Remembering Michael A. Weinstein

Theorizing 21c

Remembering Michael A. Weinstein

Nietzsche For Our Times

Arthur Kroker

Philosophy from the Underground

In its inimitable fashion, the theoretical imagination typically follows its own rhythms from the underground, with the life of the mind often a strange tension between explicit intention and the silent passions of the heart. Definitely not teleological in its direction nor necessarily deterministic, the theoretical imagination has about it all the truly enigmatic qualities of intellectual singularity: unexpected detours of thought, strange bifurcations, fascination with inconvenient ideas, and always, importunate timing. I mention this as part of an examination of my own intellectual biography which I have somewhat reluctantly undergone as part of my (re)encounter with the political theory of Michael A. Weinstein.

I set out with a clear project, namely to consider Weinstein’s intellectual contribution from the standpoint of what I would describe as the contemporary (post) human condition–the digital wilderness. That is, to reflect upon his political thought or what’s more accurate his “life philosophy” from the perspective of the fate of modern individualism in the context of the emergent posthuman culture of digitally networked society. Faithful to the written word, my reflections upon Weinstein’s truly brilliant theorization of the perils and promise of modern individualism in the age of network society were to be guided, at first, by The Wilderness and the City,[1] his major philosophical encounter with the fate of the individual in American society viewed through the intellectual lens of its home-grown life-philosophers, whether the philosophical idealism of Josiah Royce and Charles S. Pierce, the philosophical naturalism of John Dewy and George Santayana or the profoundly mediational pragmatism of William James. Paying close attention to Weinstein’s assertion in the preface to The Wilderness and the City that he found the moral struggles and intellectual passions of William James closest to his own, my initial intention was to trace the fate of Weinstein’s commitment to philosophical vitalism in the context of that radically new incarnation of the wilderness in the American imagination, namely the emergence of the digital wilderness as both the interior grounding of contemporary moral consciousness and the relentlessly aggressive framework for the construction of the posthuman future, with its entirely familiar program of cloaking not only Nietzsche’s pronouncement of the death of god but also Weinstein’s warnings concerning the death of the individual in the bright lights of that new conventicle of the city on the hill, what Talcott Parsons might have described, with some grim satisfaction, as the “adaptive enhancement” of those new pattern variables imposed by the digital social system. Following this trajectory of thought, my reflections on Weinstein’s contributions would have elaborated arguments that we co-authored in a book titled, Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class, specifically that the much celebrated digital universe was, in effect, only the most recent turn of a very ancient wheel–the reentry into history of the latest installment of the age of “fully completed nihilism,” prophesied by Nietzsche, critically theorized by Heidegger, and, most definitely, engaged in its preparatory forms by Weinstein’s thought.[2]

