Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Against predetermination, trivialisation etc

I enjoyed this book recently. I won't attempt to summarise any of it, but here are a couple of the many bits that I liked. May post up some more.

We are not predetermined. Nothing of what we do is inevitable and inescapable, lacking an alternative. Against external pressures clamouring for our obedience and insisting on our surrender, we can rebel - and all too often we do. This, however, does not mean that we are free to act as we would wish or dream: having done with the bugaboo of necessity, we find ourselves confronted face-to-face by the all-to-real dilemma of feasibility. It is the feasibility - or more precisely the accessibility - of our goals, inflected and tempered by the chances of their attainment, that draws the line between realistic and fanciful options and varies the likelihood of alternative individual choices. People choice, but within the limits drawn by the feasibility of goals - a factor not open to choice. 'Being realistic', according to Gramsci, is indeed an ambivalent stance: it enhances the probability of success - but at the price of desisting from the pursuit of other goals, cast off-limits and so beyond reach. Above all, it renders starkly visible the disconcerting complexity of the task - though only to nudge for more effort, not to prompt its abandoning and resignation. Manipulating the odds, the powers-that-be may make some choices exceedingly costly and so reduce their chances of being taken - though they could hardly succeed in the effort to render them impossible to make. The world of humans is a realm of possibilities/probabilities, not determinations and necessities.   

Trivialisation is one of the great registers that power employs in arranging the score of common feeling. The flow of collective feelings can be made to absorb the negative potential of events, which always threatens to be dangerous, by reducing the quality of particular actions and specific occurrences, their dramatic and symbolic character; or by depriving such negative potential of any vitality, handing it back to each citizen individually as an occasional sample of the daily mediocrity surrounding us, a sample which we are to eat up and digest separately, promptly turning our heads to the other side, towards the next form of mediocrity, since a collective and public reflection never really seems worth the effort or the attempt. 

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