Klaus Hnilica
Monday June 24th, 2019

Tina Tuner and a Democratic Common Pilosophy.

I find both Tina Turner and the US neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty with his book ”Contingency, Irony, Solidarity“

/1 / of 1989 extremely refreshing: both she – see below – and he are really concerned with things and discoveries from real life, instead of all the time seeking the Ultimate Truth that we in Germany like to set as our goal.

The important thing for Richard Rorty is that the truth is not found but made!

Incidentally, this idea was first introduced 200 years ago in Europe, but especially gained influence in the pragmatic concepts of the Americans. Currently, in a more and more digitalized world with its fake news that spread extremely fast, it will probably be hard to control the circulation of information at all.

“But for Richard Rorty, the discovery that the truth is made is like a liberation”.

All of a sudden, he can see how a truth value can be assigned to a historic state of the public perception – or at least there can be an indication of a consequence!

His idea is that, as the history of philosophy and democracy unravelled, there was suddenly the option to change yourself and the society in a positive way, instead of the domination of the metaphysical constructions which saw the truth in things.

Obviously, for the enlightened and rational citizen, his body is the ideal concept. Instead, we now have what he calles the playful and serious “ironical lady“ who understands that contingency (“contingency is something that is neither necessary nor impossible; basically it is what can be but could also be different”, see Niklas Luhmann) is a necessity because she is flooded by the understanding that both her convictions and her everyday vocabulary and the society she lives in could also be different.

And she does not think that this is a deficit!

On the contrary, she uses the new opportunities that result from this and uses innovative vocabulary in order to test new stories about herself and the world and to experience the world anew.

The female ironist leaves everything unsolved, she does not crave freedom of conflicts, but open synthesis.

The female ironist knows what life is really about and what makes contingencies possible:

“the state guarantees freedom for its citizens and the society practices solidarity with those among its members who have been violated and restricted“.

This knowledge turns the female ironist into a liberal person.

Consequently, if you pair liberalism with an ironic concept of the world, you get a mentality that is appropriate for dealing with the modern craving for fixed identities in a democratic way.

Yet, regardless of this addition of irony and solidarity, you have to note that, with a radical-democratic perspective, even though the female ironist will agree with the contingencies of life, there is still the fact that solidarity necessitates that national and religious differences between humans are considered irrelevant if compared to the similarities between pain and humiliation.

The difference between Rorty’s solidarity concept and the rational ethics of enlightenment is that he includes no general principles whatsoever.

He recommends a change towards stories in order to enable literature and the public to develop more sensitiveness towards human misery – and thus generate solidarity.

In this context, however, we need to ask how exactly pain is measured and if perhaps a scale for measuring it is in itself contingent and dependent on the respective social concepts?

And what about solidarity practices themselves perhaps providing us with a concept of what is unsurmountable misery only while they are ongoing and only step by step?

Because what a European discourse in 2019 considers pain is definitely not something you can easily generalize.

Which raises the basic question: is Rorty’s concept is a step towards the solution of the problem or perhaps a symptom for the political situation?

Or maybe Rorty’s approach is more a de-militarization approach for philosophy – just like Tina Turner‘s Popsong ”We Don‘t Need Another Hero“ of 1985 – which means that we do not need counter-heroes to replace the ancient metaphysics. Instead, we need a pragmatic approach towards solving the everyday problems of society?

Which then implies that the typical personality of humans in a liberal democracy is actually boring, calculating, miserly and un-heroic.

If you follow Rorty, then this is basically the price you pay for political freedom!

And, as opposed to Max Weber, Rorty does not fall victim to a cultural pessimism over it. Instead, in typical US fashion, he wisely says “so what?“ and recommends that the words greatness and heroism should only be used in private and never publicly, because: cravings like these will damage the liberal society!

In general, it seems that Rorty’s question of vocabulary to be used in public is stimulating in modern times.

After all, Rorty’s recommendation to leave religious and other identity-based arguments out of the public discourse because they are only conversation stoppers bought him fierce enemies both on the left and right side of the political scale – and also among the religious groups!

Because if you leave these groups out, you are in danger of losing your claim to solidarity and liberalism.

On the other hand, you will have to ask what exactly remains as a common ground for a society that polarises in terms of ideology?

And how can it find a common language – which seems absolutely necessary if it wants to unite?

Today, it seems that doing without ultimate reasons is understood less as a philosophic change but more as a political problem.

In the end, it might become something that supports a philosophy that postulates the “priority of democracy over philosophy“ and does not stubbornly use its former vocabulary, instead applying its vocabulary to the political present – and, if necessary, modifying it!


5 Kommentare zu “Tina Tuner and a Democratic Common Pilosophy.”

  1. Chris Wood (Monday July 1st, 2019)

    I was happy to see a bit of philosophy in the blog, as I have made a bit of a hobby of this since I retired. But this was dispelled when I read it. The German language seems to provide special scope for writing nonsense.
    “Die Ironikerin weiß was das Leben ausmacht und Kontingenzen politisch ermöglichen: nämlich
    der Staat garantiert seinen Bürgern Freiheit und die Gesellschaft übt Solidarität mit den Verletzten und Eingeschränkten unter ihren Mitgliedern
    Dieses Wissen macht die Ironikerin zu einer Liberalen“!
    How can something be “Wissen” when it is generally false?
    Is every “Ironikerin” or “Liberal” crazy or stupid?
    China is trying to provide comfort at the cost of freedom.
    N. Korea is similar but more extreme. The “Gesellschaft” is even more variable in what it does, than the family, (but can hardly be said to do anything. What does it do for me?
    Too many people regard themselves as philosophers, but are locked in the present or recent past. They tend to ignore evolution. Read Harari!

  2. Chris Wood (Monday July 1st, 2019)

    P.S. I would give zero stars for this posting, but I remember that that does not work.

  3. KH (Monday July 1st, 2019)

    Zugegeben Chris, dieser Beitrag ist nicht ganz einfach zu verstehen, und es könnte ausserdem sein, dass Dir der Begriff ‘Kontingenz’ nicht geläufig ist, dann ist die Ironikerin schon gar nicht zu verstehen.

  4. Chris (Tuesday July 2nd, 2019)

    No, contingency is not the problem. Probability theory was part of my maths studies. The problem is the (German?) tendency, in such articles, not to write exactly what is meant. The word “Wissen” is here used to mean something like “Glauben”. A page or two of such sloppiness is enough to confuse almost anyone.
    Another aspect is the tendency to write in a national context, without saying so. One notices this much more, when living in a foreign country. But perhaps this is stronger in Germany, rather than in my country, where one needs to remember that UK is not England, and the Empire was again different. What this article says about “Staat” and “Gesellschaft” probably refers to here and now. But where did it say so? It would fit Germany better than China, but still could be hotly disputed.

  5. Chris (Tuesday July 30th, 2019)

    In the paragraph that I criticised, “ausmacht” is also a problem, a seriously vague word.
    Also, what the “Ironiker weiß” is silly, (and sarcasm was not intended).
    As I point out below, everything is contingent. There is no need to make contingency politically possible!
    I have informed myself mostly via Wikipedia, and I have not read the book. Aside from my maths and chess, I have great interest in science and philosophy. With a few noble exceptions, philosophers get confused or try to confuse. They refuse to accept that Darwin has changed the place of man and his brain, from the source of all truth, to a local temporary appearance. That sentence fits some of what Rorty wrote, and Darwin could be one of the heroes from the Tina Turner song! So, I must extricate myself from the trap of self-contradiction. Of course, science, aside from Darwin, has repeatedly shown that philosophers were stuck in blind alleys. I reject Rorty’s dislike of science and logic.

