by Ana Bazac
Times, and now the capitalist system crisis we live in, push to the prominence of some concepts instead of the former ones. As the crisis emphasizes contradictions and situations no one could conceive and believe before, common people – rather than the philosophers – arrive to feel as urgent concepts the intolerable, the irreversible, the state of emergency, the point of no return, the every, the all/the any, and again the salvation, the means and the ends.
The blind ideology refuses to see and discuss the prominence of some concepts in some intervals as an important problem in the history of thinking. But this behaviour is easy to explain: the focusing on this problem would generate questions concerning the reasons of the prominence as well as inquiries about the historical contexts. And no such question and inquiry is useful for the psychological comfort of those supporting this ideology.
However, the exercise of the critical spirit that differentiates philosophy from opinions (and not only from the Enlightenment, but even from the ancient Greek Socratic turn) is uncomfortable, and the intellectuals should choose between a theoretically “living in a perilous manner” or, for the sake of a tranquil passage of time, the forgetting of the reasons of the tumultuous change of our accelerated history.
But in order to exercise the critical spirit, one has to see the whole of the life of people in the whole world, and not only slices of reality selected in order to feel good and, epistemologically speaking, to fit to the prejudices one shares. Indeed, the fragmented manner to approach things is the epistemological reason of the blindness, misconception and indifference of people towards the facts that, once seen and explained through developing a rationalist pattern all the way, would press them to change the attitude. Well, just the fear of exercising the rationalist pattern all the way, of criticism and awareness of the social – and not metaphysical – contradistinctions is which push the dominant ideology toward a rising aggressiveness against: at the level of epistemology, holism and logic all the way and at the level of morals, against compassion and the golden rule. For, if people would be aware of all of these, they would become indignant and would act accordingly.
Yes, all these attitudes and the rationale of the mainstream ideology are generated by the constitutive power relations in the domination-submission society, and all the power relations reflect the interests of social bodies/classes – and the individuals are class beings, and not only individualities –. And this means that, if we analyse things in a holistic and critical manner all the way, we, and every other human, may start from any aspect of society and our understanding, but we arrive to the same conclusions: that in the present scientific and industrial revolution – where there is a convergence of the physical and intellectual work –, the power relations do no more have their historical function to compel the labour force that should compensate the historically low level of the means of production; and since the economical function of the domination-submission relations disappear, the persistence of these relations is determined only politically, by the class interests of the “1%” enrolling the other, let say, 19% privileged servants. But the results of this asymmetry – and some one may ask why the overthrowing of the rule of the 20% would be better than the continuity of their order – are so malign, there are so many wars, destructions, assassinations, premature deaths, social suffering, waste of nature and human creativity, all of these generated ultimately by the private property, that no human being with sound reason would support them.
Nevertheless it seems that there are humans with, at least apparently, sound reason and which support the continuation of the above-mentioned facts, and they march toward more and more destruction and suffering: as if they would be cattle going in single file toward the final guillotine.
But why do they not see, and why do they not react? A concept – that is not psychological but refers, and today more than before, to the original position of man in front of the social time – and may explain people’s counterproductive passivity is stupor. As its etymology shows, it is not a simple synonym of the wonder. This one is optimistic, or supposes optimism: man wants to see, to understand – because its action begins only on the basis of the truth, namely of the certitude of the good understanding of things, since only this understanding will support a fruitful action –; wander itself is not a synonym of the questions man starts to articulate, but a state anterior to them and to the mental pattern of putting in work the questions: a state that wants to realise the intention standing at the base of the wander, that to understand the unknown thing. Obviously and rather for those who do not want to draw it fine, the intention is included within the wander, and thus this one once more appears as the grounding of optimism: because the intention itself arises from reason and is reasonable, and since the reasonable is fertile, it is expected to occur. Wandering in front of the unknown and the world, people expect to know something, to give contents to the mysterious and to put their rational order – evaluated and sanctioned by the common humanity, human wander and will of the common good, i.e. of not only the individual passion and accident – within the world. Wandering, people expect their expectations doubling the wander to be fulfilled.
But stupor (stupor, -oris) is just the opposite: a defeated wander, since all the expectations are cheated and do not promise any betterment. When people are perplex, when they do not believe their eyes and ears that the situations and appearances of the world could be so irrational and aggressive just towards what is the condition of life and survival of the human, they may only to fall in a state of prostration: they experiment stupor.
Ingenuously, the Romans have grasped that when people’s wander is not followed by the realisation of their rational presuppositions, they become numb, stone-still, stiff, insensible: as if their state would be that of callousness. Stupor, -oris is just insensibility, benumbing, stillness, stiffness: indifference.
But, if indifference – that means indifference towards the public things, towards politics, i.e. the political struggles, reasons and outcomes, and thus refusal to participate or, at least, sanction them – is not only seen with satisfaction by the whole ruling class, but it is even its goal emphasised by all its messages and the cynical impunity of corruption, indifference is the sign of stupidity. Indeed, this is the other meaning of the Latin stupor, inherited in all the languages which took over the word: stupidity, obtuseness, brutalisation, i.e. incapacity to use language in order to counteract, to promote reason, to oppose; silence.
When people are perplexed, first they keep quiet because they “have no words in front of such unbelievable occurrences”. What kind of occurrences? Stupor manifests only in front of social relations, attitudes and behaviours: because only from them can the human being expect rational answers, a certain logic signalling the common logical Gestell of all the fellow human beings. In front of the more unexpected and capricious manifestations of nature, people are not confused: obviously, they behave as if they would be, but in fact and in their deep down they know that it is about natural necessity – felt as accidents, hazards – they may only respect and be precautious towards. Only metaphorically, do people revolt against them, since they are not animated and there is no author of them one could call to account.
