I am concerned here with subjectivization – the topological cultural space within which we become selves. This requires that we entertain the dialectic between voluntarism and structuralism; our possibility for self-constitution; and the power that exogenous forces have on this dynamic interplay. In our current historical period, we are structuralized by semio-capitalism, which is the overarching semiology that prioritizes capitalism, accumulation, and commodification as the main hermeneutic allocation of value in our politics and culture. Within this hermeneutic, some examples of subjectivity include the faithful, the obscure, the reactive, the anxious, the violent, the complacent, the courageous, the responsible, the just, and those who seek solidarity. These terms, wrestling with the old and the new, transverse taxonomies such as the DSM, and therefore have the meaningful resources of several discourses and domains. Yet, they all tangle with truth and goodness and are, therefore, subject to a psycho-analysis.
We see in this semio-space the potential further erosion of the fictions of autonomy and individualism given that choices and perceived freedom are already pre-structured. Thus, what appears as a set of free choices by unique individuals is already constrained by a homogenous-homologous structure that exists both unconsciously and consciously within the situation and cultural-historical context of these choices. Therefore, we must consider that the brain and the mind are plastic and can, therefore, be affected and shaped by the mental environment. This is the cultural, political, and social situation along with its capitalist domains such as the neuro-electric, the neuro-physical, and the neuro-cultural. These exogenous forces create neurological limits to the brain and, derivatively, limits to the existential imagination and freedom.
In contemporary culture, we see the profound structural and self-constituting effects of the violent penetration of capitalist exploitation into Internet technology, government, bureaucracy, corporations, multiple social and cultural domains, and individual bodies. It also affects the topology and matrices of self-structure that presence themselves in human communities. Currently, this onslaught of capitalist violence causes noospheric chaos, de-mentalizations, fragmentations, and splitting between emotion and cognition. In order to help us adjust to these conditions, psychiatry and psychopharmacology re-program and mollify the effects of this capitalist violence. This re-programming minimizes singularity, which is the uniqueness of each person, transforming it into the homogenous structure that prefigures what we perceive as individual and free. This, in turn, supports our neurotic subjectivizations and obsessions to capital and the ensuing neural exploitation. This is the submission of our minds to a semiology of capitalism.
Unfortunately, these capitalist formations disengage our existential experience from deeper cultural and social meaning, by separating the humanities from science, the technical from the social, and the cultural from the natural. At an individual, personal level, this results in existential fragmentation. It distorts and narrows our noetic – our source of meaning – to one that that is circumscribed and mediated by accumulation and growth, possession and control. The acquisition of knowledge thus becomes a teleological enterprise of assimilating and learning capitalist ideologies and dogmas. In principle, if we do not understand these foundations, then what we perceive as critical thinking and reflection is instead a mass manipulation through power and the way it utilizes language.
Because capitalism becomes the chief semiological fulcrum, we lose an authentic relation to the environment and all the life and being in it. This creates fragmentation and alienation most deeply experienced as a temporal dystonia because the way capital forces us into an experience of time distorts an originary, natural relation to it. This raises the issue of our human anthropology and our relation to the cosmos. Currently, we operate primarily from a foundation of humanism, in which humans believe that they are more ontologically valuable than other life forms and compete with each other for important goods and, in so doing, elevate capitalism and competition above all other values. This creates a valorization of autonomy, individualism, competition, evolution, acquisition, narcissism, and egocentrism, which becomes an unbridled violence contextualized in automation. We have become automatons. This leads to an evental interrogation of the human anthropology and our most basic interpretational structures – our noetic – how we see the world. This opens transcendent space in which we can choose to re-define ourselves and shift the source of meaning away from semio-capitalism and all that I have been discussing.
Let us now consider some other dimensions of this problem and what we see happening. As we recall, it was not so long ago that the Western culture viewed humans as mechanisms. In this schema, we are products of nature, live in space-time interpreted as calculable motion, are embodied, and are controlled by the laws of nature-space. This involves, the borrowing of principles of physics and applying them to human beings. This tends to squeeze out the historical, and the self-constituting aspect in our humanity. What is left is a different sort of temporality that is based less on cultural/social meaning, free from technology, and more based on a de-humanized evolutionary approach that prioritizes power, competition, and other values that emanate from a mechanistic type of humanism.
Thus, the perception of time also shifts in semio-capitalism. Consider that humans have a deep existential capacity for temporality with past, present, and future ekstases. We then layer our historical, cultural, social, and personal interpretations of time on this deep existential structure and ontological faculty. This involves the relation between the ontological and the ontic, but it is important to note that these interpretations structure our thinking and our lives from a deep place. However, if we de-prioritize life, then the historical, cultural, social, and personal are thereby distorted. Instead of temporality being governed by important cultural factors, it is now largely governed by time interpreted as efficiency, productivity, and capitalism. It shifts from the lifeworld to automation; or another way of articulating this is to say that the lifeworld is now completely dominated by semio-capitalism.
