I’ve expressed this thought elsewhere and before, but what we need more than ever right now is a skepticism of skepticism, a cynicism towards cynicism. It’s not that we should become wide-eyed naifs, believing all that we encounter. No, it’s that critique and cynicism, as Sloterdijk noted, have become both the reigning form of ideology and dominant mode of cultural production within the academic humanities. Today what we get is critique upon critique and critiques of critiques, where yet another critique arises to critique these critiques as I’m doing now. Indeed, with Laruelle we get the most radical mode of critique yet, a critique that shows that all thought is ultimately based on a circularity and unfounded decision, that ultimately leads us to a “real-in-the-last-instance” of which we can never speak because to do so would be to introduce yet another circular determination based on an ungrounded decision. We get a real of which we’re permitted to say nothing. In all instances we win, showing always how each statement, each claim, each thought, is pervaded by an illegitimate decision, yet we are permitted to say nothing beyond pointing this out. A true Pyrric victory.
We’re drunk with critique, cynicism, and skepticism. And in this way, all critique has come to be neutralized. We now know, a priori, that everything we speak of– including our own critiques! –will contain illegitimate assumptions, illicit interests on behalf of the powerful and dominant classes, and unfounded decisions. It is all neutralized in advance. In the culture industry of the academy– and, in particular, the academy that calls itself radical –we will always be able to show that some scandalous desire, ideology, or interest is at work. As a consequence, we become paralyzed. We can say well enough what is wrong with any positive knowledge claim and how any ethical or political proposal conceals hidden interests and despicable forms of oppression and inequality, we can show, like the theologians, how everything is stained by sin, yet we can make no positive proposals. Our sole and single ethical prescription becomes “make no claim, make no proposal, judge no thing.” Our business– and it is a business, a tenure business –comes to consist in showing that everything is stained and dirty.
In a strange way, we thus become the mirror image of the theologians, yet with the caveat that where they can commit by virtue of their belief in a transcendent term– a horrific God that would condemn trillions to eternal suffering –we can say nothing. Like the theologians we find sin in everything, seeing all as fallen. Like the theologians or the fundamentalist freaks of today, we discard all science as really being masked strategems of power, of interest, that are ultimately constructed and without any truth. We thus strangely find ourselves in the same camp as the climate change denialists, the creationists who use their skepticism as a tool to dismiss evolutionary theory, and those that would treat economic theories as mere theories in the pejorative sense and continue to hold to their neoliberal economics despite the existence of any evidence supporting its claims. We critique everything and yet leave everything intact.
The point is not to abandon the project of critique. We’ve all heard the critiques of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, of the gender theorists, of the post-colonial theorists, of Bourdieu and his critique of the scholastic disposition (academia and academics), of the Derrideans, the semioticians, and a host of others. These critiques, at this point, are complete. They no longer shock. As Lacan observed in “Position of the Unconscious” in Ecrits, the formations of the unconscious shift and respond to our interpretations of the unconscious. The point is that today we need to find the will to believe a little, to affirm a little, and to commit a little. Marx called for “the ruthless critique of all existing things”, yet that stance has today become the most reactionary and ineffectual position at all. In the absence of daring to affirm certain things as real and true, we leave all intact as it is. Only where we abandon our foundationalist, obsessional assumptions, our desire to have the truth before we pursue the truth, our intoxication with epistemology, will we be able to move beyond this paralysis.