Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Obstacles to a Third Way: Ideology Before Analysis!

When ideology precedes analysis, it in effect serves to negates analysis. Analysis then becomes constrained by the boa constrictor of absolutism and ideological canonism, and a hierarchy is imposed upon analysis that locks it into a tautological double-bind or catch-22. To put it simply, if you put the cart before the horse you shouldn't be surprised that you end up in the same place all the time. 

The ‘horse’ of analysis becomes restricted to a few steps forward and a few steps backward. The ‘cart’ of ideology or absolute theoretical hegemony becomes the pivotal axis and tether that governs the direction and extent to which analysis can go. The horse, confused, pulls backward and side to side, finding relief only when it remains in one place. Every direction is fraught with tension, so the only option is to remain directionless. In this way, analysis always returns to the same place, because ideology has conditioned it to be bereft of agency, its inquisitiveness and imagination put asunder for a 'greater' purpose.

Theoretical frameworks, if they are to remain honest - i.e. not necessarily truthful in the sense that they make the claim to absolute truth but honest in their approach to the subject matter under analysis - should be deducted, or even abducted, but never inducted without great care. That is, induction from theoretical frameworks in complex, real world contexts usually constitutes a complex fabrication. It is fabrication because it pretends to derive that which it is actually premised on.

Real world contexts are complex, and their behaviours cannot be inducted from a model, theoretical framework or pure methodology. Scientific induction is only credible in systems that are simple, or at the most complicated. Inducted principles can be derived from systems that are generally simple enough to be tested by hypotheses and repeated. If the system is not dynamically changing its fundamental conditions and constraints on a timescale that negates induction, then induction is possible.

In other words, induction only works for simple, well constrained systems that progress in a linear fashion where change is incremental and predictable. As soon as the system begins to progress in non-linear jumps and bounds, and in different directions, induction becomes less tenuous as a methodological foundation. Social, political and economic systems, being fundamentally social in their conception, are complex, reflexive systems. They are in the domain of the deductive and abductive. Understanding has to follow the unfolding behaviour of the system. By definition, it cannot precede it, except through what can only be termed 'oracular' insight.

And ideology precedes analysis regularly in a global society that constantly looks backwards to its historical foundations to answer questions about how to face the future. Ideology, to be sure, is by and large the starting point of many debates, analyses and opinions that are generated over the question of what socio-political and economic systems are responsible for the global crisis we have entered into. And it is not simply a crisis of economic systems. It is a crisis of how to move forward, and to generate new ideas about how the global polity and socio-economy can be best positioned in relation to each other. As articulated by Zizek, "the field is open" and the marriage between capitalism and democracy has ended, yet we are struggling to find a new way forward.

Our imaginations and our ability to inquisit have indeed become conditioned by ideology. Instead of maintaining a critical perspective on our prevailing ideologies, we lapse into analyses that apriori draw upon the ideological foundations that we prefer. We therefore become 'stuck' in self-reinforcing, circular patterns of analyses that take us nowhere. More often than not, they simply become analyses that search for where to place the blame - as if any of the systems that constitute the current global order can be regarded as entirely blameless in the first place. 

Yet there is more to this kind of analyses. They are analyses that are explicitly oriented around an ideological foundation, and implicitly constructed in reaction to the opposing ideological foundation (i.e. its 'metaphysical' opposite). The analyses therefore ends up being a de-facto debate between polar opposite positions. Indeed, this is the very critique that deconstruction offers of the general methodology by which philosophy itself is constructed. This raises the question of how to embrace analyses that does not fall at either side, but that begins 'in the middle' so to speak. This is not a trivial observation, for arguments that proceed from the poles are the fundamental obstacle to generating what may be regarded as a 'third way'.

In other words, what kind of third way can be 'constructed' or 'formulated' (these terms are unfortunate, so they are used here with reservation) if we do not start from the edges or the poles, but start from the middle instead? Note, I do not mean to start from an ideological middle ground, but from a middle that makes observations of the poles, and remains acutely aware of them and how they influence us. There are two aspects that emerge from observations that are made in the middle that require closer inspection. Firstly, that there are fundamentally irresolvable 'undecideables' i.e. the decisions, phenomena or events that fall between metaphysical opposites, are fundamentally irresolvable, and cannot be avoided in political decision-making (Derrida). Secondly, that the polar opposites, when they approach the extremes of either end, begin to mirror each other, resulting in a different kind of obfuscation, where it becomes difficult to distinguish one polar opposite from another (Zizek).

