This Mediated World

by Christopher Horner

Immediacy itself is essentially mediated —Hegel

Look at that desk in front of you right here, now. Isn’t it just there, a bare existence, a simple immediate thing right in front of you? The senses register its presence. This, at least, is a bare fact that you know.

But look again at the desk in front of you. What is it you are aware of? A desk: not a carpet or a parrot, its colour (brown), its shape (rectangular), all that is that negates what might have been (it isn’t grey, it isn’t circular, etc). Your awareness of the desk is mediated by concepts and you, a language user, can only make sense of the thing through those concepts, the universal terms that enable you to pick out this thing here, now. And you are aware of it now as you were 5 minutes ago, although the light has changed and you, a namable person, not a disembodied spirit, have shifted your position on your chair to look back at the clock on the wall.  Time, place, objects: everything is mediated: that is, nothing is simply ‘there’ in splendid isolation to be passively registered by your senses.[1]

Consider again the wooden desk. It was once part of a tree, like the ones outside your window. It became a bit of furniture though a long process of growth, cutting, shaping buying and selling until it got to you. You sit before it as it has a use – a use value – but it was made, not to give you a platform for your coffee or laptop, but in order to make a profit: it has an exchange value, and so had a price. It is a commodity, the product of an entire economic system, capitalism, that got it to you. Someone laboured to make it and someone else, probably, profited by its sale. It has a history, a backstory.

All of this is the case, but none of it simply appears to the senses. Capitalism itself isn’t a thing, but that doesn’t make it less real. The idea that all that there really is amounts to things you can bump into or drop on your foot is the ‘common sense’ that operates as the ideology of everyday life: “this is your world and these are the facts”. But really, nothing is like that: there are no isolated facts, but rather a complex, twisted web of mediations: connections and negations that transform over time. 

This doesn’t mean that the way things show up for us is somehow false, an illusion that masks a hidden essence. The essence of a thing is reflected in the way it appears, in the connections and negations with everything else, and in the way in which it develops over time. Read more »

One and a half cheers for well-meaning bleeding-heart liberals

by Emrys Westacott

So many people have it in for well-intentioned, bleeding-heart, left-leaning liberals.[1] Of course, if the critics are bona fide racists, sexists, homophobes, gun and flag fetishists, religious fundamentalists, anti-government Ayn Randians, coal or oil industry CEOs, or just Fat Cats protecting their pile, then it's to be expected that they'll trash Well-Intentioned, Bleeding-Heart, Left-Leaning Liberals (WIBHLLLs–pronounced “wibbles,” and since I don't like acronyms from here on let's just call them wibbles.). It's part of these critics' job description, since wibbles cherish just what such people despise (and vice versa). What is surprising and disappointing, though, is how often one finds wibbles being attacked, ridiculed, or despised by others who hold progressive values.

George Orwell offers a paradigm example of this sort of hostility towards people who, in the great political scheme of things, are on the same team. In The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell, a professed socialist, complains about 330px-Edward_Carpenter_(1905)

the horrible, really disquieting prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism' and ‘Communism' draw toward them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, ‘Nature-Cure' quack, and feminist in England.

I can't prove this, but I rather suspect he may have had in mind Edward Carpenter (pictured), an English socialist (1844-1929) who would check most of Orwell's boxes. For an example today of a left-wing theorist whose main concern seems to be to criticize those who presumably share some of his basic values, one need look no further than Slavoj Zizek. Zizek scoffs at vegetarians, recyclers, people who buy organic produce, and people who give to charity.[2]In the 2008 documentary Examined Life, he criticizes environmentalists who seek to reduce our alienation from nature by reminding us we are part of nature. In Zizek's view, the possible success of their teaching represents “the greatest danger,” and ecology threatens to become the new “opium of the masses.” For “to confront properly the threat of ecological catastrophe” we need to “cut off [our] roots in nature….We need more alienation from life….We should become more artificial.” Elsewhere he criticizes “tolerant liberal multiculturalism” as really just “barbarism with a human face.”[3]

I have good friends who also seem to hold wibbles–”nice” people, Guardian readers­­–in special contempt, although “do-gooders” inspire even more hostility. On one occasion the name of Bono came up.”God, I despise Bono!” one friend said. Another heartily agreed. Note, they don't despise rock musicians in general, most of whom (like most of everyone) are politically disengaged. No they despise the one who has campaigned vigorously for many years to alleviate poverty, disease, and debt in the third world. Perhaps they'd respect him more if he spent his free time sleeping off hangovers and playing video games.

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