People have expectations not from nature, but from society. Stupor is a profound social feeling, a reaction to social facts. And it seems that when stupor installs, its consequences are the turning to stone, the retraction within itself, passivity. Stupor is not constructive: it is a destructor of the human activism.
Well, to describe the concept only from the standpoint of behaviours that would give just the significances emphasised by the etymological analysis is not enough. Why? Because: stupor is not an a-historical attitude, a neutral and eternal characteristic of the subject-object relation, but it is the mark of those social terms which make the biggest part of society to accept submission, enclosing of rational speech and action, lack of normal human rights allowing the manifestation of human creativity.
Thus, concerning stupor the first question is why does this one happen, and even at such a big scale. The answer was given from the ancient times and, while not ignoring that the panem et circenses public management formula reflected just the care of the rulers to keep the mouths of people occupied with chewing and exclaiming the interjections of pleasure in front of spectacles, let cite a situation occurring 2000 years after. William Wilkinson, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, London, Longman, 1820, was the British consul in Bucharest appointed in 1813 by the Levant Company (of trade with the Ottoman Empire). He was an esquire and he wrote his memories about an exotic place with both enlightened intellectual interest and desire to serve his country’s march to modernise the world.
Here is what he wrote about peasants, the most part of the inhabitants of the Romanian countries: (p. 155) “There does not perhaps exist a people labouring under a greater degree of oppression from the effect of despotic power, and more heavily burthened with impositions and taxes, than the peasantry of Wallachia and Moldavia; nor any who would bear half their weight with the same patience and seeming resignation. Accustomed, however, to that state of servitude which o others might appear intolerable, they are unable to form hopes for a better condition; the habitual depression of their minds has become a sort of natural stupor and apathy, which render them equally indifferent to the enjoyments of life, and insensible to happiness, as to the pangs of anguish and affliction….(p. 156) and they are so much used to blows and all kinds of ill treatments from their superiors, that they approach with the greatest respect and submission any who bear upon themselves the least external mark of superiority.
(p. 158) Their ordinary food is composed of a kind of dough to which they give the name of mammalinga…the first two or three days after a long Lent, they sparingly indulge themselves in meat; but the greater part cannot afford even so great a treat…their industry, however, is not of a very active kind, and they take frequent rest”.
This long quotation – where I underlined the word stupor – aims to show not only the perfect understanding of the causes of the icy perplexity of the many – their state of oppression with all the aspects linked to it – but also the involuntary revealing of the materialist determinism of the rest/laziness. Indeed, the author gave only the information, but the inference frequent rest because of the poor food (or poor food may but generate an apparent laziness) is strikingly. This basic determinism takes part from the general heteronomy – i.e. alienation, because of the lack of human autonomy (Castoriadis) – leading to stupor. Hence the only way to preserve life is to rest, to retreat in the domestic pleasures and routine: to ignore the political agenda of the rulers (since this one is so far away from the common individual agenda of life and human realisation), to be estranged, thus to surrender.
A theory can be countered only by another theory: a new logical demonstration of the conclusions from the premises, of the effects from the causes, of the ends from the processes including the means, better than the former demonstration. But the theory itself is outlined only on the basis of external proofs and examples. The present general disorientation and stupor – the protests are not many and frequent, or rather have no significant and bifurcating consequences – are the result of the private property, domination-submission and exploitative social relations in the interval of system crisis: when the degradation of all the aspects of social domains – conditions of life – is so huge that people know that they cannot be cured without a radical transformation, and at the same time when people are educated in the pattern of exchange value of everything and of the desire of the market framed works of human endeavour, as well as in the atmosphere of fear and lack of protection in a merciless aggression from above, it seems that the only solution would be an inert imagination. The culture of impunity – as it is said from some years – pertains not only to the upper strata, but it also has become a fatal element in the spiritual setting of the popular conscience. “If, simply, one cannot fight shamelessness and be efficient, it’s better to curb neck and to ignore both this curbing and its objective and subjective causes”.
One thus forgets the utopian promise as a human cultural foundation (John Steppling, Aesthetic Resistance and Dis-Interest: Things Which Will Not Allow Themselves to Be Said, Mimesis International, 2016), but this goes together with the forgetting of logic, namely of rationalism all the way: except of the slyness related to the permanent selling-buying, thus of the manipulation of the object. (But the subjectivity of man manifests only by revealing the capacity of the object, as the Aristotle’s efficient cause forming the matter).
These being the causes, it’s obvious one neither can prevent stupor. Once more: this prevention is not desired by the ruling circles. More: stupor is doubled with physical seclusion emptying the public space (Paul Hodkinson, Media, Culture and Society: An Introduction, Los Angeles, London, Sage, 2011, pp. 180, 183, 186-90), thus leaving this one under the control of the conformist voices. And more: stupor is doubled with induced ignorance and self-importance based on the ideology of definitive, absolute and un-questioned superiority of the domination-submission relations. In this framework, all the concepts and criteria counter-form the individuals, diverting them to the state of unconscious victims. The aim of these ones is only to imitate the false models of the conquerors, and when this exploit does not succeed, the victims are falling in stupor, more and more disturbing them.
Does this mean that there is no solution? Of course: not. The solution is to learn how to think so as to critically envisage the condition of those fallen in stupor. But learning to think is not an intellectual occupation: it is practical. It does no longer suffice to treat the manners of thinking in technical epistemological jargon. We need to pass to a new, integrated and holistic, level of thinking the world of man.