Archive for deconstruction

The State of Knowledge

Posted in Pure Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 9, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Quantum physics and consciousness

A common image depicting the wisdom of quantum physics revolution

In response to the increasing theoretical narcissism of my literary critic colleagues, I am suddenly tempted to give this topic another run over one more time. This post is pretty much Žižekian in nature, and you may have heard of it before, but I think it is one of those topics best to keep in mind if we are to maintain a good critical distance from the (rather unavoidable) temptations for the position of a pan-theory. So, what is our current state of knowledge today, compared to, say, half a century ago?

The first thing that comes to mind is obviously the standard one: the debate against capitalism. Half a century ago we are still doubting how society will be conducted in the future: we still have discussions of how communism or fascism may prevail instead. Today, event the majority of the Left does not even take the question seriously — instead, we hear all the shouts of how to make capitalism more human, and hardly ever any shout of subverting the ideology totally. We have all become Fukuyamaists, as Žižek would put it.

On the other hand, the exact opposite is going on in our biological and natural sciences. Today, we hear all the popular texts theorizing how we may end in the near future — sometimes shockingly near, as in the case of the infamous LHC, or perhaps half a century far, as in the case of global warming. What used to be a stable motherland of a generous, near-immortal planet has now become an object that is bound to give us fragile doom.

The same flip and opposition also happens in popular sciences. Half a century ago, the big topic was of course critical theory (in line with its subversive anti-capitalist political activism) — that of the so-called post-structuralism, deconstruction, French postmodern philosophy, and so on, are elevated to a level of some kind of pan-theory, an all-encompassing theory of theories and the full breadth of human epistemological experience. Today, such attitude does not prevail well beyond the all-too-often narcissistic boundaries of cultural studies and literary criticism, who, again all-too-often, engage in a pointless “deconstruction” of everything, fashionably reducing all to their historical relativity, and all the while absent from the real stage of global political activism.

Science, on the other hand, are becoming more and more popular, not only in the sense of better book sales, but also in playing the role of the pan-theorist, trusted to be able to explain human epistemology itself. I am of course talking about the increasing popularity of cognitive sciences and genetic research taken as the field that would be able to explain all nature of the human being, all their epistemological experience. Even quantum physics are now, with the likes of Fritjof Capra and films like What the Bleep series, taken as a jumping off point in the quest to legitimize science as philosophy itself — not the empirical proof of philosophy, but the transcendental return of science to ancient wisdoms, the leaving aside of the “Cartesian subject” by science.

It is indeed incredible how the entirety of our state of knowledge has progressed over the past half of the 20th century. It is never how science develops and how we gain better knowledge, closer to the truth, but how our entire notion of truth itself changes with time. Science and knowledge is not only never a neutral field, but also in itself stratified, split, and ideologically contested with one another of its parts in regards to which will play the role of the one-supposed-to-know.

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A Plea for Intolerant Politics

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , , , , on September 18, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Just yesterday there was the sad news of a beating and sexual harassment of Nong Darol Mahmada, an activist of the Religious Freedom Association (AKKBB) and Facebook friend of mine by the Front for the Defense of Islam (FPI) in a courtroom in Jakarta during FPI’s trial for the “Bloody Monas” incident. And I ask myself a question: have we not had enough?

Everybody today talk about how we must teach the “false/militant/anarchist/fascist/terrorist” groups of Islam to have more tolerance, to know how the real cultural politics of the world works, how today we should all be modern and adapt the liberal politically correct stance of freedom and tolerance. Some, like the JIL, etc, choose to engage in verbal criticism of militant Islam. Others take the softer side of flaunting how beneficially peaceful it is to adapt a fashionable Zen-Buddhist style of spirituality in Islam. Both strive for only one thing: to right the wrongs of a militant Islam and bring them towards the romantic dream of a politically- and spiritually-correct tolerant Muslim utopia.

But why is it all conceived as a problem of a lack of tolerance from a perverted religious belief? Do we not dare to say that this is a problem of a severe flaw in our democratic legal system, a very real political problem instead of an abstract, spiritual one? There are very few things that I think are more miserable than the idea of suggesting a spiritual healing and liberal democracy lessons for such actors of violence. One of them is the idea of preserving these minority militant groups in the name of justice: “Let us tolerate their violence because everyone deserves a chance to speak out!” Is such stupidity not the ultimate proof that all these romantic discussions of religious difference and tolerance do nothing but blur and displace of from the real question: that of politics?

What about restoring the dignity of democratic politics without cultural tolerance? Do we not dare to admit that there are certain limits of democracy, of liberal freedom, that can never be crossed? Why are we today very afraid to admit that liberalism, multiculturalism, pluralism, etc. are actually far from benign sunshine-and-daffodils utopias of universal equality, but itself consist of inherently superior attitudes to those of fundamentalist people? The correct lesson to learn from Derrida is not the common one that strives for more equality by means of deconstruction, but instead an honest one in which one is willing to realize the boundaries of deconstruction and celebrate the hierarchic opposition when it is politically not possible to accept the Other.

We have had enough lessons of tolerance and all those stupid spiritual-correctness. What we need today are strict legal codes of discretion and protection of our citizens. I would be personally severely disappointed if no legal action is taken to defend Nong in her courtroom incident this past Monday. If there is a past that I am missing right now, it would be the past in which the authoritarian ex-president of Indonesia, Suharto, can easily ban organizations at his will. Would it not be nice if the same banning happen right now to all of the anarchist Muslims?