Monday, July 8, 2013

Spicer's Gap trip: the ideology of de-ideologisation

It's quite fitting that the last considerable adventure that I undertook also involved a long, arduous slog up Spicer's Gap Road to a lofty campground in the Main Range.
A lot has changed since then - philosophically, I've purged myself of the idealist and spiritualist conceptions of the bush and outdoor activity that I held for so long.
Materially, I now live in a different house, am single and tend to consume more alcohol more frequently.
That last fact was particularly significant - a reasonable hangover had set in at about 1:30, just as I parked my bike at the bottom of the mountain. "Six k's with a heavy pack shouldn't be too bad," I thought. In any case, it was welcome respite from the last five hours on an under-padded bike saddle - my arse was too numb to be sore.
Well, I struggled and suffered a lot in the end - six months previous if my heart-rate had risen as high, my legs felt as heavy and my head throbbed as hard, I would have justified the decision to continue through lofty thoughts on the "purity of pain", the "authenticity of suffering" or the beauty of such a "natural" experience. But, like I said earlier, I've deconstructed these ideological conceptions, to a certain extent - here, here, here, here and here.
To put it crudely, I've realised that such ideas are utter bullshit - but the interesting thing is that despite the apparent enlightenment, I was still out in the bush, I was still on an adventure. The main difference was that this time around, the pain was slightly less tolerable.

The values, ideas, representations, that we impose upon the act of moving through a natural space are purely ideological.
Cue a brief diversion through theory: the French philosopher Louis Althusser gives us our preferred framework: "Thus, ideology appears as a certain 'representation of the world' which relates men and women to their conditions of existence (In Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of the Scientists, Verso:1990, p. 25)." This term broadly represents the ideas that we have about the world which allow us to act in it effectively, obscuring the scientific truths of the way in which it functions - its "a distinctive kind of cement that ensures the adjustment and cohesion of men in their roles, their functions and their social relations (ibid, p. 25)".

For instance, the religious ideology of "divine right" in the middle ages prevented the serfs from realising that they were being exploited by the nobles. But the various political revolutions in Europe a couple of centuries ago didn't cause a fundamental de-ideologisation of the people - the old ideology was replaced by a new, bourgeois form. Today, the most visible component of this is juridical ideology of the "rule of law" which prevents the masses from realising that the legal system favours a small, elite sector of the population over the rest.

This apparently stupid ideological mystification can't really be exorcised from any of the ideas we have about the world - "Ideology is so much present in all the acts and deeds of individuals that it is indistinguishable from their 'lived experience', and every unmediated analysis of the 'lived' is profoundly marked by themes of ideological obviousness (ibid, p. 25)."

And this is where we return to my time in the bush. My Spontaneous blog posts last year, were marked by the ideologically obvious themes of the "purity of pain", the "authenticity of suffering" or apparently "natural experiences". They take little thought to deconstruct (see the posts linked above), but let me go further, and say that these "good" experiences allowed me to function properly as a member of the bad social totality (e.g. hiking/running kept me healthy/happy so that I could go to work, pay the bills etc...), and so helped this totality to reproduce itself. So (to borrow a phrase from Marx) the good was the "mode of appearance" of the bad. And even if it had made me less likely to work or pay the bills, it still provided an outlet for my angsty energy which did not pose any threat to the reproduction of the system.

But hang-on, am I not now still going on adventures? Despite having destroyed the "themes of ideological obviousness", on this fine day in July I was still out there, climbing a mountain.
We have two options:
- either I have actually de-ideologised myself (impossible! Says Zizek),
- or my very de-ideologisation is the new form of my ideology.

Here, a long passage from Zizek is appropriate:
"The most elementary definition of ideology is probably the well-known phrase from Marx's Capital: "Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es" ("they do not know it, but they are doing it"). The very concept of ideology implies a kind of basic, constitutive naïveté: the misrecognition of its own presuppositions, of its own effective conditions, a distance, a divergence between so-called social reality and our distorted representation, our false consciousness of it. That is why such a 'naive consciousness' can be submitted to a critical-ideological procedure. The aim of this procedure is to lead the naïve ideological consciousness to a point at which it can recognize its own effective conditions, the social reality that it is distorting, and through this very act dissolve itself. In the more sophisticated versions of the critics of ideology -that developed by the Frankfurt School, for example — it is not just a question of seeing things (that is, social reality) as they 'really are', of throwing away the distorting spectacles of ideology; the main point is to see how the reality itself cannot reproduce itself without this so-called ideological mystification. The mask is not simply hiding the real state of things; the ideological distortion is written into its very essence.
We find, then, the paradox of a being which can reproduce itself only in so far as it is misrecognized and overlooked: the moment we see it 'as it really is', this being dissolves itself into nothingness or, more precisely, it changes into another kind of reality. That is why we must avoid the simple metaphors of demasking, of throwing away the veils which are supposed to hide the naked reality. We can see why Lacan, in his Seminar on The Ethic of Psychoanalysis, distances himself from the liberating gesture of saying finally that "the emperor has no clothes". The point is, as Lacan puts it, that the emperor is naked only beneath his clothes, so if there is an unmasking gesture of psychoanalysis, it is closer to Alphonse Allais's well-known joke, quoted by Lacan: somebody points at a woman and utters a horrified cry, "Look at her, what a shame, under her clothes, she is totally naked" (Lacan, 1986, p.231) [in The Sublime Object of Ideology: Verso, 1989, p. 28-30]".
 This completely nullifies the first possibility. Insofar as the social reality continues to exist, insofar as I am still out in the bush, I am still under the spell of ideology - it's just a much more subtle form of this phenomena.

It's at this point that I'd direct anyone who's interested in the theory of ideology to read Zizek's book The Sublime Object of Ideology (Verso, 1989).

As for anyone who is interested in the rest of my adventure, writing about it would only be playing in to the old, idealist ideology which I've supposedly overcome. The new ideology, the one which has allowed me to keep going for adventures, requires that I do not write about them.

But obviously I haven't completely surpassed the old - I feel the urge to post a pic from the summit: