Thirty years ago, I was a fit young doctoral student in theology, writing a thick manuscript of over 700 pages on the Cynics for a dissertation for Professor Heikki Räisänen. It was more prosaic reflection than scholarly work. When the professor read the manuscript and made the appropriate editorial notes, I was hospitalised in critical condition with staffulococcus aureus. At that point I had one son under one year old from my first marriage. This text and these thoughts come mainly from thirty years ago, but I have removed the reference numbers and the 'pointless' literature discussion. I have updated the young man's thoughts then for today's situation with a few references to statements and events of the moment. These age-old thoughts of a young student have followed me through my long life into my present old age. I even run almost as hard as I did as a young man before the damage to my heart. Even today, this damage is no longer felt anywhere.
The millennia of nuanced Christian
tradition have almost completely disappeared from the practice and
memory of Western churches. At the same time, asceticism and
abstinence are also more generally condemned as the horror of the
I went on Tinder for a week after my 2000 celibacy days - during which time I did not sexually touch or even kiss a woman. Of course, like Adam in the biblical creation story, I felt sorry for not having a suitable partner, a lovely woman. I crossed my arms many times, praying that God would now lead me to the right person or give me the gift of celibacy, where I would no longer miss a woman.
On Tinder, I did not even accept overweight peers or 80-year-old virgins, who many people thought were just right for my age group, into a love relationship. I didn't even start a conversation. It is not about the dignity of any human being as such, but about the conditions of a love relationship. This sparked a media frenzy. Undoubtedly, despite all the derision, I am glad that there are also ideal women for my taste: an athletic, slim, beautiful doctoral candidate. I know one. It's a different matter whether anything more will emerge.
But do you have to have a loved one with whom you can talk, listen, touch and be close? If there is no such person, then, in the wise words of the Apostle Paul, it would be right to find the 'gift of celibacy', which he himself had, so that living in celibacy was not overwhelming. One should therefore focus on sublimation as a mission other than the glory of womanhood. Sigmund Freud has written about this in a very beautifully incisive way as the basis of civilisation.
To the heart of the history of single life
The modern 'single life' - which many Christians also take up - is more cynical self-indulgence than the old Christian asceticism. The latter was celibate and did not include pornography, masturbation, paid sex services. Instead, the cynical self-sufficiency in celibacy included the latter. The worrying thing is that Christians today get confused between the celibate life of a Christian single person and the self-seriousness of a cynic who blasphemes Christianity. Some 30 years ago, I wrote a 700-page English-language manuscript of my dissertation for my professor to read on the history and confusion of this Christian asceticism and cynical self-sufficiency. However, I wrote my final dissertation on a completely different subject.
Already Jacob Bernays made a consistent identification between the Cynics and first century Judaism and Christians. In my opinion, he confused these quite inappropriately and contrary to the facts of history. The Bernays family is associated not only with the (erroneous) claim that Christian asceticism can be identified with cynical autarky, but also with the emergence of psychoanalytic literary studies for the sake of Sigmund Freud. Jacob Bernays was born in Hamburg in 1824 and died in Bonn in 1881. According to him, the pseudeipigraphic letter of the Cynics to Pseudo-Heraclitus originated in the Jewish doxographic tradition in the first century AD. The letters of Pseudo-Heraclitus criticise immorality and traditional culture.
Pseudo-Heraclitus' letters, which emphasised the freedom of the cynic, were seen by Jacob Bernays as Jewish. He also concluded in his study of Lucianus that Peregrinus, described by Lucianus as a cynic, was a Jewish rabbi who, even as a cynic, could preach monotheism, self-righteousness and courage in the face of corrupt authorities. Bernays did not trust Lukianos' description of a morally degenerate Peregrinus. Furthermore, Bernays suggested that Pseudo-Diogenes' letters 4, 7, 9 and 45 belonged to an Eastern Christian environment, but this was soon contradicted by G. Capelle (1896) in his dissertation, who argued that the letters rather dated from the first century BC and reflected Socratic language and irony. According to the Pseudo-Diogenes' letter to Hiketae (Letter 7), Diogenes is a heavenly dog, not living according to conventional popular notions, but following his nature, free under Zeus. The dog is under the protection of the gods. Diogenes calls God 'Father'. According to Bernays, this letter would be Christian or Jewish and dates back to the 100th century AD.
Jacob Bernays' view of the proximity between the Cynics and Judaism and Christianity in the first century AD is particularly interesting if one takes into account the Jewishness of Bernays' family. His life story is known in exceptional detail. This scholar came from a prominent Jewish family of the mid-nineteenth century. A Jewish scholar, he perceived the letters of Pseudo-Heraclitus as Jewish. Those letters reminded us that human hands do not make a god (Psalm-Her 4:20), but nowhere did the letters argue from Jewish sacred authority or scripture, instead relying on Homer. The citizenship of God was, of course, repeatedly expressed in the letters: 'I am not a citizen among men, but among gods' (Psalm 5). The letters also recounted the unlawful measures of Ephesus that Heraclitus faced, "all are enemies, none is a friend" (Ps. Her. 7). Pseudo-Heraclitus 9 proclaimed world citizenship. The textual world of the letters fitted in remarkably well with Bernays' personal life.
Cynicism and Judaism were not presented as close friends by just any scholar, but by Jacob Bernays, son of the Chief Rabbi of Hamburg, Isaac Bernays. His father had died shortly after Jacob's studies at the University of Bonn in 1849. Jacob had completed his studies at the University of Bonn in 1844-1848, where his teacher was Albrecht Ritschl, a pioneer of neo-Kantian theological hermeneutics, who explicitly emphasised individual experience of value. Shortly after his father's death, Paul Heuse arrived in Bonn in 1850, with whom Jacob entered into a homosexual relationship. Jacob himself never married, but Paul Heuse, who was later awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, married and had several children with his wife. At that stage, Jacob Bernays had not yet taken up the study of cynics. However, it was individualism that the cynics represented. It was the cynics who could deviate from the prevailing way of thinking. Freedom also included sexual self-sufficiency, to the point of allowing homosexuality. In contrast, in 19th century Bonn, the sexual orientation of a Jewish prisoner's son was not judged liberally.
In 1850, Lachmann wrote his famous work on Lucretius. A good friend of Jacob Bernays, Mommsen had become well known for his political activism in favour of liberalism. The Jews were tolerated, but in 1861 the arrival of poor beggar Jews from the East led to a sharp change of opinion. In the following years, Jacob Bernays wrote several works on textual criticism of ancient works - following Lahmann's ideals. In 1856 he assumed that the so-called Pseudo-Fokylidean poems were by a Jewish author, and in 1861 he published his study of Sulpicius Severus (360-420 AD) and investigated the possibility of a Christian interpolation of the Annals of Tacitus. In 1866 he became professor at the University of Bonn. Three years later, Jacob Bernays concluded that the cynical Pseudo-Heraclitean letters defending individual liberty were in fact of Jewish origin.
In 1872, the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhard expressed his dismay at the rush of modern culture, which would only be exacerbated by the rise of pernicious cosmopolitanism on account of the Jews. In September 1873, New York experienced a 'Black Friday', a stock market crash that left many in dire straits: in the public propaganda, Jews now represented the exploitative international capital that was bringing productive Germans into poverty. Jews spoke out in defence of their rights and freedoms: in 1879, the very well-known Chief Rabbi of Vienna, Adolf Jellinek, issued his declaration in favour of liberalism. Albert Ritschel's major work was also completed: Ritschel consistently emphasised the individual experience of human dignity, while metaphysics remained inadequate. In a context of anti-Semitic accusations and suspicion, and neo-Kantian values emphasising intellectual individuality, it is probably no coincidence that Jacob Bernays concluded in 1879 that the poor individualist Peregrinus was in fact a wandering cynical Jewish rabbi, but that Lucianus had ruined Peregrinus' reputation.
In 1881 Jacob Bernays died. Bernays' influence is reflected in his family connection with Sigmund Freud, to whom Jacob Bernays dedicated many of his letters. Sigmund Freud, for his part, praised both Jacob Bernays' memory and his medical interpretation of Aristotle's doctrine of catharsis. After Jacob's death in 1883, Jacob's nephew Eli Bernays and Sigmund Freud's sister Anna married. In 1882 Sigmund Freud met Jacob's niece Martha Bernays. After a long engagement (1882-1886), Sigmund married Martha, and in 1895 Martha's sister Minna also moved in with Sigmund. Jacob Bernays created an image of individualistic cynics related to Jews and Christians. The Cynics represented individualism: this fitted in with neo-Kantian intellectualism in the 19th century, when, as anti-Semitism grew, Jews perceived institutionalism as a threat to the noble ideals of liberalism. Nor can Bernays' personal sexuality be ignored in assessing the scholar's sympathy for the interpretation of cynicism as Judaism. Under the influence of Jacob Bernays, the medical interpretation of catharsis moved into Sigmund Freudian therapy and psychoanalytic literature reading.
Donald R. Dudley also examined the history of cynicism from Antisthenes and Diogenes to the 500s AD. Sallust. One of these cynics was Oenomaus, who, according to Dudley, lived during the time of Hadrian. What makes this cynic interesting is his hometown of Gadara, also known for the Gospels. In the Hebrew tradition, the pagan philosopher Abnimos Hagardi appeared as a friend of Rabbi Meir. However, Dudley doubted this identification. Oenomaus would be one of the many cynics who would embody the rise of the trend: 'in the period from the death of Vespasian to the death of Marcus Aurelius, cynicism became numerically much stronger than it had ever been before'.
War had begun in Europe when, in 1937, Donald R. Dudley, in Cambridge, wrote a sympathetic portrait of the cynics. These cynics would, according to Dudley, expose the 'futility' of the Greek world of the time. The ascetic laws of Christianity would be the link between the ancient world and Christianity, to which Dudley assumed the cynics had a direct connection. Centralising political tendencies would have dominated the Christian world in the Middle Ages, but there were also persistent ascetic, anti-clerical elements that would have paralleled the Cynics' reaction against official stoicism. According to Dudley, the greatest similarity to cynicism in modern times would be found in anarchism. Among the political influences of anarchism were Proudhon, Stirner and Bakun. Dudley concluded his study with the observation: 'State capitalism meant the replacement of one tyranny by another. - In our own time, central political tendencies are again dominant. In Germany, Italy and Russia, the state claims full power over individuals." After the wars, Dudley did not return to studying the cynics. His view of asceticism became more diverse when he wrote general studies of Roman culture and compiled a study of Lucretius.
A year after the publication of Dudley's study of the Cynics, Farrand Sayre, an American brigadier general, completed his doctorate in philosophy at Johns Hopkins University. Sayre's (1938) picture of cynics was very far from sympathetic individualism. Diogenes of Sinopea was a cynical loafer, beggar and thief. The Cynics sought happiness through freedom, which was freedom from anger, desire, fear, sorrow and other emotions, religious and moral control, the authority of the city, the state and public authorities, and public opinion. It was also freedom from the care of property, freedom from captivity to any local attachment, freedom from the care and maintenance of wives and children. The Cynics scoffed at the customs and habits of others, but were strict in observing their own. The Cynics could not arrive anywhere without their knapsacks, sticks and cloaks, which had to remain unchanged even when dirty, tattered and worn. The right shoulder had to be bare. A cynic would never wear shoes. The Cynic's hair and beard were long and unkempt. The Cynics never compiled any authoritarian canon of books, unlike the Stoics and Epicureans. The emergence of Cynicism would have been a consequence of the conquests of Alexander the Great, which also gave rise to, among other things, the gymnosophists. Sayre was very impressed by the similarities between Indian yoga practitioners and Cynics. He could not find Greek models for these similarities. So he assumed that the Indian influence had reached Diogenes through the trade routes.
Sayre, a general and doctor, has been accused of being "hasty in the use of his weapon" when he portrayed the cynics in a one-sidedly negative way: Sayre did not make enough of a distinction between the harsh legend and reality. In 1948, Sayre returned to the study of the Cynics. Here he stressed that Antishenes should not be associated with the cynic, but rather with the Socratic philosopher. He also compiled a general survey of the Greek Cynics. The general tone of the text remained unchanged.
