Why „disappointment / disillusionment“? What does „disappointment / disillusionment“ mean?

I say: we are all too fond of deceiving ourselves; we rarely want to look the truth in the face. Especially if it is a negativistic truth: that we do not really know what is true and real (in itself), but also not what is good and meaningful (for us).

Precisely because we do not know (or only think we know) whether philosophy is a sci­ence. But we like to be mistaken about that and are disappointed when it is not true that we know it: when our knowledge does not prove itself, when it does not pass the test of time.

But why not? Why do we not know what is true and real, what is good and meaningful?

First, we do not know it because we are finite and thus historical beings, i.e. the truth itself is always a finite and a historical one.

So we would have to be able to stop the process of the continuous on-one-end approach, of this series of events, which is history, in order to be able to say once – not even once and for all – what is true and real, good and meaningful.

Secondly, we don’t know it because we are individual and thus intersubjective beings, i.e. the truth is always also an individual and intersubjective one.

This means that the process of the continuous on-one-end approach is a multiple, plural process: everything and everyone is approaching its end here, the individual in his com­mu­ni­ty / his society, the society / the community with its individuals.

There is no stopping, but always something new, no pausing, but always new challenges, against which the old truths, what used to be meaningful and good, fade.

But, one might ask, isn’t science, precisely then, the only and only reasonable answer?

Far from it. For as it turns out, in the end every science disintegrates into a multitude of sciences, which all produce their own truths, which at a certain point – a point of no return – no longer communicate with each other, are no longer compatible with each other.

It begins with the soft sciences: with pedagogy and political sciences, social and cultural sciences, history, ethnology, etc., which disintegrate into schools and doctrines and are at best still held together by fashions and mainstreams, so-called turns: the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, the iconic turn, the body turn, the communicative turn, etc. (see here for an unironic description of a scientific description of such turns).

Then, at some point, the hard sciences will also be seized. Just think of the inextricable con­tra­dic­ti­ons in physics about space and time, matter and energy, or of the so-called neu­ro­sci­en­ces, which can no longer get a foot on the earth at all and which we, the phi­lo­so­phers, have in our ears with „insights“ – they are only speculations – which have to be re­vised every two / three years.

Meanwhile I am almost ashamed to have taken part in such debates myself (fortunately only with inferior contributions; see my bibliography No. 30 and No. 46).

Everybody goes there, keeps his own little machine running and hopes to become part of a scientific community, pressure group or lobby to be able to help shape a small one.

What about what? Nobody knows that. Millions and millions of dollars and euros have been and are burned in this way – because it goes on and on – , dollars and euros, which could have been used much more sensibly in many places.

In other words, science has become our favourite activity for not changing anything and for not being responsible for anything, really for nothing at all.

Because: The sciences can only describe what there is. They cannot – and do not want to – change anything about being, or if they wanted to change something – but they do not want to – they would no longer be sciences. That’s it.

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I can inform the readers of my blog this month that the first version, i.e. more precisely the typoscript of my book announced in December last year (cf. here) is finished. The book is entitled „Disappointing Thinking. Philosophical Sketches I“ (the numbering indicates that more volumes, at least two, will follow).

The book will contain a number of texts that I first presented to the public here in my blog years ago, but also a number of new texts that will be dedicated to the title-giving theme of „disappointment / disillusionment“.

What does the word „disappointment / disillusionment“ mean in a context that is not psy­cho­lo­gi­cal but philosophical? Philosophically, it means the ongoing process of questioning deceptions / illusions, i.e. that of dis-appointment / dis-illusionment.

In my understanding, however, such a process is not an anonymous one, not even an ob­jec­tive one. Its result may be objective, even if it is always uncertain, but it is not objective itself. It is always an individual and subjective process, carried by a subject struggling for it and in it.

Therefore, the disappointment it brings is not only philosophical in the narrower sense, but also psychological: Disappointing thinking is not only the thinking that uncovers il­lu­si­ons and in this sense disappoints, but also the thinking that suffers a disappointment and in this sense is disappointed.

Philosophical action and psychological suffering, philosophical action and psychological pas­sion – both are connected in the title „Disappointing Thinking“ and only together make up what I – in the broader sense – understand by „philosophy“.

For me, „philosophy“ is therefore committed not only to truth, but also to truthfulness, not only to cognitive experience in the objective sense, that is to say, to knowledge, but also to life experience in the subjective sense, that is to say, to certainty.

An important sentence, in which the principal arrangement of the book, but also the claim just explained in the term „philosophy“ becomes clear and which is also explicitly for­mu­la­ted in the book, is: „Philosophers who do not also speak of themselves are not“.

