History The New Universalism
posted by December 27 at 13:57 PMon
This comment by Johnny was made for my post on the expanding war in East Africa:
howabouts, we stop our little experiment in proxy imperialism and allow the people of east africa and the rest of the world to determine their own lives and governments? That’d be novel.
The popularity of this view of things must have something to do with the fact that its intellectual content is terribly weak. It’s the kind of relativism that thinks it’s special/novel but is in fact just bone lazy. It’s postmodernism without effort, without muscles. And even postmodernism with an effort is not much at all, as the work of Fredric Jameson makes evident. Jameson (who aspires to a universalism, but his takes the form of a Marxist nostalgia) thinks big but nothing really moves. His most important idea, cognitive mapping, ends just where it starts to get interesting, where it needs to make a final push toward a new universalism, one that processes the actual state of the world, the vast and varying conditions of humanity. We can not be relativists. Nor can we afford to believe there is no such thing as progress, historical progress, scientific progress. We must find the energy to imagine, and apply to the world of many things, a total system that is not inflexible, that does not convert green life into the fixed gray of thought. The new universalism must be agile, global, and, in the last instance, committed to humanist principles.
(Two quick mid-notes: One, it’s easy to imagine global capitalism, but global humanism seems impossible—the source of this failure will certainly be found in the structure of the idealogical apparatus that maintains the power of capitalism. Two, the anti-humanism that springs from Nietzsche, and is finalized by Foucault, must, as a project, be abandoned. We need humanism because we are nothing but humans. Society has no other purpose than improving the living conditions of humans—if we care about the environment, it is because humans live in the environment; if we care about the stars, it is because humans are made by the stuff of dead stars. What is wrong is that which harms the welfare of humans as a whole; what it is good is that which enhances the welfare of humans as a whole: that is the bottom function of the law, anything else is a corruption of this first and final fact.)
Hegel is the grandfather of this human project, but his universalism, shaped by his extermely limited historical narrative of human consciousness (the dawn: China; the noon: Greece; the dusk: Germany), is nowhere near wide or complex enough. His historical concept is nothing more than a toy to us. His successor, Marx, was bold enough to provide humanity with a historical machine, but what we really need today is a historical search engine that does two amazing things: integrates, totalizes a wider area of human experience and history and, in the process, removes the halo from reason—in much the same way Baudelaire removed the halo from the poet in the 19th century. Reason must make its return without the glow of Hegel’s giest, nor the specter of class struggle, as Marx, and Vico before him, envisioned it. It is a reason that takes flight at dawn and sees the expanding reality of global humanism. The thinker closest to this new perspective is Mike Davis, particularly in his latest book Planet of the Slums. What he does for the slums of the world must be done for every area of human life.