Michel Foucault was born on 15 October 1926 and died on 26 July 1984. He was one of the most important European thinkers of the late 20th century. In literary studies, it was Foucault, along with Sloterdijk and Bakhtin, who brought the cynics to prominence. Michel Foucault's father was a surgeon. Michel studied philosophy, psychology and psychopathology at the University of Paris and the Ecole Normale, and initially worked in a mental hospital. There was a clear personal need for the perspectives that Foucault raised: he was defined by the diagnostics as mentally ill. He was also homosexual. It has since come to light that this adored philosopher also sexually corrupted many of his male children.
Mental illness and sexuality constantly accompanied Foucault's choices of research topics and philosophical formations. Foucault's studies of madness, medicine and the history of punishment opened up new perspectives on the margins of civilisation and the ways in which power operates. Foucault's research intentions should not be forgotten as they emerged in the turbulent Paris of the time, where everyone was opposed to consensus. In the end, these backgrounds also led Foucault to study the cynics, as if also as an ideal of his own life, as an example of single life.
In The History of Sexuality (1978), Foucault delved into the problem of the subject. Already Nietzsche, the world had been a construct of interest-bound values. Foucault adapted the epistemology of Gaston Bachelard and Canguilhem to structuralist formalism and wanted to reject Lacanian psychological explanations. Foucault asked, "How is the experience of the self and the knowledge of the self organized through defined, valued, recommended and imposed models?" According to Foucault, modern man cannot escape the problem of language because language limits man: language is how man explains his history. According to Foucault, power shapes reality into an object that can also become the object of scientific research. Foucault did not deny the Lacanian recognition of language, but he wanted to place a strong emphasis on power, which would also subjugate language.
Foucault developed an 'aesthetics of existence' as an ethical model, in which the ethics of virtue is an ethics of 'good behaviour' rather than an ethics of rules and sanctions. The study of the aesthetics of existence and the ethics of virtue led to Foucault's study of the Cynics: whereas most had relied on Aristotle's Nicomachean ethics, Foucault sought his starting points in Hellenistic-Roman philosophy. Foucault stressed the relationship of virtue to the self. "Speaking the truth" became Foucault's final theme of research. In 1983, at a seminar in Berkeley, he discussed cynics as truth-tellers. A Diogenes cynic would have been a professional truth-teller who used an appropriate technique to suit his needs. In the same context, Foucault also made some of his assessments of Christianity.
Foucault was particularly interested
in the relationship between Christianity and sexuality in the last
decades of his life. He had, of course, made numerous references to
religion in the past. He never dealt systematically with religion.
Foucault has been seen as a post-structuralist who could only fit in
with the Nietzschean 'death of God'. However, Foucault was interested
in Christian theology and other religious traditions because of the
social changes they brought about. Foucault dealt with religion
outside the main themes of his writings, including in the context of
the Cynics. Religion was part of the 'cultural being of knowledge'.
Critically, Foucault pointed out that classical ethics, in line with
his "aesthetics of existence", was concerned with the self,
but with Christianity, morality was elevated to the foreground and
self-care began to be understood as egoism. Thus the emphasis on
sacrifice for others would be reinforced.
According to Foucault, little is known about the doctrine of the Cynics - 'not even whether they had an explicit doctrine'. Foucault knew the historical problem of the origin of the Cynics from the book by Ferdinand Sayre to which he referred. Instead, Foucault doubted Sayre's hypothesis about the significant influence of Indian philosophers on the Cynics. The attitudes of the Cynics could also be understood as 'an extremely radical form of early Greek behaviour in which there was a relationship between the way of life and truth'. For Foucault, 'cynicism is a negative form of aggressive individualism that emerged with the collapse of the political system of the ancient world'.
According to Foucault, cynics were a large and influential phenomenon in numbers from the first century AD until the fourth century AD. Peregrine the Cynic would have been considered a kind of saint because of his heroic death: the Cynic had been indifferent to his death. Foucault did not refer to secondary literature when he explained Lucian's portrait of Peregrinus. The real point of the explanation was that the cynics were not part of the tradition of theoretical philosophy, but of the Socratic tradition, in which truth was accessible to all. That is why the Cynics taught in public, performed on stages and expressed their truth in provocative and sometimes scandalous ways. "They wanted their own lives to be a reflection of essential truths".
Epicurus sought to personify doctrine through his life, but cynics do not refer to philosophical texts and doctrines at all, only to their exemplary lives. The Cynics had no fundamental texts or recognised doctrines. It was here that Foucault saw similarities with early Christianity: 'The idea that the life of the philosopher should be exemplary and heroic is as important in understanding the relationship of cynicism to Christianity as it is in understanding parrhesia as a public activity'. Foucault did not further analyse his argument about the analogy between Christians and cynics. Christianity, after all, is known to have basic documents.
Already from at least the first century
onwards, a strong cynical school or school of thought has influenced
Alexandria, where also Dio of Prusa, or Dio Chrysostom (Oratio 32, Ad
Alexandrinos 9) has met cynics. Demetrius of Sunium also felt the
influence of Cynicism in Egypt (Lucianus, Toxaris 27). In the 300s,
the Emperor Julianus of Luopio, or Flavius Claudius Julianus (Oratio
6), severely rebuked the Egyptian Cynics. In introducing cynical
parrhesia, Foucault went on to draw links with Christianity. The main
types of cynical parrhesia would be (1) critical teaching, (2)
scandalous behaviour and (3) provocative dialogue. The Stoics would
have taught a small audience, but the Cynics despised elitist
exclusivism. The Cynics were geared to large crowds, speaking in
theatres and wherever people were gathered, at religious events and
sporting competitions. Foucault finds evidence of public speaking
situations as far back as the Sophists of 400 BC. The role of the
Cynics was to bring the theories of philosophy into the public domain
and to draw people's attention to those outside the philosophical
'chosen few'. Foucault summarised the affinity with the Christians:
the Cynics' discourses of freedom and renunciation of luxury, their
critique of political institutions and their criticism of existing
morality would open the way to some Christian themes. Christian
proselytes not only often spoke on similar themes to the Cynics, but
also carried it out with a similar rhetoric.
Foucault summed up the meaning of the Cynics as the truth had to be told and taught to everyone, not just the best members of society and exclusivist groups. Today, more attention is paid to theoretical doctrine than to the philosophers' way of life, while the old way of thinking, according to Foucault, should be restored. The Cynics would not have constructed a doctrine that points to good or evil, but would have presented their freedom and self-sufficiency as the basic criteria of life. The main elements of human happiness would be autarchy, self-sufficiency, and autonomy. Therefore, natural life would require all independence from culture, society, civilization and opinion. For Diogenes, the natural thing, eating, was not scandalous, so he was allowed to eat in public in the marketplace. Foucault points out that Diogenes' teaching means that masturbation cannot be wrong. Both events would be about satisfying the needs of the body.
For Foucault, it was important that for the Greeks, the encounter between faith and truth did not initially take place the Cartesian conception of truth as a mental experience, but the speaking of truth was a verbal activity. The 'proof' of speaking the truth was the certainty, the 'courage' of speaking it. Truth would be seen in the courage of the speaker to say something dangerous against the beliefs of the majority. The Greeks would have felt the need for an antinomy between such parrhesia (courageous free speech) and democracy.
Michel Foucault made scant reference to secondary literature in his Cynicism essays. The primary sources were the speeches of Dio of Prusa, Lucian and Diogenes Laertius. Foucault's cynicism was dominated by 'idealism', that is, the need to find a return to naturalism and a socratic ethics, in accordance with the aesthetics of existence, in which forms of power as erudition and systems of doctrine would not corrupt philosophy. To that end, Foucault formed a picture of the cynics that Crescens or Maximos, in their quest for power, could hardly have matched. In his presentation of Christianity, Foucault forgets the emergence of written texts (gospels and epistles) and churches.
A true cynic wastes no
time in marriage
Demetrius is known to have taught in Rome under Caligula. Demetrius was expelled from Rome by Nero, after which he worked in Greece. The Stoic Seneca describes him as the ideal cynic, who became his own master because of poverty. Tacitus describes Demetrius with contempt. Demetrius is an interesting piece of evidence that Paul's environment was also influenced by a well-known cynic. The sources on Demetrius are not written by the cynics themselves.
Cicero (106 BC-43 AD) is an interesting witness to the Cynics because of his lifetime. Cicero's assessment of the Cynics is very negative. The Cynics' morality was shameful and their entire philosophical system had to be rejected. Cynicism expressed hostility to moral reasoning. Cicero knew the term 'cynicism', and this educated Roman also knew cynics. His views on the development of the Roman Empire were not compatible with the cynics.
Quintus Horatius Flaccus (b. 65 BC, d. 8 AD) was familiar with the cynics and their genre in his satires. Cynical criticism and an ascetic emphasis did not appeal to Horace, who respected Augustus and the fruitful era he brought (see, for example, Carmen saeculare).
In Roman comedy (Plautus, 250-184 BC and Terentius, 195-159 BC), cynics are referred to derisively, and not by the cynics themselves.10 Laberius refers to the "cynical heresy" (cynica haeresi; Compitalia, fr. 3) and Plutarch tells the story of the courageous cynic Marcus Favonius (Brutus 34; Dio Cassius 38:7; Dio Cassius 39:14). Petronius, who lived in the 60s AD, tells us in a parody that Ascyltus recited a poem about cynics who 'sold words for cash'. The critical poem is thought to show that the Cynics made compromises between scarcity and corruption. Petronius' parody is not unique in its depiction of cynics. Lucian also describes the cynics' greed for money in his Philosophies for Sale, and Tatian of Syria reproaches Crescensus and Gregorius Nazianzus Maximus for their greed. These examples would seem to indicate that the Cynics had no absolute moral principles which would have led them to reject the opportunities for personal enjoyment offered to them.
Marco Terentius Varro (b. 116 BC, d. 27
BC) wrote Satirae Menippeae. Varro used the Menippean literary form,
which mixed prose and sentences in dialogues. He himself did not
adopt a cynical lifestyle. The 600 or so fragments of Varro's satire
are difficult to interpret. Varro himself did not identify with
Menippus' attack on the gods. His work is not a cynic's
self-attestation of his convictions.
Dio of Prusa, or Dio Khrysostomos, was active at the end of the first century. Dio is said to have evolved from a Sophist to a Cynic, in which case Dio's speeches 6 and 8-10, among others, could characterise his cynical period. C.P. Jones has strongly criticised Hans von Arnim and Margarete Billerbeck, among others, for their view of Dio's cynicism. However, Dio seems to have remained rather stoic, even though he suffered poverty during his time as a refugee. Poverty was a consequence of circumstances. Dio does not identify with the cynics standing on the street corners and gates of Alexandria either, but characterises them in a very negative way around 71-75 AD. Dio's testimony can be seen as an eyewitness account of the cynics of the first century.
"And as for the Cynics, as they are called, it is true that this sect is not few in number in this city: - - These Cynics settle in street corners, alleys and temple gates. They put their hats about and deceive the gullible youths, sailors, and such like in the market-places, with coarse jokes and gossip, and base jesting' (Oratio 32:9).
G. Capelle divided the letters of Pseudo-Diogenes into four different groups according to language, content and tendencies. There is no consensus on the dating of the Pseudo-Diogenes letters. Pseudo-Diogenes' letter to Crateses (letter 9) has been considered to reflect a Socratic influence in language and ironic style. However, this letter is the only one of Diogenes' letters under consideration that can be dated with reasonable probability as pre-Christian. The narrative situation of the letter is the renunciation of property. Crates had given up his property. In the letter, Pseudo-Diogenes claims that because of this renunciation, Krates had 'risen above popular opinion more quickly than I expected'. This superiority manifested itself in voluntary poverty and begging. Pseudo-Diogenes' letter provides evidence of a cynical link between poverty and freedom of opinion. The cynic believed not in words but in his life, because the premise was that there was no great Other.