Now, while this bringing together of what Katherine Hayles would describe as the “tutor texts” of The Wilderness and the City and Data Trash was the overt intention of my contribution to this volume–an intention that relatively straightforward, theoretically specific in scope, and, in my estimation, potentially significant in its aim of moving Weinstein’s thesis on the death of modern individualism into the storm-center of digital reality–this statement of intention was upset by a relentless, and certainly unstoppable, drift in my own theoretical imagination. In short, while reflecting in depth on the arguments rehearsed in The Wilderness of the City, a theoretical text which I have always viewed as the leading work of American political philosophy in the twentieth-century, my intellectual attention drifted (historically) eastward, at first to that complex reading of revolutionary history provided by Leon Trotsky’s The History of the Russian Revolution and then to those more mediated cultural analyses of human legacy of collectivism as one of the key historical processes of the twentieth-century: Solzehenitsyn’s 1914 and 1916, Shopokin’s trilogy on the fate of the Don Cossacks, and Arthur Koestler’s The Yogi and the Commissar and Darkness at Noon. In the way of all intellectual life, my self-consciousness was, in the usual way of things, the very last witness to a theoretical meditation that might have begun with my daytime encounter with the fate of individualism in American life-philosophy and my nighttime mediations on the triumph of collectivism in Russian revolutionary philosophy. Why this sudden obsession with reading chronicles of socialist revolutionary history–its prolegomenon, its ambitions, and its truly ambivalent legacy–when engaged with such a profoundly original and in that originality truly disturbing account of modern individualism as the essence of American life-philosophy that is Weinstein’s The Wilderness and the City? My sense is that my imagination was, in the face of Weinstein’s account of the failed project of American life-philosophy, namely the unwillingness of American thought, whether evidenced by Dewey’s commitment to the social community, James’ much-celebrated “will to believe” or Royce’s “ideal community, forcing my thought to a certain, but creatively unsettling, conclusion. And that is, that there can be no encounter with Weinstein’s political thought that is not at the same time a larger encounter with the historical trajectories of twentieth-century experience and by approximation, with the quickly unfolding future of the twenty-first century. In this sense, my reawakened interest in the genealogy of Russian revolutionary history in the early years of the twenty-first century could be understood as an unconscious counter-gradient with and against Weinstein’s exploration of the fate of the individual in American life-philosophy with its accompanying claim that a focus on the fate of modern individualism is the intellectual essence of the national philosophy of the United States. Here, the parallel emergence of modern collectivism in socialist revolutionary history would serve as the counter-gradient, bringing to the surface of visibility that which was gained, but also lost, in America’s fateful gamble on the freedom of modern individualism: individuals fully free, that is, either to explore the wilderness of the interior abyss of subjectivity in a society that has not yet come to terms with the consequences of Nietzsche’s understanding of the death of god or, in the more typical circumstance, equally free to jump over the void at the (disappearing) center of modern subjectivity by merging the fate of individual consciousness with that larger social, and recently technological, trajectory of the societal community. One thing was certain in this double play of my own fascination with the questions of individualism and collectivism, between, that is, parallel trajectories in the twentieth-century between two great revolutionary movements–the individual and the collective, imperfect subjectivity and yet to be perfected political destiny, freedom and justice–was that there could be no consideration of Weinstein’s political thought that did not simultaneously involve a consideration of the larger tapestry of social and political history. Weinstein is, in his ontological essence, that all too rare political theorist who draws into his intellectual meditations an insistent reflection upon the key laws of historical motion of the times in which he lives– certainly a political philosopher taking measure of the ambiguous legacy of modern individualism, particularly in the context of the gathering storm of posthuman collectivism, an existentialist on the question of human freedom, a philosopher of finalist ontology on the issue of social justice, a fully tragic thinker fully sensitive to key issues of melancholia in political thought and practice, and yet, for all that and perhaps because of all that, a passionate dissident of thought from the outside, a theorist who breaks the imposed silence of received frames of political interpretation time and again on behalf of the unrecognized, the prohibited, the excluded.

Strictly considered as a political metaphysician, Weinstein has fulfilled, as a result of a life-long commitment to the highest standards of intellectual probity and critical engagement, the indispensable, but always elusive, task of producing a series of major theoretical studies that promote an ethics of finalism with its demand for “inner tolerance” in the face of human imperfections and “restraint” as a way of resisting bursts of fanaticism, whether collectively orchestrated or individually authored. If the act of reading Michael Weinstein is always accompanied by the sounds of political struggle that is the modern century as well as by an understanding of the larger patterns of thought that frame society past, present and future, that is because his thought not only runs parallel to the major events of contemporary political history but, in its sheer urgency, philosophical depth, and political acuity, provides a critical analysis containing tangible hints about what’s now necessary to prevent a terminal slide of society and individual subjectivity with it into the three deaths–the death of individualism, the death of the social, and the death of history–that are the sure and certain legacy of the powers and domination of twenty-first century experience. A Nietzsche for our times, Weinstein has elucidated the full consequences of a modern culture literally blasted apart by forms of technological acceleration that serve as simulacra of the divine in human affairs and the future of a posthuman culture that will most definitely be haunted by the remains of the human, whether by its terminal manifestations as cultural “acedia” or by episodic outbursts of the “war spirit.”

The Eclipse of the Individual

No society ever really escapes its metaphysical origins, particularly if its metaphysics are intricately related to its founding political subjectivity, thus raising the stakes of putatively metaphysical debates into a life and death wager on the fate of society itself. Consequently, in the same way that Martin Heidegger placed the fate of modern technological society into question with his austere deconstruction of the essence of technique–creative possibility or nihilistic death-instinct–Michael Weinstein’s The Wilderness and the City quickly moves beyond its original intention of exploring the metaphysical origins of American classical philosophy to rehearse some of the key hauntologies of American society itself , whether in its past formulation as a bitter struggle between scientific naturalism and religious idealism, its present formation as an increasingly atavistic contest between political fundamentalism and technological absolutism and its future as the first of all the posthuman societies likely to make their appearance as the twenty-first century unfolds.

Thinking the future through the mirror of the past, Weinstein’s key contribution is to have immediately grasped in his thinking the full dimensions of the metaphysical, which is to say the specifically social and political crisis, that is American society today. On its surface, The Wilderness and the City is a superbly rendered account of the trajectory of American classical philosophy, whether the philosophical idealism of Charles S. Pierce and Josiah Royce, the pragmatic naturalism of John Dewey or the vitalism of William James. In its patient deconstruction of the passionate claims and failed ambitions of American classical philosophy, what is brought into the visibility of critical attention in this text is less a history of ideas than something else, something truly enigmatic, namely the founding logic of American political subjectivity.

A truly metaphysical thinker in the tradition of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Karl Jaspers, Weinstein can so literally and so brilliantly follow a language of descent into the generative logic of American subjectivity because all of his thought is premised on a larger insight, namely that we are fully posthumous beings living in that twilight period long ago foreseen by Nietzsche, specifically that twilight of being lived in the shadows of the death of god. Always thinking at the height of his (American) times, carefully balancing in his thought both the full, creative force of the technological dynamo that is his national social habitat and the complex, existential dramas inherent to such an enigmatic fate, and desperately seeking to discover a way of reconciling the irreconcilable, Weinstein is the one American political theorist who truly understands that the past is the future. Not in the teleological sense of American society as somehow culturally determined by its historical logic, but in the hauntological sense that the future of American society is fully implicated in its failure to resolve a continuing crisis of political subjectivity that, while first rehearsed in the tradition of American classical philosophy, finds now its denouement in the full-blown crisis of the subject or, what is the same, in the eclipse of the contemporary American mind under the double pressure of the relentless technological hollowing out of subjectivity from within and the reality of breached borders from without.

For Weinstein, individualism has always been the emblematic sign of American society, simultaneously its core article of political faith and its point of fatal crisis. For example, refusing not simply the juridical nomenclature of monarchy and the religious congregations of theocracy but also the energizing vision of the “masses” with its dictatorship of the proletariat and the will of the party that was the essence of the Russian revolution as well as the corporatist settlement that finally expressed itself in the contemporary political reality of the European Union, the American dream is at once simpler and more daring, namely to make of the existential sovereignty of the individual the bearer of American historical identity. Indeed, if Weinstein can read Nietzsche so closely it is perhaps because he understands that the fate of the American prospect, with its Declaration of Independence of the individual, makes of American subjectivity the true inheritor of Nietzsche’s dark prophecies. Consider Weinstein’s following remark concerning the unbearable pressures placed upon modern individualism by the challenge of living in a world as the philosopher, Albert Camus, once said that was divested of its reason by the hard calculus of scientific rationality and technological instrumentalism.

For Nietzsche, one of the aspects of world-sickness is self-loathing and self-hatred over the infirmities of the species which are revealed to human beings by their own science. The hatred of existence that may arise from the vision of an empty wilderness, a desert of the soul, breeds the tendency toward nihilism. Such nihilism may take the form of severe acedia, leading to suicide, or to the war-spirit, which is revealed in its essence as the passion of the weak to trample the weak. Suicide and murder grow out of the same denial of life. The first one is a rebellion against life by withdrawal from it and the second is a rebellion by an attempted imperialism over it. [3]

Indeed, what is most noteworthy about the political thought of Michael Weinstein is his commitment to thinking through the moral consequences of the death of god. While Nietzsche may have anticipated in his writings the dark night of nihilism that would follow from a modern culture intentionally stripped of the protective veil of mythology as well as the sheltering horizon of religious belief, it was left to Weinstein to represent what might be called solitary thought after Nietzsche. In Weinstein’s writings, we are present at the posthumous future that Nietzsche could only prophesy. Everything is there: “panic fear” over the dissolution of the boundaries of the self; self-awareness as a “vision of an empty wilderness;” “effective megalomania” as the triumphant political formula for increasingly fanatical imperial projects; alternating cycles of severe “acedia” and the “war spirit” as the flickering signifiers of American identity; and everywhere the death of the social.

If Weinstein’s project could be confined to an elegant, although critically unrelenting, deconstruction of modern individualism in its American philosophical iteration that would make of his contribution something purely historical, specifically an important contribution to the history of American life-philosophy. Against this, it is my thesis that what makes Weinstein’s thought of decisive importance is that, like Nietzsche before him, he has already written out the history of the future. In the same way that Nietzsche could remark that he would only be understood posthumously by generations of thinkers yet to come, a full critical appreciation of Weinstein’s thought will only really emerge with different generations–some to come, some in the present–of practitioners of the life of the mind, who have dwelt as a matter of their own life experience within the dark night of nihilism that is everywhere present in his writings. In this sense, Weinstein’s apocalyptic metaphysics bleeds through the written word to become a chilling, austere, and entirely accurate diagnosis of the death of the social. Weinstein returns time and again from philosophical explorations of the origins of social violence, abuse ethics, panic fear, and the state of siege that is contemporary culture with a succession of profound insights. Here, The Wilderness and the City with its ominous conclusions concerning an American society veering between the extremes of cultural fatigue and militant blasts of the war spirit might be appropriately viewed as a brilliantly prescient vision of the fully posthuman future that is the essence of the emerging technological epoch. This is not intended to be a general observation, but a textually specific response to Weinstein’s thought. Indeed, in the way of all thought that seeks to filter political theory through the actual historical circumstance that it seeks to explain, I would argue that the concluding thesis on the fate of “modern individualism” in The Wilderness and the City, rises beyond the realm of political theory proper to become something very different, namely a philosophical staging of the final eclipse of individualism, American-style. Here, in a sustained philosophical reflection on the challenges of American individualism in thinkers as diverse as Josiah Royce, William James, George Santayana, Charles S. Pierce and John Dewey, Weinstein concludes that the future of American individualism is likely to evolve in the direction of wild swings between acedia and the war-spirit.

There has been in American culture during this decade abundant “romantic melancholy” and acedia, but there has been far more ressentiment and war-spirit, as compact groups have coalesced to push aside those who, in Sartre’s words, are “in the way.” There is a nearly universal sense of injury in America today, a will on the part of the many to “get even.” The sense of a “declining life” has spurred, as Nietzsche’s analysis predicts, a bitterness that is often overt but that even more frequently hides behind a brittle piety.[4]

While Weinstein’s overall ethical project focuses on an “unillusioned individualism” that can “count only on an ‘inner tolerance’ and an ‘inner check’ to preserve civil society from the rule of a militant collectivism,”[5] his despairing sense that there is “little chance that the modern spirit will survive the twentieth century”[6] seems a more prophetic diagnosis of twenty-first century experience. Here, instead of the development of an “unillusioned individualism” working its way through the spreading world-sickness of an almost primal “hatred for existence,” American individualism has apparently moved in the reverse direction, transforming “world-sickness” with its alternating poles of acedia and the war-spirit into the animating metaphysics of that new form of technologically enabled individualism–the posthuman subject– making its appearance in the digital wilderness that is the essence of life in the twenty-first century. Consequently, what once could only be philosophically glimpsed in its germinal state by way of Weinstein’s study of American classical philosophy has in the span of a single century broken beyond the framework of philosophical texts to become the center-point of that which it always was, namely a posthuman self feeding on the psychic residues within, while all the while accelerating at hyper-velocity in networked society. If the future will bring increasingly strange journeys through the dark lights and bright (networked) spaces of the digital wilderness, that journey will be framed by a vision of the posthuman self first encountered in Weinstein’s thought. With this twist. No longer a form of individualism restrained by an “inner check” or tempered by “inner tolerance,” but just the opposite. Accelerated by information culture and seduced by the brilliant detritus of its own psychological implosion, posthuman subjectivity absorbs the negative will of acedia and the murderous instincts of the war-spirit as its ontological homeland.

