who especially need—what?: easier reliability of coherence?

3 Internet living:

JH: ...we are confronted with a sort of “activation” in which readers themselves become authors.

GD: This was always the hermeneutical condition of reading, as well as writing. Now, it’s the commonwealth of communicative life.

JH: Yet, this in itself does not automatically result in progress on the level of the public sphere.

GD: I don’t think any Internet enthusiast believes otherwise. Part of the learning curve of Our evolving is that the conception of progress is evolving, too. But the question of conception is also a conception of questioning, which philosophy may be especially well-suited to advance.

Thank goodness, we’re outgrowing the classical public sphere:

JH: ...the classical public sphere stemmed from the fact that the attention of an anonymous public was “concentrated” on a few politically important questions that had to be regulated.

GD: The vast pluralism of The Conversation implies a centrifugal waning of concentrations at the same time that centripetal processes constellate issues. Desire to enable overrides desire to regulate. The enabling of society is served by appropriate regulation. The regulative state serves the enabling state.

JH: This is what the web does not know how to produce.

GD: “This” classical sense of sphere is indeed outstripped by the hyper-sphericality of evolving processes.

JH: On the contrary, the web actually distracts and dispels.

GD: No. The Web provides great opportunity for persons who are already highly distractible, just as, conversely, TV was never very interesting to many folks who had better things to do. What is the origin of “having better things to do?” It’s not the medium that is the message; it’s the life that defines what media are worth one’s time. The vast dissociativeness of market society has nothing to do with the advent of the Internet. For US$5.75/month, you can read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, 24/7. Got the time?

JH: Think about, for example, the thousand portals that are born every day: for stamp collectors, for scholars of European constitutional law, for support groups of ex-alcoholics.

GD: Yeah, isn’t it wonderful?

JH: In the mare magnum [great degree?] of digital noises these communicative communities are like dispersed archipelagos: there are billions of them.

GD: Not really. The crowd-valuation processes that cause Google prioritizations have become a good way to find reliable information or contacts fairly quickly.

JH: What these communicative spaces (closed in themselves) are lacking is an inclusive bind, the inclusive force of a public sphere highlighting what things are actually important.

GD: Kids, you must teach your elders how to use the Internet intelligently, because intelligent life causes importance, not technologies causing importances. The Internet shows this superbly.

JH: In order to create this “concentration” [of public importances], it is first necessary to know how to choose—know and comment on—relevant contributions, information and issues.

GD: Indeed, curiosity, aspiration, devotion to learning, and opportunity for educational excellence are vital to making The Conversation richly rewarding.

JH: In short, even in the mare magnum of digital noise, the skills of good old journalism—as necessary today as they were yesterday—should not be lost.

GD: My reading of Internetted journalism clearly indicates that the field has never been healthier. The world works! But evolution is made of tangled woods and dangerous animals, as well as vistas and good relationships online.

Well, I’m finished. This is a non-dramatic ending, but isn’t that what we want from good conversations?

I love having time for this. I love discursive writing. (And by the way, where is a primordiality of love in the “pragmatic” value—the virtue—of thinking for good?) Thanks for your presence.

Be fair. © 2017, g. e. davis