Pseudo-Diogenes' letter 44 to the Metroclus is very harsh in its ascetic demands. Diogenes demands as an ascetic programme that one should stick to water and bread for food, sleep only on straw and wear a rough cloak. In the letter, however, Pseudo-Diogenes shows an interest in exploring sexual asceticism rather than poverty. He urges against 'excessive intercourse with women' because it 'requires a great deal of free time'. According to Diogenes, intercourse with women offers pleasure only to the uncivilised population. The sexual asceticism understood by Diogenes does not mean responsible sexual morality for the family man, but a total rejection of sexual intercourse and marriage.
The cynical ideal of avoiding the
responsibilities of a family man is reminiscent of Polybius'
description of the atmosphere of Hellenistic cities. Writing in the
second century BC, the historian Polybius accuses men of being prone
to celibacy and, being greedy and lazy, unwilling to raise children.
Polybius suggests that the love of celibacy is not confined to
cynics. The prevailing conditions offered only meagre opportunities
to create an economically responsible and prosperous family life.
Family membership also played a crucial role in defining the identity
of the individual personality. In that situation, other
'philosophical' ways of defining a good enough identity had to be
Cynical asceticism did not necessarily involve the sexual restraint that modern thought associates with asceticism, but rather the goal of asceticism was self-sufficiency - being different from the rest of the population. To understand the glorification of Cynical misery, it is necessary to question the possibility of the poor Cynics even achieving the wealth and pleasure they focused on denouncing. If luxury was not within the reach of the beggar, it would seem that his own misery became a virtue for the cynic. The Cynics' claims of difference from animals are not entirely convincing either: drinking water instead of wine and resting on the earth are also inherent to animals. The ideal misery of the Cynics was certainly harsher than that of the common people in antiquity. The lowest social classes dressed so similarly that it was impossible to distinguish a poor freeman from a slave. But the Cynics wanted to be different from the other poor. This turning to one's own internal difference can be seen as a characteristic feature of Hellenistic philosophy in a context in which the relative proportion of the unstable population was increasing, the economic importance of slave labour was growing and civil liberties were beginning to seem an unattainable dream. In that world, autarchy, personal autonomy, became more valued.
A few quite prominent teachers of the early church have referred to the Cynics. Justin Martyr, in his Second Apology, refers to cynicism and to Crescens' "cynical indifference" to the end and to truth. According to Justinus, the cynic would not understand the Christian's divinity - nor would he be corruptly indifferent to the truth. Criticised as a cynic, Crescens found Christians suspicious because Christians interacted with a simple crowd. The writings of Tatian and Jerome suggest that Crescens was indeed a cynic.
Tatian was born around 120 AD. In Syria. He wrote the Diatesseron, a composite work of the four Gospels. According to Tatian's account, Crescens, a cynic philosopher, persecuted both him and Justin. Justin had opened a school in Rome, where Tatian studied. In that dispute, Tatian focused on the moral characterisation of the cynic Crescens: Crescens corrupted boys in homosexual relationships and was greedy for money. After the death of Justin Martyr, Tatian joined the Enkratite movement, which did not eat meat, drink wine or marry.
In Tatian's 'Oration to the Greeks' (Oratio ad Graecus 25) there is a reference to Proteus, who has sometimes been mistakenly interpreted as the cynic Peregrine, to whose writings Tatian would have referred. Oratio ad Graecus 25 may, of course, be a description of a cynic. This would be money-grubbing according to Tatian, but there is no reason to interpret Proteus as any other cynic than Crescensus, whom Tatian has treated throughout the work. Tatian refers derisively to the cynic Diogenes Sinope in chapter 2 of his Oratio ad Graecos: 'Diogenes, who made a parade of his independence in a barrel, was afflicted with dyspepsia after eating raw polypi, and so lost his life in his greed.'
Tatianus gives a very colourful description of his disagreements with Crescens. The cynic's homosexuality and greed for money are the subject of his reproach. Tatian does not see cynicism as asceticism, but as self-seriousness, which also leads to immorality. Tatian reproaches Crescens for favouritism (Oratio ad Graecos 19). After the death of Justinian, Tatian converted to the Enkratite religion. Asceticism was also found in the Indian ascetics, in Hessianism or Pythagoreanism. Irenaeus wrote that the Enkratite trend was derived from the teachings of Saturninus and Marcion.
In the name of ‛Occidental
Catholicism‛, the Enkratite denomination is called a heretical
sect. In his new sect, Tatian himself saw monotheism as the correct
starting point for his morality. In contrast, Tatian's Oratio ad
Graecos was already written in Rome under the influence of Justin
Martyr. At that time, Tatian's starting point was that God had
created the world with his Word (dia logichV dunamewV). Tatian argued
for asceticism on the basis of a tripartite anthropology: man is
body, soul and spirit. He already thought at that time that creation
had been invaded by a 'spirit of the world', which was inferior to
the 'divine Spirit'. Man would not be materially and spiritually very
different from animals, but what would be special is that man was
also created in communion with the divine Spirit. The Spirit would
make man in the image of God and confer immortality after the bodily
resurrection, which Tatian defined as sharply different from the
In some of his writings, Lucian of Samosatola describes the lifestyle of the Cynics. The theme of poverty also appears in the satirical work Philosophies for sale. In it, the buyer comes to the cynic. The cynic says he has come from everywhere. He is a citizen of the world. The cynic then sells the buyer advice on how to free himself from luxury. The High School text The Burning Murder of Peregrine tells the story of a Christian who became a cynic: the real Pereginus is believed to be a Jewish rabbi, an Essene Ebionite41 or a Markion. According to Lucianus, Christian charity only led to speculation and exploitation. Therefore, Peregrinus (English: "wanderer") may have exploited Christians. Christians held property in common, were brothers to each other, denied the Greek gods and lived by the laws of the crucified. In the story of Peregrinus, Peregrinus was expelled from the church because of a food law. Lukianos did not suggest that cynical total abandonment of property was also practised among Christians. For Christians, renouncing property was not a shortcut to happiness, to self-sufficiency. Lukianos did not identify cynicism with Christianity. The Peregrine in the Lukianos story certainly experienced both. Lukianos rebuked both ideologies.
From Jacob Bernays' study Lucian und die Kyniker (1879) onwards, Lukianos' motives have been very much called into question, and his work could not provide material to satisfy modern historical interest. Lukianos was interested in tall tales, not the truth. Other documents about Peregrine, though less polemical, do not provide material for a personal history, because there is little personal information. The reader's guide tells us almost nothing about Peregrinus' background and youth. The Lukianos only states that Peregrinus came from a wealthy home (Burning Murder 14). Peregrinus is thought to have been born around 100 AD. Lucian himself was born around 115-125 AD.
Lukianos described his own view of Christian credulity in his work Burning Murder. Peregrinus was a depraved deceiver, a trickster who nevertheless managed to win recognition as both a cynic and a Christian. Peregrinus succeeded in exploiting people's charity. The distinction between cynicism and Christianity was preserved in his own conceptual world of the High School. The satirical nature of the work interferes with its historical accuracy.
Peregrinus is far from being a respected philosopher with high morals. Lukianos' attack on cynics and easily fooled Christians is a typical generalisation of the kind that was also found elsewhere at the time. Peregrinus cannot be regarded only as a grotesque figure of Lucian or as a story inspired by Marcion: the works of Aulus Gellius (VIII,3), Tertullian (Ad Martyres 4), Eusebius (Chron, vol II) and Ammianus Marcellinus (XXIX, 1,39) are known as Peregrinus. The name Proteus is also used.
Aulus Gellius depicts Peregrinus in his
work The Nights of Attica, which was created almost immediately after
Peregrinus' death. This work has led to much doubt about the
reliability of Lucian's account of the Burning Murder, both among
modern scholars and ancient interpreters. Aulus Gellius represents
the ideas of the learned upper class of his time. Despite his upper
classness, he described the morality of the philosopher Peregrine as
high. Aulus Gellius did not present Peregrinus as a Christian.
Gellius even seems to have visited Peregrinus during his time in
Athens. The problem with Gellius' account is its brevity: in general,
Gellius kept his subject brief and avoided unnecessary
Tertullian did not characterise Peregrine's morals in his brief mention. He only mentioned the deadly cruelty of this character in the context of other heroes. Tertullian did not classify Peregrinus as a Christian. Peregrinus was only a mention among other examples of paganism picked out from other death-defying examples.
Tertullian's harsh demands for modesty are well known. In his De Cultu Feminarum, Tertullian draws particular attention to the luxury and splendour of women. Luxury would be ambition, cruelty and debauchery. Seneca had written just as strongly against luxury, even though he himself led a life of luxury. Tertullian was concerned that luxury was beginning to penetrate the church and take over the 'daughters of the church'.
In the second book of De Cultu Feminarum, Tertullian points out that Christian wives are not obliged to attend the old temple games, to follow the games and to take part in pagan festivities. Fear of sin, he says, is the basis for salvation. Women should not be encouraged to indulge in indulgence, to which dress or extravagant behaviour would explicitly lead. A woman should seek pleasure only for her husband. Chaste modesty would suffice. It is useless to maintain beauty, to conceal evil by cosmetics. Tertullian asked women who dyed their hair whether they might want to turn to the Gauls or the Germanic tribes? Daughters of wisdom should refrain from such foolishness. According to Tertullian, Christian women should give up luxurious bodily garments and adornments: 'God created the instruments of luxury to test the self-control of mankind. A Christian woman can have no good reason to run around in fine hemp."
Tertullian felt so devastated by the
power or inadequacy of his own sexuality that this threat was
reflected in accusations against women's independence. Women's
independence was a threat even to the original unity that God
represented. Tertullian saw desire as a pleasurable force that
created freedom in a frightening way, and that the slightest
attention to pleasure, adornment and beauty allowed by women
threatened to sever man's connection with God as well. It is by no
means clear whether these theological arguments were the consequence
of his withdrawal from sexual intercourse with his wife or an
expression of the need to subjugate her, if Tertuallianus had
experienced sexual inadequacy to satisfy his wife's desires. Thus
Tertullian perceived the woman as the devil's gateway to destroy the
man, the image of God. Thus the woman was to bear the shame and guilt
of modesty and poverty.
If faith dwelt on earth as great as the reward of faith that awaits in heaven, not one of you, dear sisters, would have wanted too gay (I will not say ostentatious either) clothes from the time you first "came to know the Lord" and learned (the truth) about your (woman's) condition. Walk, therefore, first of all in modest apparel, and be mindful of a trifling appearance as Eve was, mourning and repenting, so that in all your penitential dress you may fully conform to that which you inherited from Eve. I mean the shame of the first sin, and the abomination of man's destruction which is connected with his. "In pain and sorrow you are bearing your child, woman, yet you feel your husband's desire and he holds you in his power". And do you not know that you are such an Eve? God's rule is for your sex in this age: you must necessarily live in guilt. You are the devil's gate. You are the opener of the forbidden tree. You are the first apostate from the divine law. You are he who consented to the devil and did not fight valiantly enough. Thou didst so easily destroy the image of God, the man. For your punishment, which is death, even the Son of God had to die. And do you think to adorn yourself with a tunic?"
Bishop Gregorius Nazianzus, one of the Cappadocian fathers, was born around 329 AD and died on 25 January 389 AD. He was a friend of Bishop Basil the Great and his brother Gregory of Nyssa. Gregorius Nazianzus pondered his career choice between being a lawyer, a professor of rhetoric, a monk and an ascetic until he received guidance on his career choice from Basil the Great. Gregory then served in a variety of ecclesiastical positions. After many difficult events104 he retired for a time to the monastery of Seleucus at the end of 375. After Basil's death (1 January 379 AD), Gregory was called to become bishop of Constantinople, where he arrived in 379 AD. Gregory gave a speech to commemorate the death of Basil. In that eulogy, he interpreted the words of the Sermon on the Mount about hunger and thirst as fully spiritual metaphors.
Gregory's speeches were admired. He also experienced severe opposition, to which he reacted with depression. At a time of opposition and depression, Maximus (or Maximus I, or 'Maximus the Cynic') arrived in Constantinople from Alexandria, with his long hair, white cloak and beggar's helmet. Maximus introduced himself as a convert to Christianity. Gregory received Maximus with hospitality and complete confidence. However, Maksimus soon turned against Gregorius. He was ordained bishop while Gregory was confined to his sickbed.
