On The Validity Of Alienation

David Graeber, expert on anarchy, debt, and history, explains your feelings. Via Tower Of Sleep:

The idea that alienation is a bad thing is a modernist problem. Most philosophical movements—and, by extension, social movements—actually embrace alienation. You’re trying to achieve a state of alienation. That’s the ideal if you’re a Buddhist or an early Christian, for example; alienation is a sign that you understand something about the reality of the world.

So perhaps what’s new with modernity is that people feel they shouldn’t be alienated. Colin Campbell wrote a book called The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Modern Consumerism, in which he argued that modernity has introduced a genuinely new form of hedonism. Hedonism is no longer just getting the sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll or whatever but it’s become a matter of selling new fantasies so that you’re always imagining the thing you want. The object of desire is just an excuse, a pretext, and that’s why you’re always disappointed when you get it.

Campbell’s argument makes total sense when you first read it. But in fact, again, it’s backward. If you look at history—at, say, medieval theories of desire—it’s utterly assumed that what you desire is [God] or love. But whatever it ultimately is, the idea that by seizing the object of your desire you would resolve the issue was actually considered a symptom of melancholia. The fantasies themselves are the realization of desire. So by that logic, what Campbell describes is not a new idea.

What’s actually new is the notion that you should be able to resolve desire by attaining the object. Perhaps what’s new is the fact that we think there’s something wrong with alienation, not that we experience it. By most medieval perspectives, our entire civilization is thus really a form of clinical depression.

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  • Liam_McGonagle

    “That’s the ideal if you’re a Buddhist  . . . ”

    I think that’s a pretty absurd misreading of Buddhism.  The idea is that suffering is an unavoidable consequence of participation in the incomplete worldview of temporal illusion–not that suffering itself is to be desired for its own sake.  Nobody gets to CHOOSE whether or not they suffer.  Alienation does not mark you out as a being of superior enlightenment.

    Some branches of Buddhist thought may attempt to transcend suffering by renouncing worldly goals, others may merely seek to reduce the debilitating cognitive dissonance caused by the inevitable failure of attempts to avoid suffering.  But I don’t any of them hold that the mere act of stuffing your nuts in a vice grip will make you a more enlightened being.

    • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

      alienation
      not that I think that was the main point
      not that I think alienation is defined here
      but
      the Gautama Buddha story is a story of alienation

      a royal renounces his position, family and wealth
      and spends the next umpteen years living as a sadhu
      even eats bird shit for awhile
      eventually he’s enlightened and reconciled to society as its savior
      he never returns to society as he once was
      he’s an outsider for the rest of his life

    • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

      alienation
      not that I think that was the main point
      not that I think alienation is defined here
      but
      the Gautama Buddha story is a story of alienation

      a royal renounces his position, family and wealth
      and spends the next umpteen years living as a sadhu
      even eats bird shit for awhile
      eventually he’s enlightened and reconciled to society as its savior
      he never returns to society as he once was
      he’s an outsider for the rest of his life

      • Liam_McGonagle

        There is a difference between an “ideal” (quote from the article) and an unavoidable feature, such as suffering is to core Buddhist doctrine. 

        Living as I am constrained to do, through the medium of this mortal shell, I must shit from time to time.  That or die from the inevitable systems failure occasioned by the accumulation of toxic waste.

        However, apart from a few fetish magazines not readily available in my county, I am unaware of anyone that has devoted their life to establishing a philosophical doctrine of shit or a programme placing shit as one of mankinds supreme acheivements.

        Suffering, which is closely related to alienation, is central to the story of the Buddha not because Buddhism holds it is to be sought after as an end in itself, but because it is an unavoidable feature of the human condition, which in turn may be enhanced or experienced more richly though cultivating strategies to deal with it.

        • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine

          May i differ you to Mnevis?
          manure?
          or the more physical Void?
          Amon?

          void sucks space towards it as it(‘)s only form of alienation
          or
          space pushes towards void to alienate it
          either way
          pressure differences
          and various holograms, crumps, forms, particles, problems, coagulants, solutions, data sets, cliques, forms, geometries, etc. provide ‘the stuff of the universe’ due to naught but void
          not butt void
          not but shit, aye

          shortest crash-corse in awhile i’d say, if Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey would listen. Then again, all my sisters’ names are wove into that name, so we’re good to go.

          *edit* just notice my brain tried to read ‘annihilate’ instead of ‘alienate'; notice annihilate takes on a ‘completely different meaning’ in this scenario; an- -nihil- -ate

  • Guest

    hahah to equate buddhism with alienation is the peak of confusion 

  • Guest

    hahah to equate buddhism with alienation is the peak of confusion 

    • Azathoth

       Yeah, I was gonna say that. Alienation feels the total opposite of the states the Buddhists achieve. There’s a difference between a distance from “yourself” caused by rejection, low self esteem, forced isolation, emotional distance, ecc, and the kind of distance the Buddhists talk about: the former is caused by a separation from what you feel, while the latter makes you see the WHOLE body/mind.
      It’s the complete opposite in my experience. If I feel alienated I identify in something, some idea, or some feeling, or whatever, without even realizing it, not while I’m doing it anyway (because I can’t see it myself). The times I felt what they call the observer I identified with.. Consciousness I guess, it was like my body could mind the shop by itself, and I was just free to see and enjoy the all-encompassing love field in front of my eyes. I’ve been to both sides of the spectrum, and this reads like bullshit.
      Or do they mean something different than what I mean by alienation?

    • Azathoth

       Yeah, I was gonna say that. Alienation feels the total opposite of the states the Buddhists achieve. There’s a difference between a distance from “yourself” caused by rejection, low self esteem, forced isolation, emotional distance, ecc, and the kind of distance the Buddhists talk about: the former is caused by a separation from what you feel, while the latter makes you see the WHOLE body/mind.
      It’s the complete opposite in my experience. If I feel alienated I identify in something, some idea, or some feeling, or whatever, without even realizing it, not while I’m doing it anyway (because I can’t see it myself). The times I felt what they call the observer I identified with.. Consciousness I guess, it was like my body could mind the shop by itself, and I was just free to see and enjoy the all-encompassing love field in front of my eyes. I’ve been to both sides of the spectrum, and this reads like bullshit.
      Or do they mean something different than what I mean by alienation?

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    > our entire civilization is thus really a form of clinical depression
    spot on

    > that modernity has introduced a genuinely new form of hedonism
    it only looks that way
    what modernity introduced was convenience by way of technology
    but that technology destabilized the human psyche 
    and convenience transmuted humans into indolent dolts

    600 years ago
    there were no books widely available
    the average 1st grader knows more about the world
    than the wisest human in 1400CE
    life was simple and inconvenient

    the ensuing rush of modernity
    has short circuited the human mind
    a form of clinical depression

  • me

    buddhism is such a crappy another religion.
    yet people still believe it’s the most awesome thing ever.
    buddhism will not save the world. it won’t help people to overcome their huge troubles.
    and i can prove it easily. EEEASYLITY.
    it is another “thinking closed in a tiny box” thing.
    to keep your mind occupied with a biggest egoism, and taking care just mainly of yourself, and your imaginary reincarnations.
    firstly, buddhism respects the oppresors. and that’s hugely stupid.
    buddhists search for problems just in themselves. but the problems are not there.
    and the slavery flourishes undisturbed.
    we need people trying to dismantle POWER and HIERARCHY.
    and not just praying to the buddha statue. i mean – don’t u think that is stupid? it’s obvious.
    please stop spreading of this not helping religion, as “enlightening” or super dooper good.
    it’s not good. it’s load bullshit presented in a nice frame. :)

    …and now u see the light, stand up for your right!  ;)

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