The Slow Burn-Rate of Psychic Residues

For any serious life-philosopher as is the case with Michael Weinstein, the only real measure of his lasting contribution to the life of the mind is, in the end, whether or not his own practice of life philosophy achieves intellectual incommensurability, that is, a personal practice of life actually lived with all the singular uniqueness of a thinker poised, at every moment, between a critical understanding of the larger historical situation and a form of social, indeed existential, practice in the daily life of the mind that expresses the necessary qualities of intellectual discipline, integrity, and probity. While I cannot document the vicissitudes of experience, with its coeval moments of happiness, tragedy, and forbearance, as they have been actually lived by Weinstein as a life-philosopher, what can be offered as philosophical evidence in this matter is the outstanding fact that on many occasions his practice of a philosophy of life has been a brilliant expression of finalist ontology, with its simultaneous injunctions towards critical appreciation, self-restraint, and intellectual generosity. This is one philosopher who not only reflects upon the metaphysical history of American life-philosophy first, and later life-philosophy in the geographically contiguous countries of Mexico and Canada, but who has demonstrated in his own practice of intellectual life that finalist ontology still exists as it properly should, in the complexities and complications of the intellectual pathway that is, most admirably, exhibited in his own fusion of thought and practice.

For myself, recognizing Weinstein’s practice of finalist ontology with its sense of the finitude of human life is less an intellectual abstraction than a matter of direct historical experience. It was in the fall of 1967 and I was a new graduate student at Purdue University, just arrived from decolonization struggles in Canada, and deeply concerned about the unfolding American military adventure in Vietnam. At that time, the social sciences were well-meaning but uninspired–in my estimation practical social eugenics for the production of regimes of intelligibility faithful to the requirements of power. Consequently, while I brought with me to this heart of the American heartland copies of Pierre Vallière’s pamphlet–White Niggers of America–a manifesto detailing the political vision of Quebec’s then nascent nationalist movement, my first collective graduate action was to help organize a student sponsored war-crimes trial with the discipline of sociology as its first defendant. Like many members of my generation during that period, my consciousness may have been defined politically by the bitter clash of world-cultures that was Vietnam, but it was framed culturally by a deepening realization of the poverty of official academic thought. That was, of course, until late one spring evening, I attended a large anti-war protest in a darkened, outside amphitheater and heard, for myself, for the first defining time, Weinstein’s passionate critique of America’s involvement in Vietnam as well as his equally lucid analysis of the coming contradictions between the New Left and Old Left in American thought and, with that, the politics of backlash that was likely to be provoked by resistance politics. Before that moment, I had never really experienced, existentially experienced, as a matter of my own thought and practice the meaning of the life of the mind, how, that is, two thousand years of metaphysics–in-depth, patient, critical, necessarily undermining, often synoptic, philosophical thought–could be summed up in the grain of a voice and in the political vision that that voice urged its intently listening audience to consider and, once considered, to actually begin to act on the fateful results of that consideration.

Now, I know that this is just one story about an anti-war protest at a Midwestern university, best known at that time and probably still for its commitment to all things engineering, but in the sometimes unexpected way of things being in the actual presence of an inspiring intellectual imagination instantly and powerfully influenced my reflections on the life worth living. I might mention as well that at the height of Vietnam protest, my choice for a worthy object of study was the social theory of Talcott Parsons, a thinker who I approached in the same spirit that early Christians thought of the Roman philosophy of Virgil, namely, in my case, an American social theorist who was important precisely because his thought provided an unrelieved, depth analysis of the structures of power foundational to the American national enterprise of empire-building abroad and subjective normalization at home. I mention this for the specific reason that, confronted with the general refusal of my sociology professors to approve my prolonged research on Parsons’ thought, Michael Weinstein provided intellectual shelter for the solitary Parsons-focused thinker that I was at that time. Demonstrating the sensitivity of a natural teacher, one for whom intellectual generosity and passionate curiosity were less exceptional than well-exercised habits of life, he understood that my interest in Parsons was in the way of an complex theoretical gateway to a full understanding of the underlying structural (cybernetic) dynamics of advanced capitalist societies. With amazing erudition, he not only provoked a wider consideration of the place of structural functionalism in the life of the (American) mind but he also engaged my thought in those other expressions of American classical philosophy, from Royce and Santayana to James, Dewey and Elijah Jordan. When many years later we co-authored our book on what we named the “virtual class”–the increasingly self-conscious ruling class of capitalist technocracy– I always thought that if Weinstein could be so deeply insightful about the politics, culture and subjectivity of technological society, it was because he was capable of assembling discrete historical events–the rise of the disciplinary state, austerity economics, virtual mind-management, social therapeutics of soft power–into a more comprehensive and compelling intellectual vision. In fact, not only synthesizing the often hidden forces mobilizing history, but something else–specifically, taking careful measure of both what is permitted by the prevailing rhetoric of power and what is disavowed, prohibited and excluded.

