July 18, 2007

"Beyond Ideology"

I came across this odd little 1968 essay by Lewis Feuer, professor of philosophy at Berkeley in the 1960s and later of sociology at Toronto, whose ideological career apparently moved from the European Marxist left to the American McCarthyite right. Other than some basic background research I'm not familiar with his work.

There are some sentiments to admire here, I think:

All the modes of ideology have a common source of emotional satisfaction. They confer a father's blessing, the approval of a superego, when one is feeling most insecure. The ideological fanatic is repressing tremendous segments of his personality; he represses doubts and fears, he inhibits his emotions of good will, he drives his affections along paths approved by party authority. Emotions of friendship in his life dissolve into nothingness, in his actions he no longer has the sense of freedom. The follower of ideology is always ambivalent toward his church or party, hating it for the way it warps his life, so that he no longer reacts as himself, freshly and spontaneously, but always as the representative, a moment, of historical forces. Cruelty as a political value is the counterpart of an extreme personal repression, and it constructs its own new conscience; the intensified motive for cruelty is internalized as the mandate of the historical superego. Ideology gives to the cruelty-dominated man the approval of a cosmic conscience; organized cruelty thus has its unchallengeable certitude of world-historical process. Ideology thus helps provide the internal energy for the repression of humane impulses and external energy for aggression against others. Ideology is the instrument whereby men repress their human responses, and shape their behavior to a political mandate.

However, having been raised on a steady diet of Foucault, Barthes, etc., Feuer's notion of living without ideology seems absurd—or at least as problematic as the positions of the student "radicals" Feuer railed against elsewhere. Absent any predictive conceptual framework with which to form a mental model of the world, Feuer seems to doom his post-ideological subject to a life of essential idiocy.

What Feuer is really calling for, I think, is for everyone to adhere to the same ideology; without ideological conflict, the concept of ideology would disappear. But I don't think this "natural" ideology is floating around out there waiting to be discovered. Roland Barthes pointed out that many of the social forms that are presented as natural facts are in fact historical artifacts...like for instance the (presumably conservative) post-ideology Feuer espouses.

Is it even possible to describe a non-ideology? Feuer explicitly calls BS on the related concept of Weltanschauung, so no help there...

For what it's worth, check out Feuer's obit in the National Review—typically gaudy and bitchy.

July 17, 2007

Attenborough's Echidna lives!

From BBC Online:

A species of egg-laying mammal, named after TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough, is not extinct as was previously thought, say scientists.

On a recent visit to Papua's Cyclops Mountains, researchers uncovered burrows and tracks made by the Attenborough's long-beaked echidna.

The species is only known to biologists through a specimen from 1961, which is housed in a museum in the Netherlands.