In this respect, in this philosophical book – and I attach importance to calling it that way – I do not speak only, but always also of myself. This may surprise you at first, since today „philosophy“ is more of a scientific discipline.

However, this understanding of philosophy as a scientific discipline is for me – I’ve made it clear again and again in this blog up to the point of overtaxing myself – an extreme shor­te­ning. In my opinion, this can neither be justified historically nor systematically.

Historically, it cannot be justified because philosophy has, since its beginnings in the so-called „pre-socratic“ philosophy, but especially in modernity with Descartes and Kant, Husserl and Heidegger, Foucault and Derrida, formulated and tried to assert a com­pre­hen­sive claim to knowledge, which can never be brought into full agreement with the spe­cialized claim to knowledge of the sciences, such as biology and physics, but also, for example, the historical sciences and ethnology.

And systematically the shortening of philosophy to a scientific discipline cannot be ju­sti­fied, because there is at least one conceptual pole at which science and philosophy must necessarily separate from each other: at which philosophers, e.g. in existential philosophy for existential philosophy or in ethics for ethics, can justifiably question and doubt the meaning of science.

For there is no scientific philosophy of existence, and there is also no scientific ethics. It is especially difficult for philosophers to understand the latter in our scientific age.

The publisher of my book has therefore recently suggested that I give the following title to the series of books I have planned: Critique of philosophy.

After some hesitation, I was not averse to accepting this proposal.

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Not much this month. Two quotes that made me think.

  • Sam Freeze, one of my followers (see https://en.gravatar.com/dilatedideas), writes about my last contribution in which I measured postmodernism against the promises of modernity: „Interesting take on postmodernism. I’m not sure postmodernism ever promised a fulfilled modernity though. As I’ve come to understand it, postmodernity didn’t promise (nor did modernity for that matter), it simply became. Things changed enough to be given a new name.“

That’s true. Postmodernism could simply be anything other than modernity. And it could have simply given up the promises of modernity. The idea, however, of simply giving up these promises or having already given them up – at least the most serious of them: uni­ver­sa­lism, for example, or human rights – this idea frightens me. So in my opinion, post­mo­der­nism should also be measured against the promises of modernity.

Every historical epoch must, to a certain extent at least, be measured against its pre­de­ces­sors (we simply have no other yardstick; Le Goff’s „history without epochs“ doesn‘t con­vince me at all). So postmodernism is either a new epoch, or it is not. If it cannot be mea­sured against modernity, it is not a new epoch either. If it can be measured against mo­der­ni­ty, it must put up with being perceived as a catastrophe.

This leads me to my second quote.

  • Paul Mason writes in Clear Bright Future (cf. https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/werdet-unregierbar): „The universal rights guaranteed by the UN treaty are being punished with lies in torture camps, refugee camps and commercial prisons. If you find this enduring, always remember that the postmodern left has paved the way for it in a 30-year campaign against universalism.“

I find that convincing. I have nothing against the left. I am one of the left too. But I have something against the postmodern left with all its relativism, which it would like us to see as pluralism, and against its tendency to deny, for the sake of maximum political freedom, the ethical freedom of the subject to such an extent that actions can be excused and justified that clearly fall behind the humanism of modernity.

This humanism can be seen as an ideology. There are enough indications that those who believe this humanism to be true are at the same time trampling it underfoot. But an ethi­cal truth – beyond the suspicion of ideology – does not become untruth because no one se­ri­ous­ly follows it. And I find it downright pathetic that the few people who seriously follow it are denigrated as „naive“ or „politically correct“.

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Sometimes people who perceive me as arrogant say to me: „What do you know? You are a privileged intellectual. You sit in your warm room and can make big speeches – about democracy, capitalism and neoliberalism. But you don’t know anything about the real existential pressure that most people face today – a pressure they rarely can withstand. Your hollow concepts don’t get there.“

It may be that my terms are hollow – perhaps in the ears of people who have nothing to do with philosophy, just as hollow as the terms of an Alain Badiou, a Slavoj Žižek or even – especially deterring – a Stefan Lorenz Sorgner. But if one thing is not correct, it is this: that I have no idea of the existential pressure to which many people are exposed today, that I know nothing about hard physical work and the fear of falling into financial ruin.

I’ve spent half my life doing hard, physical work. Already during my school years I had to get by with a job in a cleaning company, because I did not receive the slightest financial support from my parents. In turn, I could only finance my studies by regularly accepting jobs on construction sites, in factories on the assembly line or in print shops. And after my studies I finally worked for many years, from 1992 to 2003, at night in a post delivery cen­tre in Berlin-Mitte (Möckernstraße).