In the contemporary historical circumstance, Weinstein’s intellectual and thus personal sensitivity to those forms of thought and, even more urgently, those singular individuals and, sometimes, whole collective identities marginalized by power has witnessed its own philosophical prohibition. For example, it is like scattering dust on a windy day, to seek to rise into the proper rights of philosophical speech the fundamental concept of finalist ontology. Everywhere the fate of American life philosophy has met its successful counter-challenge in the increasingly arid, yet messianic, language of technological liberalism and, as often as not, in the politics of anger that is the contemporary descendent of all the backlash native to the American spirit from its first Puritan beginnings. What, in the end, can finalist ontology say to forms of deindividuated subjectivity and modulated power that are the essence of transhumanism–the hegemonic ideology of the newly refreshed American empire with its active alliance of synthetic biology, Big Data, and the Quantified Self movement? In this case, when that restless spirit of the positivist side of American life philosophy exemplified first and foremost in William James’s “will to believe,” hits the California coastline of all the AI labs, futurist Googles, and synthetic biologies of the American spirit, its overriding, predatory-like aim is to literally evacuate the self of its self. When the mind-machine merger happily envisioned by technocratic futurists in the eschatological form of “The Singularity” takes place, there will undoubtedly be as little space for finalism as there will be for understanding life’s finitude. With Nietzsche, we could describe the contemporary epoch, and appropriately so, as one of suicidal nihilism; with Heidegger we could speak of “fully completed nihilism” with its spasms of abuse value; and with Hannah Arendt we could dwell on the meaning of “negative being.” All these descriptions would be accurate to some extent, but not, I suspect, in the more ambiguous sense, the full ethical complexity, entailed by a reflection on the death of life philosophy in the American mind. For that, we just need to follow the pathway established by Weinstein’s thought to a critical reflection on the fuller meaning of the politics of anger that bursts right through the veneer of most contemporary American discourse.

Perhaps in this case, Weinstein’s relentlessly austere account of the spirit of ressentiment resulting from the brilliant, yet tragic, failure that is American life philosophy provides the best, existent description of the “hatred for existence” that is the animating pulse of the politics of backlash, whether libertarian, conservative, or identity-based liberalism. When the “hatred of existence” begins to gnaw on the bone of subjectivity, the practical result is the triumph of death philosophy as the posthuman successor to the earlier hopefulness of “American classical philosophy as a moral quest.” So then, while the contemporary situation of finalist ontology in the American mind might be approached in terms of the eclipse of the individual, what is actually taking place is, I believe, something more epochal, and in the full sweep of that epoch, metaphysically significant, namely that there are actually two death-drives–one the bitter politics of anger and the other the technocratic will to finally escape the fate of bodily finitude–that mobilize what the historian Chalmers Johnson has described as the “end of the Republic” and the triumph of empire and, with that, the appearance anew of the howling fates of hubris and nemesis. But, that said, if finalist ontology cannot practically realize itself in contemporary culture perhaps that is because it is the fatal remainder of American thought, the form of life philosophy and life practice that cannot be admitted precisely because its admission would definitely, and quickly, negate the necessarily tropological character of American power–the fact, that is, that the stability of American political discourse from the Republic to the Empire consists of forms of thought which join philosophical justifications and political strategies into the smooth symmetries underlying acceptable regimes of intelligibility. The fact that Michael Weinstein’s eloquent formulation of finalist ontology–its genealogy, expressions, and sometimes productive contradictions–is not acceptable in any conventional measure to the current iteration of American tropology–the twin death drives of transhumanism and anger politics–probably indicates that, in this thought, is to be found something definitely and fully constitutive of the future, something that cannot be easily absorbed in the present because, as in the way of all prophetic insight, his thought belongs to a future of the finite self. Consequently, while finalist ontology awaits the rise and decline of American death philosophy as its historical markers, it exists, at this moment, in that most desirable of all intellectual situations–a form of thought from outside–(kynical) thought from below– the memory of which haunts and, indeed, panics the mindlessness of cultures of power.