The bishop's ordination was performed by friends of Maksimus who had arrived from Alexandria. However, Maximus was driven out of Constantinople by Gregory's friends. Emperor Theodosius (who had been baptised in Thessalonica in 380 AD) accepted only Gregory as bishop. Maximus had to return to Alexandria. Gregory described Maximus not as praising the 'cynical bishop's' brilliant morals, but as reproaching him for not having a regular job and for slinking through the streets like a shameless, dirty dog (kuwn, kuniskoV, amfodwn uphrethV). In Constantinople in 380 AD, he gave a speech on the arrival of the Egyptians in which Gregory rebuked Maximus' malicious eloquence. He compared it to the abundant Nile. He also directed his harsh words at Peter, the bishop of Alexandria, who had sent his own men to consecrate Maximus as bishop of Constantinople.
Gregory's model of faith was far from
cynicism, which he saw not as modesty, humble asceticism, but as a
self-satisfied pursuit of glory. Gregory's interpretation of poverty
and wealth was linked to Christology and soteriology, not cynically
to human self-sufficiency113 and renunciation of family ties. Both
poverty and wealth could serve a mission.
In the old system, known as the "denial society", people's dissatisfaction was still considered a perfectly "human" condition. Disappointment and sadness were part of the old way of life, you couldn't always stand up to show your praise and self-satisfaction. Cynics were troublemakers, Christians had been different.
Before and after the turn of the millennium in the 'West', starting with the United States of America, a 'pleasure society' emerged, where it was possible to think of pleasure as the norm, dissatisfaction identified with a disease that would eventually break a man. We are approaching the rebirth of the self-satisfied demonstration of the freedom of pagan cynicism.
Dissatisfaction even became a matter of state security, because it could break up society, dissatisfaction is a hybrid threat. Dissatisfaction, which is quite typical in human and historical terms, is therefore no longer tolerated either at individual level, as if it were a 'psychological problem', or at state level, as a 'hybrid threat'. Dennis Prager, in Happiness Is a Serious Problem (1999), argued that our duty to the social order should have been to enjoy and be happy. Dennis Mark Prager's book was published in 1998, and its obligation to happiness could not have been imagined even in the United States of America ten years earlier.
Todd McDowen, in The End of Dissatisfaction: Jacques Lacan and the Emerging Society of Enjoyment (Psychoanalysis and Culture), writes in his observation of the American situation at the turn of the millennium that even then the old "entrance fee" to the social order, emphasized by Lévi-Strauss, had undergone a transformation: the social order no longer explicitly demanded the sacrifice of enjoyment, but instead demanded enjoyment itself as a kind of social duty.
The West is contaminated by its demands
for happiness, satisfaction and pleasure. Todd McGowan is Associate
Professor of English at the University of Vermont. In his book The
End of Dissatisfaction, Dr. McGowan combines Lacanian theory with
cultural criticism to offer an analysis of the impact of global
capitalism on early 21st century American issues. Inspired by Sigmund
Freud, Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek, he leads us to reflect on
the malaise and endemicity of Western society in the early 21st
century, when the "West" was already bent on globalization.
Ill-temperedness for all!
According to Dr McGowan's observations, the new era of the early 21st century would have radically shifted from prohibitions to commanded pleasures, to contaminated performances of pleasures. In traditional societies, life had been organised primarily around fundamental prohibitions (i.e. restrictions on pleasure). In the consumer society, the 'West' of the 21st century was made to feel that our main duty was to enjoy ourselves. If one does not enjoy oneself, then one can no longer endure.
The psychoanalytical irony is that the 'command to enjoy' actually makes it even more difficult to enjoy. This not only has consequences on a personal level, but it affects the whole of politics, economics and culture.
McGowan argues from the "West" of the early 21st century that if and when there is nothing but "compulsion to enjoy ourselves", society has no other recourse than this and will aggressively protect the promised pleasure against those "others" who seem to "threaten" it.
The aggressive commitment of the 21st century "West" to protect the promised pleasure gave rise to a very endemic malaise. Societies were contaminated by an unquenchable yearning.
According to McGowan, the defining feature of American 'modern society' - the early years of the 21st century - was the valuation of pleasure. Michael Wolf calls it an 'entertainment economy' in which, as Neil Postman puts it, people were in danger of 'amusing ourselves to death'. This explosion of pleasure seemed to mark a major change from the situation only a few decades earlier - as if people had entered a new era of social relationships. This change raised the question of its degree of radicality: is the 'increase in pleasure' indicative of a fundamental change in the social order as such, or is it just part of the normal development of capitalist society?
The proliferation of appeals (and commands) to pleasure and the public display of alleged pleasures represented a radical change in the social order. It marked a change in the logic of social organisation. Greed, which threatened to destroy ancient societies, became the lifeblood of modern society. The beginning of capitalism had been an epochal change, a transition from a static society to a progressive society. The end of the modern world and of 'traditional' society is now the abandonment of the old society, which had been based on the denial of pleasure, and in its place has come a society that commands pleasure or jouissance - it must at least be presented in order to be valid.
There is a saying in the Bible that is
thought to speak of our own time: "Loving pleasures more than
God" (2 Timothy 3:4) The text says that the people of the last
days "love pleasures" (φιλήδονοι). In the Bible,
this is expressed as a combination of two words, the latter being a
very familiar word: ἡδονή (hēdonē). As such, 'hedone' means
'pleasure', but it had become an important 'concept' beyond itself in
ancient Greek philosophy. This is where the polysyllabic word
'hedonism' comes from. According to James 4 of the New Testament, the
friend of the world is the enemy of God. People begin to live "in
the power of their desires, in the power of passion and
Jacques Lacan dealt extensively with these "desires" which man cannot control. However, according to him, these desires, which seem genuine, are never really our own, but are created through fantasies that are bound up with culture and ideologies. It is through fantasy that we learn - and are mistaken - about how to desire.
Even before the Greek thinkers, in the original old Babylonian version of the Gilgamesh epic, Siduri gave the following hedonistic defence: 'Fill your belly. Satisfy your belly, day and night. Let the days be full of joy. Dance and make music day and night... These things alone are a man's concern."
The debate about desire and pleasure is well over 2000 years old. The debate is coming to an end in its last days: desire has become a taboo, from which emerges a nullifying commandment: man's pride alone. According to McGowan, in the past society had required subjects to give up private pleasure in the name of social duty, but in the 'West' of the early 21st century the only duty was already to enjoy oneself as much as possible. It is no longer even examined whether these 'desires', possibly felt by the majority or the minority, are the result of an error.
Particularly in the early 2000s, in American society it became a fundamental social duty to commit oneself to pleasure. Advertisements, friends, movies, parents, television shows, Internet sites, and even authority figures are now quite typically urging everyone to maximize their pleasure, each at their own discretion. And let no one tell me that I am not allowed to claim my pleasure as right and good!
This is a dramatic change from the old way in which the social order was constructed: instead of being bound together by shared sacrifice, subjects now began to coexist in their isolated enclaves of pleasure, their managed pleasures surrounded by the managed pleasures of others. Criticism of this enclave, even if it was done by innuendo, can be seen as a crime worthy of genocide. Such hypersensitivity in the debate on pleasure and desire did not exist in antiquity, where the subject was a central theme of discourse and teaching. So it has been throughout the millennia of Western cultural history. Now the debate has been shut down by a mighty hand.
Jacques Lacan has shed light on the
change from a society of denial to a society of pleasure. The old
society of prohibition required all its members to sacrifice their
individual, private pleasure for the good of the social order as a
whole, if necessary. Man received an 'identity' from society in
exchange for the enjoyment he had to give up. This was traditionally
the way in which society itself functioned. The team requires
individual sacrifice to ensure the team's success. In order for the
team to win, the individual must give up his dreams for full
individual achievement and fit his abilities into the team structure.
In the "West" of the early 2000s, in a society of "commanded" pleasure, it was discovered that the dynamics now changed dramatically. Instead of requiring its members to forgo individual pleasure in favour of the whole, the pleasure society commanded pleasure - individual pleasure became paramount. Sports stars came to the fore, more concerned with personal statistics and money than with the success of their team. Those sports stars were not aberrant narcissists. In the pleasure society of the early 2000s, private, publicly performed pleasure, which threatened the stability of the old society of prohibition, became a force for stability and even acquired the status of a duty.
Cuba Gooding's mantra in Jerry Maguire - "Show me the money!" - has become the automatic and often false explanation for all kinds of behaviour in why Alex Rodriguez decided to play baseball for the Texas Rangers. Why did Monica Lewinsky appear in an interview with Barbara Walters to tell her story? In reality, subjects have the capacity to act against their own interests. McGowan brings up Seminar V, where Jacques Lacan points out that Freud discovered the self-destructiveness of desire: "The analytic study of desire is based on masochism". Thinkers who preceded Freud (Hobbes, Machiavelli, etc.) already did so - but it was up to psychoanalysis to explain why they were able to act against their self-interest, to overcome their narcissism. Freud argues that because of this human ability to act against his own self-interest, "the normal man is not only much more immoral than he believes, but also much more moral than he knows."
Sigmund Freud formulated the concept of the death wish in his work Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920). He did so to explain the fact that we often act with complete disregard for our own self-interest, acting instead out of a compulsion we do not understand. The concept of the death wish means that we sacrifice everything and anything (even life itself) for the sake of 'our own Cause'. Often this "Cause" is a national "Cause" that constitutes a "national identity". According to Slavoj Zizek, at the beginning of the First World War, the European working class was still well aware of the Communist International and seemed to know that war would not serve their interests, war was an imperialist struggle. And yet, when the moment of decision came, the European working class almost unanimously supported the war, even to Lenin's great surprise. The working class shared the nationalist jouissance. They were driven not by their own self-interest - the war was not about self-interest - but by their relationship to 'pleasure', which was by no means real but fantasy-based.
In the early 2000s, conservative critics denounced the Western "pleasure society" and called for a return to "family values", a world where prohibition kept us safe from pleasure outbursts. But this desire to return to the past was rarely genuine. The proclamations were not a real desire to return to the past, but more precisely, they wanted the best of both worlds - the 'benefits' of modernity (computers, cars, TVs) without the effects (isolation, pleasure, narcissism) - without understanding the interdependence of benefits and effects. Worst of all was the failure to understand that pleasure is not at all implicit in, for example, the content of the Internet (i.e. the objectionable pornography etc.), but in the form in which we are hooked to the computer, isolated from the rest of the world. What matters is not what people experience in the modern world, but that they experience it in a modern way.
McGowan argues that a return to the
past, to traditional values, is inevitably mediated by the present.
As a result, a common 'rejectionist' alternative at the turn of the
millennium was the 'cynical embrace of the pleasure society', where
the cynic knows well enough the problems of the status quo, but acts
as if he does not and lives his daily life secure in the knowledge
that the social order cannot be changed despite its problems. This
attitude also resigns the subject to the private world: for the
cynic, change would only be possible on a personal level (i.e. I can
change my weight, my level of happiness, my lover, etc.), so that is
what I should focus on. The cynic about the pleasure society may
still retain the 'language of revolution' in his speech, but today
the revolution tends to turn away from the complexity of overall
social change and promotes 'turning inwards'.
At the turn of the millennium, we could see and experience that limiting oneself and one's activities to the private sphere was precisely what continued to feed the domination of the pleasure society, which made large-scale change seem impossible. The new world became 'inevitable'. It was typical to refuse to acknowledge one's participation in a pleasure society that presented its spectacles of pleasure as its new god. But nostalgia and cynicism were - sadly - effectively no alternative to the pleasure society.
The decadent system of the West always fails to deliver on its promises
The basic fact that the pleasure society should be able to recognise is that it is the pursuit of pleasure that has failed: the pleasure society cannot deliver the pleasure it promises. The smile of the flag-waving mayor is feigned. The West's idea of the necessity of pleasure - the elevation of pleasure to a social duty - deprived pleasure of its marginal position in relation to the social order.
In fact, the problem with pleasure is
that we enjoy the obstacle itself. Children's enjoyment of Christmas
morning is due to the obstacle of enjoyment, represented by the
wrapping paper on the presents and the prohibition on opening
presents before Christmas Day. Without wrapping paper - with direct
access to presents - Christmas would be just another day. Indeed, the
pleasure of a precious object is the pain and risk, the high price
and the horror of its acquisition. When we experience pleasure
directly, when we have gifts without wrapping paper and on any (or
every) day of the year, the pleasure (and the gift) loses its value,
the value of inaccessibility.