There, with wind and weather, it wasn’t exactly squeamish to go to. In an open hall – this was particularly hard in winter – we had to load trucks with tons of outgoing letters and parcels, which we had previously collected in individual containers, and at the end of our shift we had to unload the incoming letters and parcels from the trucks again in order to make them available to the sorting staff for further processing and transport. In short, I worked for eleven years as a kind of „warehouse clerk“: it was called a „postal worker“.

Still today I have friendly contact to one or the other with whom I worked at that time. Be­cause when you „work hard“ together for years, it welds you together. And you don’t forget such time, or at least I never forget it again. For it shaped me like no other – precisely be­cause it was the hardest time of my life and because it is still constitutive for it today that it cannot be transfigured in any nostalgic-romantic way.

So don’t tell me I don’t know anything about hard work. And please don’t come to me with the usual intellectual scolding. Anyone who has read my philosophical texts, read my blog or got to know me personally knows that my writing, however twisted and complex it may be occasionally, and my current teaching profession, however „normal“ and „civil“ it may seem, are and remain committed to those people who represent the physical and / or so­cial backbone of our society.

Nothing disappoints me as much as the insinuation that I don’t know what I’m talking about when I talk about capitalist exploitation, the difference between rich and poor, be­low and above, neoliberal disfigurement and / or degrading conditions of living in an al­leged „postmodernism“ that is perceived by many, but not by the many, as the most pro­gres­sive, because pluralistic age of all ages.

There is virtually nothing post-modern about the postmodernism we have today, at least not if we understand postmodernism to mean a state in which, firstly, a large part of the promises of modernity are fulfilled and, secondly, this fulfilment is not only reserved for a few, but – precisely – for the many. Philosophy – and this should not be forgotten – is a thor­ough­ly universal, not an elitist undertaking. It is about questions of humanity, not whether people in some remote part of the world have managed to build their own small paradise on the shoulders of others. Progress is universal, or it is not.

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I recently read an interview in a weekly newspaper (der Freitag, Nr. 6, 7.2.19) with the French filmmaker and author Virginie Despentes (cf. https://www.freitag.de/autoren/der-freitag/sei-brav-sklave). Here is a short excerpt:

Q: „How can democratic and humanist values and the social market economy be saved?“

A: „As far as values are concerned, that is already fucked up. The refugee crisis in Europe prohibits us from talking about humanism. And the disregard for the voices of the Greek people prevents us from talking about democracy. We must not delude ourselves: These values have already been sacrificed. The austerity policy in all the countries of Europe is a war of annihilation which is intended to destroy all the social achievements achieved by the struggles of the population in the twentieth century. The aim is to reduce the European populations to the poverty and misery levels of the 18th century.“

Q: „Are you serious?“

A: „Yes, the class of the richest has never been more determined to wage such a violent war against the working classes. It seems as if the richest wanted to avenge themselves bla­tant­ly, as if they had the impression that they had been humiliated for the last 50 years. And now we are to pay dearly for the last decades when decent living conditions prevailed. One thing is clear: the richest can no longer tolerate their power being limited in any way – eco­lo­gi­cally, politically or ethically.“

She’s right about everything she says. And it is by no means exaggerated. We are all de­lu­ding our­selves because we want to believe in the blessings of democracy and capitalism. But the problem is: democracy and capitalism are not compatible.

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So far: When I started thirty / forty years ago, I started from false premises.

In any case, it has become necessary to rethink the (political) world.

So everything has changed in the last thirty / forty years? Yes, everything. But also no­thing. Yes, everything because the broad intellectual, but also unintellectual consensus, the alliance of different strata of the population, the majority that had formed to be able to assert left-wing politics, because this consensus, this alliance and this majority has become impossible for the foreseeable future. But also nothing, because we have not made a single step forward on the road to fundamental democratic change and a possible coming world democracy. In fact, today we are further away from that than before.

Nothing has changed in the really relevant areas. We are still having the same discussions – with dwindling participation – as in the seventies and eighties. The „fucking liberals“ – as I have already pointed out – were already criticized at that time (cf. Jean Améry, Wi­der­sprü­che, Frankfurt/M. 1980, p. 205); and the „acceleration“ of the processes of social change, of which meanwhile a Hartmut Rosa can write whole books in his leisurely so­ci­o­lo­gi­cal German, sufficient thought was given at that time (cf. ibid., p. 12ff), so that no fur­ther comments are necessary.

As you can see, it can be helpful to take a look at older books – those with left-wing, long-forgotten concepts – in order to assure oneself of history and to become aware that there is nothing new under the sun, that is, how little the critical knowledge of the 60s, 70s and 80s has fallen on fertile ground. Exactly the opposite is the case: critical knowledge has been exhausted in affirmative action, the former resisters have become turncoats, the cri­tics of yesterday’s conditions their greatest beneficiaries of today.