The century to come promises to move at the speed of scavenger time. Not only the powerful scavenging for what remains of value in the spreading ruins, sometimes bodily at other times economic, of the weak and the powerless, but a more perverse form of scavenger-hunt, with individuals literally evacuating, and thereupon vivisecting, their own subjectivities, whether for pleasure or duty. Heidegger once warned us about this. In his thought the approaching epoch would be typified by the overall sensibility of boredom. Not simply boredom with events or with others, but a deeply uncanny expression of terminal boredom in which an individual is bored with its “self,” certainly with its bodily self but increasingly with its own cognition, desires and affect. Breaking with millennia of tradition, modern individualism always was, in its essence, a radical experiment with the possibility of creating a self liberated from the theologies of tribalism and piety. Consequently, when Heidegger discusses the more fundamental form of boredom that is boredom with oneself, he is only reflecting in his thought a greater sublimation, specifically a massive, pent-up anger accumulating over the many centuries of modernism of having to maintain, sometimes in the language of ethical renunciation, always in the rhetoric of inner violence, the boundaries of a stable self. This psycho-ontological experiment in crafting the reality of a solitary individual–invested by rights, burdened by duties, signified by ideologies, mobilized by dreams–out of the many expressions of collective consciousness that were pre-modern society could not endure, and did not endure. Which is perhaps why the evacuation of the modern self, from its inner subjectivity to its deepest affect, has so easily become the animating spirit of networked society. When modern individualism finally cracks, its very public burial is undertaken with immense enthusiasm and manic energy. Perhaps motivated by the belief that the “self” with its responsibilities towards inner tolerance and restraint was always something imposed on us from without, the new technocratic individual that emerges from the ruins has no illusions. For this, the first of all the many versions of the posthuman self to come, the drift of cultural acedia and the projection of power that is the war-spirit promise a way beyond the harsh solitude of modern consciousness. While technological futurists might like to declaim concerning the retribalization of humanity, Weinstein’s overall prognosis is more convincing, that is, that finalist ontology has been blocked by a general cultural movement in favor of the will to technology, the reverse of which is a retreat into an increasingly atavistic self, mobilized by anger directed at phantasmatic objects of derision, contempt and prohibition–the illegal alien, the always foreign terrorist, Islamic extremists, the nomadic migrant. When the language of American individualism expresses itself in terms of good and evil–the sustaining rhetoric of America as a moral quest–what is left in the darkness that lies ahead are only two sounds: the sounds of the (human) being of finalist ontology being crushed into granular flows of data; and the sound of those excluded, prohibited, and disavowed being pushed into the silence of non-recognition as properly “moral” beings.[7] Weinstein’s lasting contribution is to allow those dark sounds of the present and future to rise into political and, consequently, ethical visibility.

 

Notes
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[1] Michael A. Weinstein, The Wilderness and the City: American Classical Philosophy as a Moral Quest, Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1982.

[2] Arthur Kroker and Michael A. Weinstein, Data Trash: The Theory of the Virtual Class, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.

[3] Michael A. Weinstein, The Wilderness and the City, p. 130.

[4] Ibid; p. 155.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] For a fuller account on the politics of recognition with its moral intelligibility concerning who is worthy of “grievability,” see Judith Butler’s essay on “Precarious Life, Grievable Life,” in her book, Frames of War: When is Life Grievable, London: Verso, 2010, pp. 1-32 as well as my own reflections on the place of Butler’s vision of political melancholia in my text, Body Drift: Butler, Hayles, Haraway, Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 2012.

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This reflection on the intellectual life of Michael A. Weinstein was published in a slightly different version as part of Michael A. Weinstein: Action, Contemplation, Vitalism edited by Robert L. Oprisko and Diane Rubenstein, London: Rutledge 2014.