The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Can Public Intellectuals Help Us Think? (on Jordan Peterson, Slavoj Zizek, and Co.)

You will not be able to stay home, brother
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and drop out
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip
Skip out for beer during commercials
Because the revolution will not be televised

The revolution will not be televised.”

Gill Scott Heron

 

We sometimes speak of public intellectuals to designate a figure who is invited to think the world in the media or public space.

But the adjective public seems in fact to be redundant.

It is impossible to be a private intellectual as one can be a private detective.

While the private investigator seeks to solve domestic cases, most often the intellectual cannot seriously say that he is dealing with domestic thoughts.

Thought cannot be a domestic matter, otherwise it risks self-destruction.

As the philosopher Deleuze said, it is not true that each of us can have his own private portable philosophy.

Philosophy is not a solipsistic nor autistic practice like listening to music in public spaces with headphones on, to negate the other or the possibility of an encounter.

We often hear the expression “my philosophy of life”around us, but if there could be as many philosophies as human beings, it is not certain that we could communicate or speak the same language.

In fact, when the average person speaks of her personal philosophy of life, she refers to some maxims borrowed here and there, of the type “man is a wolf for man”, or “do to others what you wish that others do for you”, or “women are emotional and men are logical”.

These are acts of faith pertaining to collective webs of belief.

To believe that your thoughts belong to you only is narcissism and immaturity.

One is always thinking with others.

Philosophy is the study of the consequences of our beliefs.

Philosophy is the never ending process of lucidity about our webs of beliefs, our belonging or lack of belonging to such and such web of belief.

Of course, we can also create concepts, but even this creative thinking is a co-creation.

Even the greatest philosophers produced their system within a network of thinkers that we have forgotten because we live in the ideology of the self-made man or woman.

Even small portable pseudo-philosophies like mindfulness are collective creations related to our tendency to imitate others, our tendency to negative groupthink or to positive cognitive esprit de corps.

Philosophy cannot be private or domestic.

It is the essence of philosophy to be public and political.

To think seriously is to think about, with or against the world, the cosmos, society.

This is why the “analytic and logical” philosophy, which dominates in the Anglo-Saxon countries, as opposed to what is called the “continental philosophy”, is often a parody of philosophy that seems to put society in parenthesis like mathematics or physics put human consciousness in brackets.

Any process of symbolic production that excludes the subject is not thinking but calculating.

The intellectual is the one who knows that to think the world one must think beyond private and domestic affairs, but also beyond science.

To think domestically is called worry.

To think mathematically is called calculation.

To really think is to go beyond personal concern or scientific concern and put thought back into a political, civilizational and even cosmopolitical context.

Philosophy is embracing the Other, or as Hegel said, to have the courage to look at the Negative in the eye and walk through it.

Philosophy is although a deep meditation on what we should call positive.

A web of belief, what Foucault called a discourse, revolves around one or a few hyper-positive values, absolutized axioms.

Whether we are aware of it or not, we tend to follow, in our everyday life, absolutized axioms.

It is important to be aware of the rules and axioms that shape your life, to take ownership of these axioms, to co-create them, to embody them consciously, because we don’t want to be puppets of values that are killing us.

What is familiar? Who is the same? Who is the other?

Sometimes we see the other as a monster, a dragon for example in Peterson’s terms.

What is a monster?

A monster is a reality that has not been yet de-monstrated.

To think is to de-Monstrate the other: to decipher a world ofso-called opaque “monsters”, to decipher the symphony of our times behind the cacophony of opinions.

Now, once established that the true intellectual, the thinker, is always a thinker of the public, of the world, and of civilization, there is however a difference between the mediatic intellectual and the intellectual who writes or thinks for the happy few.

One of the criticisms that some mediatized intellectuals address to those who are not in the spotlight is that they are not read, they have no followers on the internet, in short that they have no social impact.

One of Jordan Peterson’s models is Nietzsche.

For Nietzsche, the past was key to understand the present. He wrote: Direct self-observation is not nearly sufficient for us to know ourselves: we need history, for the past flows on within us in a hundred waves.”