If we experienced pleasure directly, it would lose all value and become mundane, and as a result we would not actually experience pleasure. Thus, the problem with the pleasure society is not that we get too much pleasure, but that we do not have enough. Instead of finding new ways to curb pleasure, we need to find new ways to make ever-dwindling pleasure possible again and again.
According to McGowan, the symptoms of the pleasure crisis in the Western social order at the turn of the millennium were the 'decline of the traditional father', the loss of transcendence and detachment, the loss of meaning, the development of widespread cynicism, the rise of political apathy and the fading of desire, the disappearance of the public sphere, and the rise of rudeness and aggression.
The role of prohibition in structuring society is reflected in Claude Lévi-Strauss's discussion of incest, in Freud's speculations on the origins of society and in Lacan's conception of the symbolic order. Each of these three schools of thought has stressed that prohibition is the sine qua non of a coherent social order.
McGowan raises a worrying point when assessing the attempts to change the security systems in Scandinavia, especially in the very recent past. Social order and other 'systems' alike always seem to promise, from the outset, 'a substitute pleasure of their own', but in the end one should know that no system can break its promise. Why indeed should one give the feeling of 'victorious' power and even more powerful weapons to those who are in a state of disarray, in pain from their home-made self-esteem problems, but seeking their new pleasurable 'freedom'? However, the survival of both the social order and security systems depends above all on 'saving resources, calculating possibilities and preparing for the future'.
According to the Bible, the knowledge of God is also linked to fear: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). What is the consequence of rejecting fear, and with it limitations, but instead falling into a delusion of grandeur? Sigmund Freud answers this with his description of the prototypical experience of pleasure, which reveals how pleasure produces a subject who does not care about society and productivity. He is 'like a baby who has sunk from breast-feeding, satiated, on his back and fallen asleep with flushed cheeks and a beatific smile on his face'.
Of course, every social order must also use pleasure to maintain itself, nowadays this is understood as a special need for the pleasure of leaders. In fact, Jacques Lacan goes so far as to say that the fundamental signifier of the social order "is not born of the universe, but is born of pleasure." Thus, despite the ban on pleasure - if this ban on pleasure has not been taken away, especially from the power elite - deservedly pleasure continues to have a positive effect on society.
Religions promise unbridled pleasure - an afterlife - in return for the sacrifice of pleasure in the here and now. Even societies can continue to exist if their subjects receive sufficient and just enjoyment from their sacrifices; the sacrifice of enjoyment itself produces enjoyment. So many people are still iconoclastic in the bread queue at Myllypuro when the Prime Minister is the subject of a beautiful picture on the cover of an American women's magazine. I have seen these admiring faces: our own Prime Minister (forgetting completely that this very person did not give money to shorten the bread line, but for weapons for the proxy war of the West in Ukraine and a fence on the Russian border)!
Of course, every social order must also
use pleasure to maintain itself, nowadays this is understood as a
special need for the pleasure of leaders. In fact, Jacques Lacan goes
so far as to say that the fundamental signifier of the social order
"is not born of the universe, but is born of pleasure."
Thus, despite the ban on pleasure - if this ban on pleasure has not
been taken away, especially from the power elite - deservedly
pleasure continues to have a positive effect on society.
Religions promise unbridled pleasure - an afterlife - in return for the sacrifice of pleasure in the here and now. Even societies can continue to exist if their subjects receive sufficient and just enjoyment from their sacrifices; the sacrifice of enjoyment itself produces enjoyment. So many people are iconoclastic in the bread queue in Myllypuro when the Prime Minister is the subject of a beautiful picture on the cover of an American women's magazine. I have seen these admiring faces: our very own Prime Minister! He is a democrat, risen from the poor to take up our cause!
Although the old prohibition society relied on the imaginary to compensate for the discontent it created in its citizens, it still sought to control both real and imaginary pleasure. This is one of the crucial differences between a society of prohibition and a society of ordered pleasure - with dangerous eschatological consequences.
A forced pleasure society actively
promotes imaginary pleasure - to the point of anger; a prohibition
society, on the other hand, restrains pleasure. The function of the
symbolic order was to balance pleasure. According to McGowan, we can
see the dilemma of pleasure, especially in the case of the
obsessive-compulsive (OCD) person: he continues to talk and do things
in order to maintain the pleasure he fears will "run out"
when the talking and doing stops. The obsessive-compulsive person
cleans up so as not to leave a gap for a sudden burst of pleasure,
because it is frightening.
The symbol allows the object to endure time; it stops the temporality of the object by trapping the object in a symbolic web. It gives the object an identity, which is the key to its permanence. The obsessive no longer speaks in the same way; he produces speech only to prevent the gap from being encountered.
The old symbolic order was based on a prohibition, which made possible a contract of reciprocity. In contrast, when the symbolic order breaks down and the old society of prohibition becomes a society of pleasure, a claustrophobic feeling arises: the desire for more elbow room and power is the result of insufficient symbolic experience.
Lacan argues in Seminar II that the symbolic system creates at least a small possibility of a secret, something hidden. In Seminar V, Lacan uses the example of Robinson Crusoe's encounter with Friday to clarify this dimension, when he explains that Robinson found Friday's footprint.
In the symbolic system of the old society, man has sacrificed his pleasures in return for a place to breathe - a kind of hiding place for the subject. Both the transformation that began in the West at the turn of the millennium to a society of enforced representations of pleasure and the Great Reset idealised by the World Economic Forum both take away the hiding place, the privacy, the respite even from one's own intrusive operations.
In Seminar I, Jacques Lacan gives the example of the symbolic "elephant" and McGowan explains that this is how people think about the need for a good name:
"For example, I would rather be the immobile Christopher Reeve, when I have a respected name, than the healthy O. J. Simpson, whose name has become infamous. The destruction of Simpson's name has made his life far more unbearable than Reeve's physical disability has made his life. Such appreciation is due to the effect of the symbolic order on the change of importance - the setting of the symbol as an indicator of value."
The increasing and all-pervasive system of surveillance and control robs people of the honour of their own good name by destroying their privacy. McGowan highlights a character in E. L. Doctorow's novel Loon Lake who says "wealth is accumulated in order to give it away and thus bring honour to the giver". The money is used to buy a place for the name to appear in public. The great advantage of being rich is the accumulation of a recognition that someone with less money cannot get. Being rich means ipso facto that I and my importance are recognised by another.
Cars have historically worked in exactly the same way. A fancy car implies a certain status, that a person has gained a certain kind of recognition in the social order. The things a person does to their car - washing and waxing it, for example - suggest that the primary meaning of the car is based on the recognition it provides rather than on enjoyment. A luxury car is bought not just to enjoy the luxury it offers, but to gain recognition that one can afford such luxury. The importance of recognition for a person's mental health is well known. It is no coincidence that the information agents serving the military alliance have repeatedly and publicly highlighted how the anti-military alliance and pro-Russian people are unemployed, they don't even have a good car (at least not any more).
Owning a luxury car in this civilisation has enabled a person to enjoy the recognition that comes with ownership. The absence of this recognition and enjoyment is deliberately recalled to strike a blow at the consciousness of the haters.
The domination of recognition over the
enjoyment of recognition within the symbolic order is not only - or
even primarily - expressed in that way, however, in money and
consumer culture, but also in every decision to take up a public
position in society: to run for public office, to go to war or even
to become a TV celebrity - or to enter the "field" of
seminars and the media and in return to experience face control, to
be rejected from these conditions of entry into the field.
The old society of prohibition was built on this sense of reciprocity and reinforced it by a constant emphasis on recognition. Recognition was also used as a blow to the other side. It involves operating on a sensitive ground, placing stakes on what the other might think of me, rather than cutting myself off from the other or trying to destroy the other. I fantasize about how the Other sees me; I set the Other as the ideal of my ego, the point from which I want to be seen. Every pursuit of recognition tacitly recognizes the Other as well.
Max Weber, in The Ethics of Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism, notes that early capitalist ideology made it clear that 'it is not leisure and pleasure but only action that serves to increase the glory of God in accordance with the clear manifestations of his will'. Liberal or competitive capitalism had demanded the renunciation of pleasure in order to get the work required for the functioning of the system done at all. The ideal of the work ethic served as the dominant ideological means by which liberal capitalism maintained renunciation.
Later, monopoly capitalism gave rise to a consumer culture designed to produce the demand required by the mode of production. Capitalist ideology itself began to become an obstacle to the full development of the capitalist mode of production in the era of monopoly capitalism. Eventually, pleasure was no longer forbidden, it became commanded - and controlled if one did not participate in the new commanded pleasure.
McGowan takes the example of Theodore Dreiser's fictional work Sister Carrie, which describes the emergence of compulsory pleasure in American society. When George Hurstwood first appears in the novel, he is living a successful but ordinary life in a capitalist society. He works as the manager of a well-known Chicago bar. He lives a monotonous life with his wife, whom he no longer loves, and longs for the pleasure that Carrie Meeber seems to offer. When George he runs away with Carrie and steals from his boss to finance their getaway, George also leaves the safe world of forbidden pleasure and enters strange territory - the world of pleasure. George now also leaves everything that made his success possible. He ruins his good name and destroys the reputation on which he had built his success. As the novel progresses, George's condition slowly deteriorates - he loses Carrie, his home and eventually everything - until he finally kills himself.
McGowan writes that George's destruction also points to the emergence of a new world in which sacrificing pleasure for recognition no longer pays. George's subsequent attempts to return to the old world, however, reveal starkly that the old world no longer exists.
Although the emergence of a consumer culture under monopoly capitalism marked a shift to the commandment of pleasure, it was only in the era of global capitalism that this new commandment became established as an ideology. Slavoj Zizek argues that the external framework of ethics remains, but the content changes: the ideal of the self is 'externalised' as the expectations of the social group to which the individual belongs. The source of moral satisfaction is no longer a sense of loyalty to oneself, but a sense of loyalty to the group. The citizen now looks at himself "through the eyes of the group"; he seeks to earn its love and respect.
With the emergence of global capitalism, the shift towards the imperative of enjoyment became more apparent. Under global capitalism, pathological narcissism decisively broke away from the common structure of the autonomous individual and the human being of the organisation. According to Zizek, the arrival of the 'pathological narcissist' broke the very framework on which the [egoideal] was based. The pathological narcissist no longer sees 'duty' as devotion to the ego ideal.
Instead of living in a society that denies pleasure, we increasingly live in a society that commands it. Those who are under the command of pleasure become total global capitalist subjects. They are constantly looking for new products offered by the global capitalist economy in the hope of gaining more pleasure.
"Ordinary human misery" no
McDowen writes about American popular psychology at the turn of the millennium, where the idea of pleasure was even expressed in a direct and explicit way. Dennis Prager, in Happiness Is a Serious Problem (1999), argued that our duty to the social order is to enjoy and be happy.
Dennis Mark Prager, a Jew, is an American radio host and talk show host who is also the founder of the conservative PragerU media company. In 1969, Prager studied in England and took a trip with a Jewish group to the Soviet Union to interview Jews. He became the national spokesman for the struggle of Soviet Jewish students. He later went on to head the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. At that time, as a moral critic, he attacked secularism and narcissism. He was called the Jewish Billy Graham. At the time, Prager supported Jimmy Carter in the US presidential election.
In 1986, after his divorce, Prager spent a year in therapy and wrote a book on homosexuality, opposing the normalisation of homosexuality in Judaism. In 1992 he remarried. In 1996, Prager testified before Congress that the acceptance of homosexuality as equivalent to heterosexual conjugal love was a decay of Western civilisation. Prager supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. In April 2020, Prager called the COVID-19 closures "the greatest mistake in human history." As a result, he came under heavy attack in the media.
In a November 2021 interview with Newsmax, Prager claimed that "irrational fears" about people who have not been vaccinated against the COVID-19 vaccine have wrongly made them "American outcasts the likes of which I have never seen in my life." They have become outcasts even more than gay men and intravenous drug users during the AIDS crisis. The Independent called his comments "alarming revisionism".