In other words: Value orientation and value realization are still in stark – capitalist – con­tra­dic­tion to each other. Much has been said, nothing has been done: The social divides, both national and international, are widening; weapons are still being sold worldwide, in war regions whose number is increasing (Germany is one of the largest arms exporters); the oceans are suffocating in plastic and garbage, and climate change can no longer be stopped. Billions and billions have been spent diagnosing the catastrophe we are heading for (still the most advanced task of science), nothing to avert it. We keep heading for it.

Of course, digitalisation and the World Wide Web have brought about major changes. We have, as they say, arrived in the „digital age“. But where has it led us? After leaving the In­ter­net to some data-hungry monopolists and turning it into a big capital machine (which breathes, warms, eats, shits and fucks), you buy and sell the usual trifles (gibberish, clicks, advertising messages, opinions and the like) at equally trifling prices in ever new va­ri­a­ti­ons, while world events are turning into a horror film – awarded by all experts – which we can watch every evening on YouTube with pleasure.

You have to have a good portion of masochism to do this to yourself.

And, by the way, all this makes writing unpleasant. It seems more and more pointless.

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Has anything changed at all? Some people write whole books to analyse this (even the books have to go with the times), but I’ll be brief: If half the population no longer believes – keyword indifference – that they have anything to expect from democracy and its po­li­ti­ci­ans, because the state – keyword neoliberalism – has completely failed in the last two de­cades, and when the youth of this half population in the institutional human parks of our society become competitive egoists and narcissists, one should not be surprised that a decidedly left political position appears less and less assertive or its implementation less and less realistic.

In contrast to „rightists“ who, despite democracy or for fear of democracy, think from top to bottom, „leftists“ are absolutely dependent on a functioning democracy, from bottom to top; they cannot do anything without it, however precariously it is constructed, for in­stan­ce at present, because a democratic movement that deserves its name needs a mass and product basis on which it can, without any violence, initiate and continuously shape fun­da­men­tal change. Without any violence, because at least physical violence is incompatible with the democratic principle based on language. And continuously, because democracy is also a question of knowledge and education – and both do not fall from heaven.

Twenty / thirty years ago, at the height of the postmodern discussion, one could still assume such a constellation. One could assume that the democratic institutions, above all schools and universities, were apt to prepare people for the fundamental democratic change and a possible coming world democracy – globalisation in the best sense -, to take them along in the non-violent and continuous process and to give them the opportunity to get involved in it and actively shape it. Of course there was also a struggle then, a struggle of the „left“ with the „right“, for the sovereignty of discourse in society. But it seemed as if it could be won by a differentiation, even by abolishing this difference – in favour of a pro­gres­sive, radical liberalism.

Therefore, if right-wing antidemocratic forces currently believe they have to distance themselves from the „left mainstream“, from the so-called „fucking liberals“ – of whom, by the way, people already spoke in the 1970s (cf. Jean Améry, Widersprüche, Frankfurt/M. 1980, p. 205) – there is here a weak echo of the certainty condensing in the 80s and 90s that „leftists“ on their „long march through institutions“ could possibly suc­ceed for the first time in history in getting the democratic majority of the population behind them. But it only seemed that way. In fact, „leftists“ have lost the battle of discourse with „rightists“, because in the process of the differentiation mentioned above, first at the end of the 1990s, „leftists“, in search of the „middle“, attached them­sel­ves to „rightists“ and then „rightists“ willingly joined this compromise course of „leftists“ – be­cause it was a course to the right.

So if there are people today who are confident of victory and who believe that they can still walk in the boots of the current postmodern discussion, these people are those who ar­gue „structure-conservatively“, who have not understood, that the historic opportunity that lay in the student movement of the 60s, the environmental movement of the 70s, the peace movement of the 80s and what followed them (right up to the smaller movements of the recent past, for example, the Occupy movement), that this opportunity – or op­por­tu­ni­ties: for fundamental democracy, consequent environmental protection, world peace and containment, if not abolition of capitalism – has been missed and that today we are dealing with forces, „culture fighters“, who once and for all want to prevent such opportunities from ever returning.

In other words, we are dealing with a threat in the face of which the discussions that we had at that time: whether the rule of reason would not lead to coercion, whether hu­ma­nism would not be an anti-humanism in truth, and whether history, especially that of rea­son and the humane, is slowly coming to an end (cf. my blog-posts of July 2012), would not seem downright ridiculous. What we need today and must make strong again for the rea­sons mentioned above are the values of individual autonomy and sovereignty, so­li­da­ri­ty, tolerance and dignity handed down to us from the Enlightenment, even if we know that the dialectic of Enlightenment was never really dissolved. Because the new movements and reactionary forces lead us – completely without any dialectic – directly back to bar­ba­rism.

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