Here we must remember that Nietzsche, who certainly became a posthumous media intellectual, during his lifetime was only read by a dozen people and had to self-publish some volumes of the Zarathustra, because he could not find a publisher for his masterpiece.

No publisher saw it as a masterpiece.

Very few saw Nietzsche as an important man.

But in one hundred years, we will probably still read Nietzsche.

Even today there are hundreds of powerful, exciting thinkers who never go on television and who are not onFacebook or Twitter.

There are also intellectuals who are popular for their least interesting, easy book, while their more difficult work is not read.

This is not new. Many thinkers are known for a single sentence or for an ism, like Sartre’s existentialism.

Almost no one has read the 700 pages of his Being and Nothingness, but a few used to know the sentence “existence precedes essence”.

The problem today is that when I ask university students I sometimes teach “who was Descartes?”, they have forgotten.

I have realised by teaching pupils or students between 15 and 30 years old that what used to be part of the general culture of an averagely educated man is lost, and that many young people have been deprived our cultural references that predate WWII.

Classics are not known by name anymore, and even less read.

Without reading some classics of western civilisation we lose our capacity to evaluate the present critically.

Being only in the present, online, is very dangerous.

To think properly we need to confront the pillars of the history of philosophy and of literature.

We need to dialogue with the dead.

We also need to be familiar with the history of modernity, at least.

Can we learn and assimilate the foundations of western culture by listening to contemporary public intellectuals?

When a thinker is invited by journalists on a set, several factors can prevent thought from manifesting itself and developing in a fecund way.

The intellectual is a figure largely produced by text, reading and writing, that is to say that thought is produced by a series of editorial revisions, several drafts, or several simultaneous readings which spread out over decades, while orality and interview involves improvising, here and now.

A Youtube introduction to Hegel or Freud by someone else will never replace the confrontation with Hegel’s Freud’s original words.

Classics are very different from what we say about them.

You need to discover your own Freud, your own Nietzsche, your own Plato, your own Whitehead.

Now, does that mean we should not pay attention to living intellectuals and read only classics?

Yes.

And no.

A living famous intellectual can be positively influential, if he or she creates a desire for thought, a desire to train the muscle of thought.

This seems to be the case of Jordan Peterson, among others.

But a mediatic intellectual can also be negatively influential if he or she is used by the system as a means to prevent people from accessing more fundamental thoughts that are more radical.

For example, the Marxist and Lacanian thinker Slavoj Zizek is often used as a joker that might prevent many people to read Marx or Lacan.

It is also possible that Jordan Peterson is used to deflect the desire of a certain part of the population for more radicality and to lead them towards a semi-radical domesticated position.

The relative scandal that Peterson or Zizeck create is still acceptable by the mainstream media.

They might be shocking for some, but they are less shocking than people who you will never see on television.

The revolution will not be televised.

This has to do with how much the audience can take emotionally.

Our emotional muscle, today, is generally hypertrophied while our thought muscle is atrophied, so we often react and are trained to react without really understanding the logic of an argument first.

All possible radical propositions are not heard in the media, and semi-radical thinkers are used by the media as diversion.

An intellectual who wants to be in the media without taking the risk of simplifying his or her thinking must stay in tune with his deeper system.

This is difficult because our inner system is a web of belief that is a process, and because of the respect any serious thinkers owes to the past pillars of our civilisation.

The respect for tradition slows down the process of thinking because it syncs it with natural growth in a world of artificial growth.

It is important to slow down in order to think, in order to extricate ourselves from imposed and trained automatisms and all the mimetic habits that transform the social sphere into a deadly trap.

This takes time.

Natural growth time, not media time.

To be a public intellectual is to help co-create relationships that are lucid forms of well-belonging and natural spiritual growth.

I all boils down to the idea of primary source.

One could argue that all major thinkers are trying to decipher what is our primary source, or as Aristotle put it, our first mover.

Who is your first mover?

What is your primary source?

What is the first mover of our society?

What is the primary source of this society?

Does your primary source and the primary source of your society coincide?

If not, then we have a problem to solve!

As a philosophical counsellor, in my consultation office in Kungsholmen, it is my job to have individual conversations with people who want to connect to their primary source via thought.