In an interview, Prager also called concerns about climate change "idiotic" and "absurd". On 18 October 2021, Prager announced that his COVID-19 test had been positive the previous week and that he had received ivermectin and Regeneron monoclonal antibody treatment. He said that he had been taking hydroxychloroquine and zinc prophylactically "from the beginning" and that "natural immunity" from deliberate infection with COVID-19 was what he had "hoped for all along".
Dennis Prager, who was already involved
in many of them and later still is, wrote in a book in 1999:
"We tend to think that we owe it to ourselves to be as happy as we can be. And this is true. But happiness is much more than a personal matter. It is also a moral obligation." "So we owe it to our husband or wife, to our colleagues, to our children, to our friends, indeed to everyone who comes into our lives, to be as happy as we can be."
Conservative as he was in his public reputation, Prager's conception of the duty to be happy in fact radically altered a conception of duty that had historically been associated with limiting one's happiness rather than maximising one's happiness.
Prager was not alone, but part of a broad trend in American ego psychology towards 'positive psychology' (most prominently advocated by Martin Seligman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania). Positive psychology considers pleasure rather than dissatisfaction as the normal human condition. Freud was writing in the midst of a society of denial and considered that keeping "ordinary human misery" was the best that man could hope for. In contrast, positive psychologists see misery as nothing more than an aberration.
In 1992, George Bush wanted to revive the US economy - and his election bid. He told Americans that it was their 'patriotic duty' to go shopping (i.e. to enjoy themselves, even if it meant getting a new credit card). The new understanding of patriotism and duty showed a profound change in the social order of the time. The beginning of Bush's second presidency saw a similar compulsion to spend money for the good of the country.
Immediately after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, when Bush publicly called on US citizens to "show their patriotism". He urged them to 'get on board' and 'go to Disney World'. To resist the terrorists' attempt to derail the US economy, Bush reasoned, Americans had to make themselves spend.
A front-page story in USA Today on 3 October 2001 was headlined "Shoppers are now spending for their country". Under the President's leadership, these exhortations, urging us to indulge in the name of patriotic duty, represented something radically new. Symbolic authority explicitly urged people to enjoy themselves and warned against restraint. We can be sure, according to McGowen, that a new world had been entered. As late as the early 1960s, presidents were still demanding the sacrifice of pleasure - "Ask not what your country ..." In the 1990s and 2000s, they were already demanding pleasure itself.
The command to enjoy creates the
feeling that the subjects lost all restraint, that the social order
had gone haywire. Dan Quayle attacked the television series Murphy
Brown, complaining that Murphy Brown's decision to become a single
parent was a bad example for American children. In Quayle's view, it
was a bad example in that it showed a prominent figure in society who
chose to enjoy himself rather than abide by restrictions.
The horror at the idea of unbridled pleasure was even more evident in the 1987 anti-American cultural work The Closing of the American Mind by the American philosopher and academic Allan Bloom, who stated quite bluntly that he was horrified by the rise of sexuality in the new culture. He is horrified by rock music: "Rock music appeals to only one thing, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire - not love, but sexual desire that is undeveloped and uneducated." If we give in to the culture that rock music represents, and we become a society centred on pleasure rather than denial, we will, according to Bloom, lose civilisation itself and return to barbarism. Bloom wrote The Closing of the American Mind, in which he called for turning away from the dangers (and temptations) of pleasure and rediscovering the benefits that come with accepting denial.
How genuinely did Bloom respond to the denial of a turn to pleasure? Alan Bloom had a successful university career at Cornell University, the University of Toronto, Tel Aviv University, Yale University, the École normale supérieure in Paris and the University of Chicago. A Jewish boy, Alan Bloom completed his doctorate at the University of Chicago on Isocrates, an ancient Greek oratory teacher who earned a substantial income from his written speeches. Bloom complained that a vacuum had been created in the souls of Americans into which demagogic radicals such as the student leaders of the 1960s could jump. The brown shirts of the Nazis filled the void created in the Weimar Republic in a similar way.
Bloom criticised the fact that relativism as a philosophical feature of modern liberalism had undermined the Platonist-Socratic doctrine. The contradictory or double-moralistic Jewish man's rebuke to modern liberal relativism was his own life, for Bloom was gay. His last book, Love and Friendship, was dedicated to his partner Michael Z. Wu. It is generally accepted that Bloom died of AIDS. How could Bloom, who was accused of being a reactionary and presented himself as such, be truthfully judged? Rather, McDowen would define Bloom as 'seeking solutions from a nostalgic past'.
In fact, pleasure is as elusive after
the ideo-historical metamorphosis as before, but the superego's
command "Enjoy!" produces only a sense of duty to enjoy and
to present a new good state, but it does not produce pleasure. And
insofar as the command generates this sense of obligation, the
imperative of enjoyment makes enjoyment much more difficult. Just as
saying to oneself "I must go to sleep at once" is the
surest way not to sleep.
The problem of the pleasure imperative is already anticipated in Immanuel Kant's moral philosophy. Kant rejected the idea that a moral law could command our happiness precisely because such a command would be impossible to obey. According to Kant, we can obey - or at least imagine the possibility of obeying - when the law requires the renunciation of all pleasure; the object of the moral law is clearly identified in this context.
In his treatment of the moral imperative in The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant stresses that the indefiniteness of happiness makes it an impossible object as an imperative: 'The problem of determining with certainty and universality what act would promote the happiness of a rational being is absolutely unsolved, so that there can be no imperative with regard to it which, in a strict sense, would command him to do what would make him happy. "
According to Kant, the more we try to calculate our pleasure and nail it down, the more it escapes us. As a result, we cannot create any path to follow the pleasure command. If the law commands us to enjoy, we cannot obey it.
Kant's morality does not in itself exclude the possibility of pleasure, but it shows that pleasure cannot be legislated: Kant shows that subjects can only derive pleasure or happiness indirectly. In our pursuit of morality, we can, according to Kant, derive pleasure as a "side benefit" of our moral action, an indirect route through which we can reach pleasure. The nature of pleasure requires that we approach it in this way - by striving elsewhere. McDowen points out that this is precisely the detour of commanded pleasure that society does not allow people to take.
The pleasure command sets out a direct
route to pleasure and thus paradoxically makes it unattainable. The
"pleasure society" is not characterized by an explosion of
unbridled pleasure, but, as a paradoxical consequence, by a lack of
pleasure, manifested in the apathy, aggression, cynicism and other
symptoms commonly experienced by people in the pleasure society.
Unlike the society of prohibition, the pleasure society thrives on
The symbolic father figure has all but disappeared from the contemporary cultural landscape. The absence of the traditional father is a symptom of the emergence of the pleasure society. According to McDowen, the emergence of the pleasure society coincides with the decline of the overt presence of the father and symbolic authority. In a society of pleasure, there is no room for the traditional symbolic father because his presence inhibits pleasure and commands subjects to accept dissatisfaction.
Paul Verhaeghe says: "We live in a time when the symbolic father as such is being murdered, as is faith in him. "Lacan stated in Seminar III: "The relationship between signified and signifier seems always blurred, always ready to unravel. ' However, the more we emphasise tolerance, the more the structural position of the symbolic father disappears as a viable social identity for real fathers. McDowen argues that real fathers 'neglect' their paternal role, not so much because they are irresponsible individuals, but because the role itself has ceased to be socially viable.
Of course, conservative cultural critics have long argued that paternal authority has been eroded. In Fatherless America, Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem (1996), David Blankenhorn extensively discussed the conservatives' views on behalf of the traditional father. He argued that fatherlessness was typical of the American landscape of the time, and lamented what fatherhood had become:
"The United States is increasingly becoming a fatherless society. A generation ago, an American child could reasonably expect to grow up with his father. Today, the American child can reasonably expect not to have one. Fatherlessness is approaching roughly the same level as fatherhood as a defining characteristic of American childhood."
According to Blankenhorn, the increasing absence of fathers from the home marked a fundamental change in the social organization of American society: whereas traditionally the father had been present to discipline in the home, there was now no longer any source of discipline or restraint. According to Blankenhorn, without a father to deny pleasure, there was nothing to prevent boys from turning to violence and girls from turning to sex, American society became increasingly bloody and promiscuous. Blankenhorn writes his grim conclusion: 'One primary consequence of the increase in fatherlessness is that boys have more guns. Another is that girls have more babies. "
Father absence not only disrupts the family structure, it also triggers all our most serious social problems. This mantra became a standard slogan among American conservatives in the 80s and 90s. At the turn of the millennium, left-wing cultural critics also turned their attention to paternal absence and its supposed harmful effects. In Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, Susan Faludi, a self-proclaimed feminist (and author of the feminist manifesto Backlash: The Undeclared War against American Women), detailed the negative consequences of paternal absence. Faludi argued that, in her view, in an age of "decorative culture", the father no longer matters at all. The dominance of images of pleasure and enjoyment leaves no place for the father to transmit knowledge (of how things work) and values (the value of loyalty and hard work). The father's knowledge and values should have no place in today's world.
Faludi wants to reject fatherhood on principle: "In the age of publicity, the father has no knowledge or authority to transmit to the son." In the new society, where the pleasure command already prevails, "the father has no role to play. With nothing to control and therefore nothing to pass on, he becomes at best a glorified babysitter. "
All the knowledge that the father once embodied and transmitted to the son had become useless. According to Faludi, success today does not require knowledge, at least not any knowledge passed on by the father. Success is based on publicity, not on knowledge. The father figure was once a champion who seemed to have all the answers, but now this figure is redundant.
Joan K. Copjec, a Czech-born
philosopher and feminist from the US, is Professor of Modern Culture
and Media at Brown University. According to Joan Copjec, "the
old modern order of desire, dominated by the oedipal father, has
begun to be replaced by a new order" In this new order, a new
father has emerged - a father whom Slavoj Zizek calls "the anal
father of pleasure". Instead of denying pleasure, this new
father commands it. The new father is the anal father, because he
obsessively observes every detail of our lives and pricks into every
private cave where we might hide pleasure. His analness consists in
the fact that he watches everything.
The birth of the anal father is a feature of the incipient pleasure society. He is the authority figure for this society, just as the traditional father is the authority figure in a society of prohibition. However, the authority of the anal father is much more difficult to identify than the authority of the traditional father.
The traditional father places himself squarely in a position of authority, whereas the anal father implies that he is - and believes himself to be - just another citizen. He is no longer an ideal who looks down on the citizen from above (from a position of authority), but an ideal who exists alongside the citizen. Unlike yesterday's remote manager, who gave orders but always stayed out of sight of his employees, the anal father figure emerges as today's CEO, who has an open-door policy and who always asks his employees for their opinions instead of just giving orders. This gives the impression of a kind of democratisation of authority: symbolic authority no longer remains distant and detached from the subjects' activities, but now enters into these activities itself.
The problem is that, by becoming less distant, the anal master becomes the citizen's rival. The more the symbolic authority - the figure of the anal father - assumes the status of just another citizen among citizens, the more difficult it becomes to identify this authority. By remaining aloof and insisting on the renunciation of pleasure, the traditional father distanced himself from the people he commanded.
McGowan accepts the common claim about Western society that we are increasingly living in a 'society dominated by images'. The dominance of the image is an integral part of the pleasure society, providing a conduit to the imaginary pleasure that characterises society. The image allows citizens to imagine that they are obeying the pleasure commandment, even if the pleasure derived from the image is only imaginary. The emphasis on the imaginary is symptomatic of the Tinder society because it provides the illusion of total pleasure and freedom without the kind of pleasure that might interfere with the functioning of the social structure itself.
Mitchell Stephens, professor of journalism at New York University, in his book The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word (1998), says that "the image is replacing the word as the dominant means of intellectual transportation". The French literary scholar and semiotician Roland Barthes, Professor of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France, who died in a car accident in 1980, described how 'the image no longer represents the words; now the words are structurally parasitic on the image'.
