Wednesday, December 28, 2011

There is no objective social reality which is not already mediated by political subjectivity

Using 'Stresemann's Vermächtnisas an example E.H.Carr shows us how documents are usually only a reflection of the author of a particular documents perceptions. He goes on to write that Streseman's faithful secretary, Henry Bernhard, who was entrusted with the editing of the, documents, quite naturally emphasised Stresemann's successful western policy, at the expense of his less successful eastern policy in general and very inconclusive negotiations with the Soviet Union in particular. According to Carr it is the Historian who is left to decipher the documents (1961: 16,17). Of course, implied in this is an assumption that the Historian would bring some sort of objectivity to the proceedings, which might seem that we are seeing at least some flaws in Carr's own determinist view of history.

Nevertheless, the determinist view remains essentially correct and it iis not only a Bernhard whose views might be determined from the outsed. Historians too would bring their own particular prejudices and preferences to bear when looking at any materials which they might encounter. Indeed, when he writes of Georg Lukàcs believing that "there is no "objective social reality" which is not already mediated by political subjectivity", Slavoj Žižek's could at least be suggesting, that this cannot be otherwise and in doing so might even feel that this is almost a paraphrase of Marx's belief that our being in society determines our consciousness. Even if, in the West today, the tools at the disposal of Chomsky's "manufacturers of consent" are such that the ruling elite can manipulate our "objective social reality" to a large degree. Indeed, in the present climate it is to be expected that neither the "occupy movements" that are sprouting up throughout the West, nor the riots in the summer in England, have found a political voice and it is to be expected that people who have been effectively disenfranchised will refer to some jingoistic nonsense, which effectively supports the City of London and is effectively curtailing their rights, in the 'Daily Express' as representing political sense.

Of course, although there is not a level playing field, the "manufacturers of consent" do not have a complete monopoly and as we might expect, while the tools at the disposal of the elite facilitate their manipulating the "objective social reality", there is a hitherto undreamt of body of  alternative information. A little bit of searching, a click of the mouse, some skimming and scanning and whatever happened to those WMDs? What really happened on 11/9? What is the truth behind the story in this morning's 'Süddeutsche Zeitung' regarding Iran blocking the Hormus straits? Unfortunately, questions are not being asked often enough and we still have the disenfranchised masses willing to don their poppies and wave their flags in support of illegal wars and a fictive capitalism that continues to roger them on a daily basis. Not only that but it also facilitates a climate whereby half-baked intellectuals can flourish and give voice to the prejudices and banal lies of the day.

Recently, a friend of mine went see a launch for Sir Ian Kershaw's new book in Munich. Apparently Sir Ian, who has officially retired, said that the reason for the book, which covers the last few months of the Second World War, was that when he was in Baden Württemberg some time ago he discovered that the Nazis were still executing deserters etc a couple of days before the end of the war even although the outcome must have been already clear to them. Apparently, someone in the audience asked him what he expected? Nevertheless, Sir Ian's views only reflect the "official" line in 'Blighty' which is still been cultivated for political ends. Of course, it also represents a fundamental misunderstanding of an "objective social reality" which has been mediated by "political subjectivity", but more than that it represents a fundamental misunderstanding as to the nature of man.

As a student I  researched the press in Germany from 1933 to 1945 in the "Staatsbibliothek" in Munich and was struck by how life went on after even the carpet bombing of the German cities. For instance, in the "Dresdener Anzeiger", a couple of days after the worst attacks in the middle of february 45, you could read job advertisements and advertisements for products and even announcements for births alongside long lists of people who were missing or dead after the attacks. At the end of April 1945 the children were playing in their gardens, in the "Kindergarten" or in the school yard when they were told to go home and pack their things. The Russians were five kilometres away. The point is the person who asked Sir Ian the question was quite right and the only question I would ask is what are we doing while our "objective social reality" is being formed by the manufacturers of consent?

We continue to watch Premier League football, programme our televisions from our iphones, consider "the Guardian" to be an objective newspaper and in the meantime we have allowed and are allowing the financial and political elites that rule us to conduct illegal wars, to economically ruin us and to effectively disenfranchise us. However, there is now a mass of alternative information and we can access it. Mass murder has been and is being committed in our names and, despite the political subjectivity which the manufacturers of consent mediate we can have no excuses.


Anonymous said...

A marvellous piece of analysis Jim!
I do not agree completely with ''Marx's belief that our being in society determines our consciousness.''
Anyway it is not your fault:–).

James Nelson said...

"das gessellschaftliche sein, bestimmt unsere bewusstsein" has been losely translated as "our being in society determines our consciousness". It is the "philosophical" Marx, taken from the 'German Ideology' and following from Hegel.
It is not about agreeing with it "completely" but rather about seeing it as a logical precusor to the premise that there is no objective social reality that hasn't been mediated by a political subjectivity.