Psychology, philosophy, feeling, vision, and community are all important in the confrontation with our destiny.

“The Revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not go better with Coke
The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath
The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat.”

 (I wrote this text as support for the keynote talk I was invited to give at The Syntheist Node in Stockholm on 18 May 2018 – the theme of the conference was Jordan Peterson.)

On Duty – The Philosophy Whisperer

How to be Epic? “What should I do?” Most philosophical texts on duty begin by citing Kant’s question. Is it a duty to quote Kant when philosophizing about duty? In a certain academic discourse, yes. For duty is first and foremost a matter of “discourse” in the sense of community of practice and belonging. If you are part of a group of bodybuilders, your duty is to go to the gym several times a week. It’s a question of identity and collective consciousness. But does this mean that the isolated individual does not have duties towards himself?

To answer this, let’s go back to the source: etymologically, the duty is a debt, a transfer of belonging. How can I have a debt to myself? The answer is easy and is it even indebted to the literature on personal ethics, moral commitments, good resolutions, will, self-discipline, etc. But a devious mind might wonder whether the philosopher, as a good moralist, does not himself have the professional duty, the obligation to advise autonomy, to speak of duty towards oneself in the sense of respect for one’s commitments and one’s “highest values”. A thinker is not expected to sing the lack of responsibility, fun, suicide, inconsistency. Duty is associated with a form of predictability, trust. It is expected that the bus driver will drive his bus by respecting stops and schedules rather than suddenly dropping everyone in a ravine or taking them on an improvised trip. Duty is the courage to do what is not necessarily creative: to repeat, preserve, conserve.

That’s why in a time like ours, where creativity seems to be a categorical imperative, many are confused. They initiate risks that they do not push to the end, for want of control. Our era is full of flabby souls, beings who sketch adventurous actions out of a duty of originality but who do not lead them to completion by cowardice, conformism or prudence — they are rarely punished in our coolera, if by the gloom of their existence or the anger of the lured. But let us now consider a more taboo idea than the duty towards oneself.

Imagine a tyrant or emperor who considers that everyone owes her something. All would have the duty to dedicate their work to her and a part of their life, their time, or their body. Such a situation moves away duty from the lyric field (I owe myself) and puts it back into the political field (you must, we have the duty). If this tyrant is a State, then an entire nation is bound to serve the order. These are the two dead-ends of our modernity: the individual most often fails to be a being of pure duty to himself, that is of pure integrity, because lyricism, theI, is a position that cannot erase the desire for enjoyment; on the other hand, the citizen fails to be a perfect subject of the State because voluntary servitude is not totally possible for a conscious subject (but it is possible for an unconscious subject, and that is why Big Data and Google are coming to use us right now, because we are not well aware of our electronic servitude). How can one escape dialectically, or rathercrealectically, from the duality between the lyricism of duty and the sacrifice of collectivism? By a virtue that our modernism has forgotten or relegated to fiction: the epic sense.

Being epic is a co-creative middle ground between the lyricism of the ego-trip and the servitude of bad esprit de corps. It is a co-creative esprit de corps that blends community and personal heroism. The Greeks placed in the epicthe highest degree of humanity, as if the epic group were a super-individual composed of individuals who themselves do not yield to their fate. It is perhaps our highest duty: the duty of a destiny.

And there is no lonely destiny. Even a Van Gogh is the collective product of many human efforts and desires, a network of admirations: his brother, collectors, art critics, paint manufacturers, and so on. The folly of a Van Gogh is to believe he is alone in the world. The madness of a Caligula is to refuse that one is always alone in the face of one’s destiny. Between the two, there is for example the group Nicolas Bourbaki, who managed to unify and revolutionize the mathematics of the twentieth century because its members abdicated their ego under the same pseudonym and worked together, without failing, towards the same cognitive conquest. It was a group where everyone had a strong voice to be heard in the process of steering an ideal towards a common vision.

Visionaries have a duty to see and a desire to grow. Duty and desire then merge into the same integrity that meets history. Have the chance to be at the right time in the right place, of course, but also be ready to act — that is, to die — when you have to.