In psychoanalytic terms, the shift from
word to image would mean a shift of emphasis from the symbolic to the
imaginary. Emeritus Professor of Literature Juliet Flower MacCannell
has pointed out the shift from words to images in Regime of the
"What this most obviously means is that we are now more influenced by images than by words, that we are increasingly dealing with images than with words. As we prepare to cross the street, we prefer to see a picture of a person walking rather than a sign that says 'walk'. When we turn on a computer, instead of typing the name of the program we want to start, we click on the icon of the program."
The translation from symbolic to imaginary order goes far beyond the mini revolution. The image is now so dominant that it cannot be successfully narrativised or incorporated into a symbolic form.
The French sociologist and social theorist - a well-known media critic - Jean Baudrillard has pointed out that because of its dominance, "the whole traditional world of causality has been called into question: the perspectival, deterministic space, the 'active', the critical space, the analytical space - the distinction between cause and effect, active and passive, subject and object, end and means".
Narrative in words would necessarily rely on 'the traditional world of causality', but imagistic narrative - if it can still be called narrative at all - abandons it. The sociologist and popular culture critic Neil Postman has analysed the historical turn towards the image and its consequences in the popular press. Postman points out that images have replaced words as a means of interaction. In Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985), he argues that "Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They don't exchange ideas, they exchange images. "
For Postman, it is not only that images are greater than words in today's world, but also that the dominance of images is causing an epistemological revolution: we are beginning to believe on the basis of images we identify with rather than on the basis of persuasive arguments. The epistemological revolution that Postmann has identified can be verified by anyone's reading of the events in Ukraine: news and sanctions are drawn up on the basis of images because they are sufficient to convince at least the general public and perhaps a significant proportion of political leaders. Traditional research and analysis of reports, on the other hand, are rejected even within official organisations.
Neil Postman has followed the evolution
of advertising. Before 1900, advertisers relied primarily on
arguments to sell their products. For countless Americans, believing
has long been based on seeing, not reading. Today, truth is what can
be shown, not what can be claimed.
McGowan writes that "this belief in the truth of the image makes us particularly vulnerable to ideological coercion. The image, far more than the word, inspires confidence, and it is this confidence that ideology hopes to inspire. That is why fascists rely so heavily on images."
According to Neil Postmann, the image represents the possibility of a completely successful manipulation process. However, the great danger of the epistemological shift - towards belief in the image - lies not even in the possibility of manipulation, but in the inevitability of distraction. The image stream of contemporary society keeps citizens constantly entertained and distracted. We are amused, but we are also isolated and obedient. Neil Postman dramatically articulates the danger: "When the population becomes distracted by petty issues, when cultural life is redefined as a constant round of entertainment, when serious public discourse becomes baby talk, when, in short, people become an audience and their public affairs a show for babies, then the nation is in danger; cultural death is a distinct possibility."
The illusion needs good pictures. For a narcissist to take on the love of his own ego, a selfie is ultimately more than a recommendation relayed on Tinder. Jacques Lacan stressed that the ego itself is downright "imaginary", meaning that the ego first develops as a bodily image, the way the subject sees itself. The ego is formed as a result of the relationship with the mirror: one sees one's own image in the mirror, this image provides an illusion of wholeness (an illusion that masks the fragmentation that would be the real body). The illusion makes the infant love the image and take the image for the ego. The Prime Minister and many other public figures are deeply unhappy with bad photographs, some have even been taken to court over bad photographs. To maintain the illusion there must be representative photographs because these people live in the imaginary of their ego.
The ego, built imaginatively through the image, is showered with love by the citizen to give the illusion of integrity. The illusion of integrity masks both the lack of the citizen and the lack of the great Other. Through the illusion provided by the ego, the subject can visualize an image of pleasure, an image that seems to overcome all lack. The citizen avoids facing his true lack in the Other - in the objet petit a. Lacan expressed this in Seminar X: "Through my image [. . .] my presence in the Other is without residue. I cannot see what I am losing there."
The ego deceives itself through the image so that there is no residue, no objet petit a that could frighten it, that this is such an outright waste that it cannot and dare not make present in the Other, in the voice of conscience that might begin to ring. Narcissistic pleasure is only imaginary, its function is to exclude the possibility of real pleasure, to obscure the citizen's relationship with the objet petit a, the lost object, the hidden waste where the Prime Minister himself has taken his pleasures.
David Fincher's The Game (1997) begins with a description of the narcissistic complacency of Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas). He is an obscenely rich business executive who lives in almost total isolation. The film highlights the complacency of Nicholas' life and his disconnection from other people. He lives in a lavish mansion with all the trappings of wealth (expensive furnishings, a servant to prepare his meals, a security fence at the entrance, etc.), but he lives alone in the largely empty space of the mansion. But from the moment Nicholas's brother Conrad (Sean Penn) introduces Nicholas to "the game", he trades the imaginary satisfactions of this narcissistic world for the unsatisfactoriness of desire. The events of the film transform Nicholas from a narcissistic man living in a state of imagined satisfaction to a desiring man constantly searching for an answer he cannot find, when it turns out that Nicholas hasn't really lost everything (that this was just part of the game).
The great attraction of narcissism's
appeal stems from its ability to avoid this desire for constant
dissatisfaction. In The Ecstasy of Communication, Jean Baudrillard
draws attention to the change of desire brought about by narcissism,
the shift from objet a to image:
"Images have become our real sex object, the object of our desire. The obscenity of our culture lies in the confusion between desire and its counterpart materialised in the image."
The narcissistic turning of desire towards the image (which is a turning away from desire itself) allows a respite from the citizen's own lack and the lack of the Other. In this way, the narcissist avoids recognizing the effects of castration.
In the midst of a narcissistic sense of isolation, the citizen of the pleasure society fails to see that lack is constitutive of its existence as a citizen. By avoiding this recognition, the citizen never has to acknowledge the unattainability of total pleasure. Imaginary pleasure represents the failure of pleasure, which is why the images that dominate the pleasure society offer the possibility of a kind of pleasure that stabilizes rather than threatens the social order.
When one chooses to "enjoy Coca-Cola" - by adopting the image of the advertisement - one is giving support to the system. The imaginary pleasure no longer interferes, whereas real pleasure would fundamentally threaten and could change the social order, this imaginary pleasure on offer instead keeps things intact. Imaginary pleasure does not threaten the structure of order. What is worse is the revelation of discontent. It's bad when someone doesn't stand up to a standing ovation.
In Seminar I, Jacques Lacan called the imaginary sphere "the closed world of the two". Closed in this way, without the absence or lack that the symbolic order would bring, the imaginary offers a kind of pleasure - the pleasure of the image - that the symbolic order cannot offer.
Psychoanalysis has long pointed out that we seek a transcendent state that we know only through its absence: we have no access, we lack immediate access.
The necessity of travelling and waiting - which we must do because we have no direct experience of the object - produces the idea of the beyond: in the beyond resides the object towards which one travels or for which one waits. Without the idea of a transcendent beyond, all objects seem present and accessible because they are on the surface, readily available.
Jean Baudrillard speaks of the "ecstasy of communication". The Anti-Christ can indeed become ecstatically communicative, accessible and present in the new immediacy that the metaverse provides - if nothing before has so completely answered the ecstatic trend of communication.
Jean Baudrillard says that the absence or elimination of transcendence gives man a "total presence" in a world in which both spatial and temporal distance evaporate. As we move from a society that openly denies pleasure to one that commands it, we begin to feel this suffocating effect, an increasingly total presence. The Anti-Christ comes among you.
Baudrillard is known as a theorist of simulation. He has also identified the revolutionary effects of the universal communication system. Simulation tends to eliminate all references. Universal, immediate communication leaves you without distance and without a sense of transcendence. Baudrillard's The Ecstasy of Communication is his response to the evaporation of distance and transcendence. Baudrillard focuses on what we lose when we lose value through change.
In a world of instant accessibility, where nothing is forbidden, all value is eroded. Objects derive their value from their inaccessibility: the most valuable objects are always the most inaccessible. If everything were already accessible, nothing would retain any value either.
In April 2022, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki hosted Obscece, a work by the Greek-Swiss choreographer and visual artist Alexandra Bachzetsis, in which she and three other performers present a lustful gaze and the manipulation of gender identity.
Baudrillard calls this character of the contemporary world precisely obscene, but obscenity is not only the result of sexual liberation, but specifically of the destruction of the space of transcendence. This has also been seen in Finland, where the exorcism of hellishly low powers in the spirit of Jezebel has been trivialised as positive 'girl energy' and also as expressions of sexual liberation in all possible letters, where the sublime and the sacred can no longer be any kind of restriction when they no longer exist. This has become obscene.
Obscenity is the result of total
exposure. Pride is the pride and audacity to bring obscenity to the
streets and parks, to churches and classrooms, in the form of drawing
activities for young children. For two days, the activist group Seta
will be invited to teach primary school children about sexuality in a
way that they themselves should be taught by healthy normal children:
children will know what it is to be male and female if they are
healthy. Such full exposure is a sine qua non of a promiscuous
society. To keep something hidden would be a violation of the new
"duties". A lewd society that plays, demands and proclaims
pleasure involves its subjects in an endless revelation of what the
society of prohibition kept secret. When the teacher presented this
programme to my little boy, my son had replied that what does the
Bible teach? The teacher replied that he couldn't say anything about
On January 25, 2023, there was a conference in Russia on education in the Orthodox Church: the global challenges of modernity and the spiritual choice of man. In his opening address, Patriarch Kirill spoke of "strengthening traditional moral principles" as being "organically linked to the need to support families". "It is against the family, against the destruction of traditional family values, that the greatest blow of the forces of evil is directed today. This is reflected primarily in the content of films, some television programmes and especially in content directed at Russia from other countries. I would like to note with great pleasure that the preservation of the traditional family institution is now receiving a great deal of attention from the Russian state authorities. The President of our country, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, has often spoken about this recently, and legislators are touching on the protection of family values in their work".
Patriarch Kirill also pointed out at the conference on education in January that Russia had recently adopted laws banning propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations in public places and pedophilia. A completely opposite development has been seen in Finland, where primary school pupils are obliged to attend workshops on the terms of the proponents of these non-traditional sexual relations. Kirill pointed out that Russia faced harsh criticism for its restriction, even though the law adopted in Russia does not even discriminate against anyone, does not restrict anyone's freedom, but only limits the impact of non-traditional sexual practices on children and young people. Russia was accused of violating human rights, freedom and more. According to Kirill, it is precisely this discussion with Western partners that is proof of what is happening in the world in terms of the clash of different values, different worldviews. According to Kirill, Russia is increasingly becoming a real "island of freedom", "because we defend values that offer real freedom".
In 1963, Theodor Adorno raised the
serious threat and consequence of the rejection of transcendence by
positivism and Martin Heidegger. According to Adorno, both
positivists and Heidegger opposed speculation because it referred to
transcendence. Metaphysics becomes suspect because it implies the
ability to distance oneself from one's situation or experience. It
imagines that distance is possible. The efforts of the logical
positivists and Heidegger to escape distance and transcendence are
not only foreshadowing the aspirations of contemporary philosophy,
but they also anticipate the current invited pleasure society that
claims and performs its happiness, which demands Pride parades in the
streets and parks - eventually even in children's classrooms in
schools. For early Heidegger, the individual death of Dasein was
still that which cannot be reduced to any other event; it is
essentially singular. As such, it brings with it precisely that sense
of distance, but it is precisely this that Heidegger later
Death is a necessary obstacle that cannot simply be communicated or relativized. Death is a fundamental limit. Of course, there is a proliferation of ploys that, with the disappearance of the otherworldliness, death would not exist either. One does not want to face death in its undeniable form, but as if death could be avoided. In Being and Time, Martin Heidegger describes a long and inauthentic attitude towards death. According to him, "typical discourse speaks of death as a constantly occurring 'event'". Nowadays, when someone dies, we often tend to look for an analogy of the disease that led to death in, for example, the status of vaccination or a coronavirus. By associating death with a particular status or action, death is attempted to be deontologised; death is made to look as if it could be successfully avoided. In this way, death is rejected as the limit of necessity. Death no longer points to a 'moment of transcendence' which we must necessarily face anyway.