Because of our assumptions of neuro-plasticity and neuro-totalitarianism, we can safely become concerned that our structure of temporality has its foundation in a semiology of capitalism. This can conflict with natural life rhythms, historical processes, and human integration with the rest of the Earth. Because these structures are both unconscious and conscious, they affect our very perceptions of them. One concern I have is whether we have any transcendental space left within which to imagine other time-worlds, i.e., other interpretations of temporality. Without this critical space, we lack an important thinking dimension of our relationship with the rest of existence, including other life forms and the resources of the Earth. Another concern is that with an interpretation of time based on mechanism and automation, we lose the idea of duration. We lose the richness of a life that understands the difference between past, present, and future, and the temporal ekstases of retention, intention, and protention, which allow us a deeper level of introspection and moral consciousness. This renders the depth of our quest for meaning.
Furthermore, in a mechanistic interpretation of temporality, in which time is viewed as motion and space, we prioritize operational thinking which also suppresses deeper thinking about the construction of meaning. In addition, with time being compressed by the need for productivity and efficiency, there is less time to consider transcendence and change. Thus, there is less capacity for deeper thinking and the consideration of meaning formation.
Let’s pause. We are facing the issues of time, the nature of our human anthropology or authenticity, thinking, meaning, and a topology of the self, separable concepts, to be sure, but all highly inter-related in existential psychoanalysis, phenomenology, and critical theory. Now that we have mentioned both temporality and the nature of the human anthropology, let’s focus on authenticity, self-structure, and the origin of meaning. Currently, our anthropology is centered on an egology, narcissism, and the possessory self of the Western Enlightenment, which I have written about extensively. In this introduction, however, I want to tie it to an apprehension and experience of the Other and of the given – the given Other – in our current circumstance.
In a civilization that is governed by a semiology of capitalism, consumption, and desire – historically contextualized with a valorization of the fictions of individualism and autonomy – the self is an alienated, isolated structure. To be sure, it is inter-relationally constituted, but in its hubris, it forgets how essential the Other is to its very self-constitution. In this way of being, it sees the world only in terms of its own mental categories; thus, everything is a projection. What it perceives comes from its own mind and therefore not from the world as it is given. Unfortunately, we lose apprehension, experience, and understanding of the Other – who is a radical Other.
We can see that semio-capitalism is a derivative of a metaphysics that attempts to quantify nature then hypostatize it into what we consider to be original reality. In this worldview, even the subject of the subject-object split is reified into a thing, which then becomes subject to an anthropology of mechanism, as I have explained. Modern science fails to inquire into the mode of being of its objects. Here, their meaning is constricted to a picture of the facts – a minimalism – to no effective meaning at all. Further, there is no meaning in general; it is always meaning for someone. Thus, the question of meaning is a study in reflection, which leads us to an examination of reflection itself.
If a semiology of capitalism is based on a subjectivity of desire, it follows that the kind of reflection this sort of subject is capable of would be conditioned by that very desire, or self-interest. Thus, the very topology or structure of the self operates as a set of world parameters within which reflection occurs. More strongly, reflection tends toward self-interest at this level. I argue that self-interest often brings closure to availability and closure to deeper and broader reflection. Thus, when personal interest conflicts with reflection in some way, reflection is at risk for being suppressed or distorted. This is true, of course, unless there is a different kind of reflection, one that is more radical in that it interrogates the attachment we have to our self-interest. Therefore, is it not the case that the reflective self takes its own interest to task? That it thinks against itself? Doesn’t the virtue of responsibility require us to place full attention on the task of reflection itself? Doesn’t this full attention require us to bracket our very own interests and desires as we probe into the transcendent field from which they arise? Without this deeper level of reflection, we cannot be sure that any sort of reflection outstrips self- interest.
This countermove of reflection exposes our capacity for freedom and derivatively for moral autonomy and choice. Being able to step back from a purely egologically-formed self-structure exposes our capacity for transcendence, transformation, and change. Sartre spoke of this as “pure reflection” – pure because it exposes the self-deception involved in usual ego structure. More clearly, we often close ourselves to things and others by not engaging in this purifying thought process and by staying within our “desirous reflections.” Unfortunately, this means that we create an opaque relationship to reality and do not see or experience things as they really are. One can easily see the moral, epistemological, and other ramifications of this distortive process. The countermove trends toward a different kind of reflection – and truth. This countermove tends toward truth because it opens to the world of others and to things, instead of closing itself to them.