The former observation is made by Derrida, in his careful identification of the 'undecideable' in political decision-making, where he concludes that any political decision that forgoes the 'ordeal of the undecideable' is not in reality a political decision but rather, becomes the mere 'unfolding of a calculable process'. That is, there will be fundamentally irresolvable, 'undecideable' factors that occupy the territory of the middle, otherwise referred to as the 'logic of the included middle' by Plato (Max-Neef, 2005). These irresolvables define where metaphysical opposites differ from each other, and resolving these undecideables requires more than theory. It requires learning,  participation, integration and negotiation i.e. strategies that engage directly with the contextual specificities that bring about undecideability, and which can possibly lead to the resolution of these undecideables under certain context-specific conditions. In this way, undecideables may end up being resolved in context (though not always), yet remain unresolvable at the broader theoretical level that is removed from the specificities of context.

The latter observation is made by Zizek, when he identifies how the right-wing conservative tea-party movement resurrects the rhetoric of the labour movements that existed 50 years ago in their conception of the tea-party identity as fighting for the rights of the ordinary worker against the irresponsibility of big government and big capital. The same is true of 'left wing' eco-movements that upon closer examination are mainly biocentric in their values, beliefs and norms. This biocentrism itself hails from the historical support for conservation biology efforts that saw predominantly indigenous peoples being herded off their own lands and into reservations, so that the 'pristine' natural environment could be maintained, devoid of human influence (hence biocentric). That is, eco-movements whose foundations are in fact profoundly anti-social, have staked a specious claim over the socialist territory of the left. Only in Latin America and India, have eco-movements become profoundly social in their approach, warranting a clear membership of the left.

Perhaps another dimension of analysis can be added to this; primarily that as those at the extremes of the poles increasingly embrace their ideologies with what can only be described as a messianic zeal, they begin to resemble a church or a cult (i.e. an institutionalised set of beliefs that are taken on faith), where the only distinguishing factor between a church and a cult is the size of the following. Where ideology becomes the unshakeable foundation from which analyses are made - instead of being regarded as a hypothetical framework - then it follows that the values, beliefs and norms that govern the analyses or debates are also unshakeable (if deftly hidden) preconditions that impose a hierarchy upon the analytical framework, which ceases to be interpretive or reflexive at this point. This unquestioning 'lock-in' to foundational values, beliefs and norms is not irrelevant. It is the main obstacle to going beyond a bipolar theoretical debate because dogma is followed by  rhetoric at best and sophism at worst.  Moreover, behaviours are founded upon values, beliefs and norms, so real-world changes in behaviour are obstructed at the same time i.e. the foundation for action is also subverted, or at the very least obscured.

The consequences of ideological fundamentalism are that we are unable to effectively bring about the necessary change changes in the way we think, that may ultimately result in changes in actions and behaviours that govern the global political, socio-economic and ecological 'condition'. And this 'condition', as a result, remains unchanged. To put it forcefully, the pro-free market and anti-free market ideologues have created their own respective sacred grounds that are too hallowed to question, and become external to analysis by being implicit in their interrogative frameworks. 

In a very genuine sense, debates of this ilk resemble a debate between parrots; more often than not they can only talk past one another as their 'vocabularies' are largely pre-fixed, and no real meaning is engendered in the interchange. They celebrate the undecideables between them as signifiers of their ideological purity. Yet at the same time these debates resemble a debate between sophists or conmen, as they appropriate the arguments and critiques of each other where it 'fits in' to their ideological frameworks, and speciously lay claim to them as their own. The latter, indicates that a postmodern relativism is speciously employed to subvert the claim that each hold to their own precious beliefs. That is, not only do they differ violently, they also attempt to appropriate the ideological territory of their opponents at the same time. It is truly a war, in which any and all tactics are considered fair.

And predictably, they despise any and all that occupy the middle. Indeed, in this they are not far away from the Christian God, who proclaims that only those that are passionate for God can be accommodated within the halls of the Church. The 'lukewarm' will be spat out. Those in the middle are not just spat out, they are spat on, literally and verbally. Yet it is not on the basis of analyses that they are spat upon. It is on the basis of concretized values, beliefs and norms that are taken for granted as foundational. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, as the failure of both positions have demonstrated towards the end of the previous century. It is true that absolute objectivity is also an impossibility, but where the values, beliefs and norms that are subjectively held become implicit and unacknowledged - i.e. no awareness of them exists except in their virtue as absolute and non-negotiable preconditions - they become constrictive to the generation of any honest debate or analysis. They are therefore oblivious to their own strategic orientation, because it takes the foundations from which it proceeds as self-evident.

That is, the dishonesty is a kind of ignorance that prevails to the ultimate end, discrediting all and sundry around it that doesn't make the effort to fit itself into a particular framework or position. It is a narrow-mindedness that is holding us back in our quest for a new way that will rescue us from the conditions of polycrisis and global hegemony. Ideas and new frameworks that fall outside of the mainstream poles are largely ignored or despised as compromises and cast aside. Perhaps it is the hegemony on analyses and ideas that is proving the most difficult to break, while the hegemonies of power and wealth have found themselves floundering in the winds of change that the beginning of the 21st Century has brought with it.

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