According to Baudrillard, "we are
dealing with an attempt to build a totally positive world, a perfect
world, liberated from death itself". In a society of enforced
pleasure, however, death in that way becomes increasingly terrifying
- and so do the measures to circumvent necessity. It is no
coincidence that, as we move towards the commandment of pleasure, the
efforts to eliminate the necessity of death also increase and become
more severe. Forced vaccinations and the monitoring of vaccination
status at the bar door fit into this new society - and pave the way
for an even worse dystopian enchantment, which is no longer the old
society of prohibition. Inoculation status queries also belong on the
dating boards of a contaminated Tinder society. They are part of the
entry requirements for Christmas carols at the doors of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Running out of ability to interpret and understand
Under the weight of the imperative of pleasure and happiness, even 'important' people, from journalists to pundits and heads of state, are losing their ability to interpret what is happening in the world. Interpretation would require distance and detachment, and a society of imperious pleasure allows neither. They lack the ability to reflect on the mediations that underlie this apparent immediacy. They can no longer find access to a context that would allow them to interpret being, interpretation fails because they lack the ability to locate themselves in the world. To say that we are "in the West" does not locate oneself in a world that is already in the pit of hell, unless one has already entered the hellish chamber.
As a result, "interpretation" only comes in disguised forms, of which conspiracy theory is one well-known case. McGowan observed that there was a discontent with universalism in the ideological currents of his time, partly due to the left's turn away from Marxism and towards what some call post-Marxism. No longer is the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie heard, but other struggles - for example, struggles against racism, sexism and homophobia - are subordinated to it. The old epistemological niches have been erased and replaced by a plurality of voices, each of which is simply constructing its own discursive identity.
McGowan argues that in a society that commands rather than denies pleasure, the pleasure society produces paranoia: paranoia is born of the belief that this other is enjoying for us. McGowan assesses the reaction to the prevailing Western society as cynicism, an attempt to distance oneself from power and resist the grip of power. The newer cynics turn inward and show indifference to external authorities - or more precisely to traditional prohibitions and inhibitions - with the aim of self-sufficiency. In fact, since McGowan, it has been shown that the newest cynics are astonishingly loyal to authority: embracing the fears and dreams of the mainstream media, dutifully putting on masks, taking spikes in the body, believing Putin's terrible plots against Finland, but not accepting the Christian old prohibitions and inhibitions.
By showing their indifference to public
law (like Diogenes and the cynics of today), they did not really
distance themselves from that law, but unwittingly revealed their
relationship to it. This kind of acting is done for the sake of
symbolic expression, for the sake of authority. A bit like today,
when the far left fights with right-wing politicians over who gets to
be first on the dystopian side. The cynic even stages his act in
public so that the symbolic authority can see it. Because it is
staged in this way, we know that the cynic's act - like Diogenes'
public masturbation - represents acting rather than an authentic act.
Acting is also worth thinking about in the staged debate of every
Acting always takes place on stage, whereas authentic action and authentic pleasure - a radical break from the constraints of symbolic authority - take place off stage, without reference. Hegel has described the encounter between Plato and Diogenes:
In Plato's house [Diogenes] once walked on beautiful carpets with his muddy feet and said: "I am stepping on Plato's pride". "Yes, but the pride of another," Plato replied, just as sharply. According to Hegel, Plato correctly understood that the vanity of the cynic was to show himself and to arrange a surprise. Of course, it can be said that Diogenes tried to act in a way that would show his self-sufficiency, his distance from all external authority, but his achievement was far from self-sufficiency.
The new cynicism springs from the belief that one can see through the workings of power, that one knows perfectly well how the system works. The cynic even considers himself - after carefully reading the tabloid headlines and watching a news item on the subject on Yle - to be a fully enlightened subject - because he thinks he has already 'seen it all'. So "cynicism is enlightened false consciousness". Unfortunately, cynicism cannot in reality provide relief from the claustrophobia of the contemporary citizen: while it offers the illusion of distance from a symbolic authority, it performatively maintains the citizen's sense of proximity to that symbolic authority.
The democracy of our time is more
likely to die of indifference, even if social critics on the left
tend to focus on dangers such as intolerance. Apathy - the resistance
to political engagement - is increasingly infecting more and more of
society. McGowan joins the description by University of Rochester
history professor Christopher Lasch in his book The Revolt of the
Elites. According to Lasch, the turn away from politics is not only
in the areas we normally think of as political, but also in everyday
life. The ability to debate is disappearing in the midst of modern
apathy. The lack of interest in political issues makes people dull
and unenthusiastic interlocutors. All that remains are jaw-dropping
photos, 'shoptalk or personal gossip'.
People retreat further and further into their private pleasure, hoping to secure their pleasure from the intrusive Other. In the United States, this was reflected in the apathetic new elite investing their money in improving their own enclaves. Civic responsibilities no longer extended beyond their own immediate environment.Retreat into privacy and apathy are increasingly tempting: to be apolitical is to be free from reminders that one is subject to deprivation; in other words, that one is not enjoying fully. Slavoj Zizek explains that peace, however, is not maintained "by moving towards the 'pathological narcissist'", because for this person the Other (the desiring subject) by its very existence appears as a violent intruder: whatever he does (if he smokes, laughs too hard or not hard enough, glances at me lustfully, or doesn't look at me at all) is a disturbance of my precarious imaginative equilibrium. The new habit of pleasure and distraction is a downright national trend towards a politics that focuses not on changing the social order, but on facilitating the enjoyment of imaginative pleasure.
According to McGowan, we are witnessing a perversion of the old feminist slogan 'the personal is political'; today we have reached the point where 'the political is personal'. In other words, the only political issue worth raising is one where my personal, private pleasure is at stake. When my personal publicly presented narrative is at stake, this becomes a security policy issue. The move towards political action on any "personal" issue - is important because it illustrates so clearly the political implications of the new commandment on pleasure. The move to political action is only due to the troll threat to imaginary pleasure.
Liquidating the real friction
McGowan presents the disappearance of the public world and being at home as a consequence of no longer wanting to pay the price for access to that world. Not wanting to pay the price we are asked to pay, we flee the public world and limit our private lives. This denial of the public world inspired Robert Putnam's bestseller Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2001). In his book, Putnam recounted the massive withdrawal from public participation that had taken place in the United States in the late 1990s. According to Putnam, this withdrawal is even a fundamental threat to American society, because it threatens to destroy the bonds that create social cohesion and enable society to function.
Social engagement and participation had
been gradually declining since the late 1960s. People largely
withdrew from any activity involving entering public space. This is
not only true of NGOs and political parties, but even of bowling
leagues. Instead, they spend much more time isolated in their private
world, mostly watching TV, surfing the internet or playing video
games in their spare time. This orientation towards privacy generates
a widespread sense of disconnectedness, which is on the rise today.
McGowan goes on to argue that today we live largely in our private worlds, from which we rarely leave to meet the public. There are fewer and fewer reasons to leave the safety of home. I drink and eat at home because I can stay there without being asked to sacrifice my privacy. At home, I also run on the treadmill and cycle on my exercise bike. At home, I can enjoy myself without interruption. Going outside, participating in the public world, means breaking the spell of the private home. According to McGowan, citizens have begun to isolate themselves from their homes to avoid the intrusion of the private. Today, I too did not step out of my home to see the last glimpses of a world that is creaking at the joints. The end-of-life celibacy becomes part of the grace of being unmarried with or without it even more so.
The explosion of interest and traffic on the internet is restoring a kind of public world in a new form, the 'virtual community'. Here, one "can participate" in a public world where there is no real physical interaction. McGowan agrees with the argument that the internet only increases the scope of the citizen's private world and allows for a projection of the self. The internet dramatically increases people's ability to hear "echoes of their own voice". Instead of contributing to the restoration of the public world, the Internet is constructing a new imaginary escape from that world. In this refuge, the citizen can avoid the great Other and interact with multiple alter egos - in an imaginary space. These new technologies reduce the 'friction' inherent in ordinary life. This 'friction', which the internet works to remove and which lockdowns grew societies to abandon for a couple of years, is, in Lacanian terms, the 'Friction of the Real'. It is no longer willing to be confronted. This elimination of 'Real Friction' is, of course, best suited to those who also have the power to shut down the internet.
The Internet lacks the real dimension of the Other, the part of the Other that would resist our own "ways of symbolizing". In Read My Desire - Lacan Against the Historicists (1994), Joan Copjec, Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University, points out that the retreat into privacy, which had already begun at that time, "implies the destruction of the civita itself, the destruction of ever larger parts of our public state; we no longer try to protect an empty 'private' space, but to dwell exclusively in that space". The problem is that the destruction of the public world does not imply a real liberation from privacy, but the private world itself begins to become public. I have mischievously demonstrated and provoked this by posting daily on the internet my running route and wish list for my dream date. This is how the world works nowadays, as I have demonstrated. According to Copjec, privacy ceases to be something that is supposed to be veiled from prying eyes. When the public world disappears, people lose the distance between public and private. Copjecin argues that when the private becomes public and the public loses its autonomy, we begin to suffocate.
In disaster films, the disaster creates a bond between people, regardless of what in their private lives separates them. The boundaries between rich and poor, white and black, young and old, popular and unpopular seem to disappear in the face of disaster. Hollowood does a better job than anyone of bringing that narrative to life. Disaster - and the public world it brings to the fore - can even reduce the significance of private disputes: former enemies can interact on a neutral ground.
The modern citizen has become
uncivilised because he is plagued by his own lack of pleasure. If we
really enjoyed ourselves today, we would not develop aggression in
response to the enjoyment of others. Instead, we would be content
with our own pleasure and indifferent to the pleasure of the Prime
Minister, who has to present it in the public gallery under the cover
of a glass wall. It is to be feared that the glass walls will have to
be armoured glass, because hatred will increase. As hatred grows, in
flagrant violation of the eighth commandment, a picture of a
half-naked, slim woman's buttocks, known to be a lie, is circulated
on the Internet as if to hint that this could be Prime Minister Sanna
Marin after cheating on her spouse.
When I really enjoy myself, I would not envy the pleasure of another, not even the possible sex of Sanna Marin - if she can have any, but many uneducated and aggressive citizens get angry, spread malicious insinuations and accusations. Rudeness and aggression are symptoms of our society, because so many citizens are quite fundamentally incapable of enjoying themselves and yet constantly feel as if pleasure is their right. They feel bad for themselves and bad for the suffering of their fellow human beings. Stephen Carter, in The Culture of Disbelief - How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (1994), saw it as a product of incivility. Citizens individually refused to sacrifice for the good of society as a whole.
Carter argued that civilization was even possible only if members of a community committed themselves to a code of conduct. Citizens should understand it as virtuous to sacrifice their own desires and freedom of choice for the good of the larger community. When citizens refuse to make this sacrifice, civility ceases, and a sense of isolation ensues. The open, public display of private pleasure in the glass enclosure of the representative audience forces others in their usual sheltered viewing room to become aware of their failure to enjoy, and this is the basic dynamic of indifference that characterizes the prevailing state of our society.
McGowan also saw the school shootings in the United States of America in the second half of the 1990s as a symptom of a society in which there was a fear of possible "theft of pleasure", "the other has already stolen one pleasure". The losing party responded aggressively. The lack of pleasure made the perpetrator see others as thieves. This was the case with the Columbine shooters. The targets of the shooters were popular students and athletes as well as some minority students. The pseudo-revolutionary action against the powerful explains why the shooter shot students who appeared to be helping themselves. I have not been shot - at least not yet - but I have read dozens of texts since my date ad went public about how impossible it is to get any woman of any age group with that coefficient and other characteristics. The prospect of another person's pleasure, or mere openness to it, provokes downright aggressive social media rage.
McGowan foresees the disintegration of
society in a loss of cohesion. Disconnection, incivility and
widespread hostility to authority threaten the very existence of the
social world. According to him, Sigmund Freud wrote in 1930 in
Unbehagen in der Kultur (Our Distressing Culture) about this
dangerous point where primary hostility threatens to take over the
According to Freud, 'As a result of this primary hostility between people, civilised society is constantly threatened with disintegration. The interest of common work would not hold it together; instinctive passions are stronger than rational interests. Civilization must use all its powers to set limits to the aggressive instincts of man."
In order to save the social order, a society of control is being built at the same time, especially in the hysterical fear of those in power.
Best regards, Juha