Sunday, February 03, 2019

In defense of sexual freedom

Motto: Sexual relation is non-existent.

We are creatures of language. Unlike anything else in nature we depend on language to exist as a species and to survive as an individual. Most interestingly, we also depend on language to procreate.

We exist and survive as a species because of language.

How have we become so dependent on language? And why? Why do we always look at ourselves as the only viewpoint into the nature and never outwardly toward the possible? There are only partial answers as to why and how.

We live in language, we emit and receive signifiers. We are surrounded by signifiers. We use signifiers to get what we want and the signifiers tell us what we want.

As creatures of language we forget the limits of life. Language is immortal but we are not. Language tells us about our limit and that is why we use language to approach the limit.

There are two clear expressions of the limit of life: death and sex.

Approaching the limit is the jouissance, a Lacanian psychoanalytic concept meaning pleasure beyond pleasure, - and it aims beyond life and its destruction. It aims at what we desire and would die for. We would die for sex - but strangely enough - sex is usually a healthily survived trauma. Sex is like death - except in case of death no life follows. Sex is the rehearsal of death.

Both are approached with appropriate language. Without language they don't really exist - even death does not exist if undocumented by language. The signifiers designate its location in the space of human activity but do not determine its content.

Lacan says that sexual relation is non-existent. This is his perhaps facetious way of presenting the idea that our ordinary world is populated by signifiers - while the field of sex does not contain any. The field of sex is void of signifiers. And same thing goes for the actual death.

The main attraction of sex (as well as of suicide) is that we are giving ourselves to something that exhausts the world of signifiers, that makes the production of signifiers stop, that places us in the void. Our roads, paved with signifiers, end there. We go through the forest to the edge of a placid lake where monsters lurk. This is how sex is an experience of the limit.


Because in the sexual act the signifiers expire, the field of sex is left without any intrinsic defenses in the world where political powers can rise up to restrict it or otherwise encroach on it. The defense of sexual freedom is a very important and indeed a very delicate matter in the political world. Sexuality, as it were, cannot speak for itself - but can only be spoken for by its neighbors, who amply practice techniques of its approach, such as: hedonists, polyamorists, sex workers, sadomasochists. As such characters are hardly respectable in the circles of power, the defense of sexual freedom is a difficult balancing act. And since sex cannot really speak for itself these neighbor allies all speak about it in quite different language.

Quite often a justification of sexuality is attempted through a recourse to love by asserting that sex is an expression of love which is a higher feeling. This argument was used to shore up support for gay marriage. Yet it is weak and unsupported by deeper insight into either love or sex it sounds outright false to me. In my opinion love is not so much a higher feeling, but a force to be reckoned with while sexuality a mysterious enclave of human life that we desperately need to protect from -- and paradoxically -- by the power of the signifier.

I am quite aware to be discussing the topic of sex and the defense of its freedom without referencing the concept of gender. The latter is a social construction, the brick road of signifiers subjectively seen as leading to the fulfillment of sexual aspirations. Similarly, the concept of biological sex and sexual dimorphism of humans is out of scope. Here I am talking about how and where and why the road of signifiers ends.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

"Grievance studies" hoax - a postmodern act of defiance

Many have presumably heard about the "grievance studies" hoax that came into public knowledge in the late 2018. A trio of intellectuals have submitted a number of research papers to peer-reviewed academic journals with philosophical bend. Often these journals are dedicated to studies of modern society viewed as a system of oppression aimed at minorities, racial and gender-nonconforming, women, outsiders such as immigrants, - and so on. Much of the materials in those journals sees knowledge, promulgated by science as well as by societal norms, as one of the mechanisms of maintaining power of the dominant social group. Typical contributors thrive in departments of gender and women's studies in major universities and their work is trying to reverse the dominant direction of knowledge in order to accrue power to the oppressed. Thus the term "grievance studies".

The grievance studies hoaxers actually pretended to conduct their research within the grievance/oppression studies parameters expected by their presumed peers and reviewers. Many of their papers were accepted for publication, published and actually praised as excellent contributions to knowledge. Subsequently, the fact that the academic journals could not distinguish between knowledge and garbage was exposed. It was the acceptance of bogus research that was needed to unmask academia as a terribly bad guardian of knowledge.

In the aftermath, one member of the trio -- a professor at Portland State University, Peter Boghossian, will apparently suffer professional consequences, now being called in for review of the professionalism and integrity of his research work. I sympathize with him very much - but also hope that he was prepared for this outcome. The research produced was generated in bad faith. He will be vilified by academia as an infiltrator but has performed a valuable service for us all. The other two co-conspirators, James Lindsey and Helen Pluckrose, are not academics (or no longer so) and thus are safe from the institutional opprobrium - further demonstrating that academia is no place for creation and critique of knowledge. I commend them all for their well-aimed work and courage.

Before the "grievance studies" hoax went public I had a brief exchange with James Lindsey on Twitter. I suggested that he should attempt to fight the ideas of intersectional feminism and postmodern nonsense, as he would call it, not from classical liberal positions but from the positions of the adversary - that are presumably rooted in 20th century postmodern thought. He replied somewhat mysteriously - "working on it", "wait and you'll see" - which I now understand as the hoax being in the works.

In December 2018 James Lindsey published a great essay in Areo magazine - Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice - elaborating on the condition of the US Social Justice movement as a result of "applied postmodernism", which he decries as a cynical application of postmodern nihilistic ideology. There is much to agree with in his insightful work comparing Social Justice to religion. Additionally, and more interestingly, he makes a great statement on postmodernism (in its pre-applied form):

"In postmodernism, philosophers including Foucault, Derrida, and Lyotard looked upon the wreckage of the great wars of the twentieth century and the failures of our modernistic, positivistic technological progress to cure the ills of humanity and saw that the Deceiver of Man is Man."

This is accurate. However, I begin to disagree when he speaks, a few lines further down, about the "cynical" motivation of "applied" postmodernism as foundational to today's morass of identitarianism and intersectionality. I think the motivation is not cynical - it is wrong-headed because the "applied" course is trying to repair what has been found to be broken beyond repair. In effect it is a case of Man (or mostly woman) being the deceiver of Man (also practically woman in most individual cases). It is an act of fighting fictions with other fictions, often undertaken as acts of self-deception, fighting to which we have been condemned since the death of God has been announced. And since there is no "objective truth" - the mythical ground of Enlightenment epistemology - we are left with fictions.

Fictions is what the "grievance studies" hoaxers produced. The research studies submitted to the journals were fictional productions aimed to oppose power based on another set of fictions. This is very much in line with our postmodern condition, where we cannot gain a firm epistemological ground without relating it to the human project. (see KoĊ‚akowski's Presence of Myth - work also quoted in James Lindsey's essay)

So, the "grievance studies" hoaxers, by fighting fictions with other fictions, went to battle postmodernism on postmodernist terrain - just as I had hoped! I am really happy about that and congratulate them heartily. I would gladly welcome them into the non-cynical wing of postmodernism, but they are not ready. For now we let them return in their shiny armor to Fortress Enlightenment.