    After some reading, I decided to write more. Wikipedia stuff helps.
    But https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironism is not much use.
    I am criticising what I saw in IF-blog. It was written by Oliver Weber, who seems to like Rorty’s book, and was posted by Klaus Hnilica. So, whatever I write about Rorty depends on his having been correctly represented. I was tempted to get the book, and to put my criticism on a firmer base. But I have already wasted too much time on clever rubbish.
    Richard Rorty (October 4, 1931 – June 8, 2007) Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989).
    This reminds me of two private book reviews I recently wrote: –
    Three Roads to Quantum Gravity (Lee Smolin, 2000, Postscript 2017)
    An old relativity/quantum guru, too old to solve the problem, predicts that in twenty years, three approaches to quantum gravity will merge to unify quantum physics with relativity. (This could hardly produce the desired unity). But after 20 years, dark matter, dark energy, etc. leave more problems to solve than when the book was written.
    At Home in the Universe (Stuart Kauffman 1995)
    An elderly evolution guru predicts that his idea will be confirmed within twenty years. He has a special idea how life originated, and he hopes to improve on Darwinian evolution. But for 20 years, nobody had much interest in his idea, and everything has supported Darwin. Kauffman’s evidence came from computer simulations, rather than from living beings. I think life came from space to Earth. This doesn’t say how life starts, but reduces the improbability, by about a billion factor. (It is also possible to think that we and our universe are in a simulation running in a bigger universe, with an older civilisation).
    I regard viruses as life. They reproduce, mutate and evolve. Like all life, they depend on friendly environments. This goes for computer viruses too!

    Rorty was 58 when he wrote the book, trying to be original, rejecting his earlier views.
    Tina Turner and the paragraph that I first criticised above are not from Wikipedia, so perhaps they come from the photographer, Oliver Weber. Perhaps Oliver Weber wrote a good precis of what he read, but I doubt whether a photographer is the right man for that job. The precis in Wikipedia is better.
    Rorty had an interesting idea. But then spoilt things by effectively contradicting himself. He also has the bad luck that, since 1989, events have ruined his hopes. He desired liberal democratic solidarity. He thought that irony and contingency would bring this. Does he want irony from everybody, or just from a philosophical elite? Either way, it will rather tend to spread confusion. Contingency puts all predictions in danger. The recent chaos in World affairs suggests rather that chaos and stability come in cycles. The chaos of World-wars was followed by plenty of stability, although nuclear weapons made this fragile. Now trade wars, Putin’s opportunism, Islam, overpopulation, climate change and the fragility of the European Union are leading towards chaos again. Together with other possible futures, (read Harari), this makes a steady move towards liberal social democracy very unlikely.
    Rorty seems to use “contingency” to mean that people can improve themselves and the future. The ancient Greeks worried about man’s struggle with destiny. The Romans were more practical, building roads and bridges. Since the industrial revolution, it has become clear that people can change almost everything, (provided common sense is not needed). They can wipe out most large wild animals, ruin the climate, go to the moon, split and merge nuclei and fill oceans with plastic. Rorty here seems stuck in the past, trying to escape from the divine right of kings, which extended to other dictators. Kant also worried about what was contingent. In his day this was more reasonable. He could not be expected to foresee quantum physics, or even evolution. But he could have had more scepsis about religion, put together thousands of years earlier, and already showing great weaknesses.
    Rorty uses “irony” strangely. The meaning did not change in his lifetime. Weber does not explain what “ironism” should mean. This fits the criticism that Rorty gives words his own meaning. Probably that is the reason that his pragmatism is “neo”.
    Everything is contingent! Seen precisely, I should always write “seems to be”. But it is too long winded to discard “is” completely. Quantum theory shows that all is full of random events, mainly with small effects, but capable of changing what we think, or causing cataclysms. Decay of radioactive atoms shoots energetic particles through our brains. I cannot accept the muddled view of a retired Austrian professor that this never affects our thoughts!
    It is conceivable that quantum physics will be refuted, as were Newton’s theories. Some knowledge, such as the flatness of Earth, has ceased to be knowledge. Most people believe in God or Gods, but that majority belief does not make it true. One should argue in terms of one’s knowledge, (while accepting the possibility of refutation). I would have trouble to accept that we are in a universe without contingency.
    (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stewart_Bell).
    This does not mean that everything is completely unpredictable. On Earth, we can usually rely on sunset and sunrise, on tides at the coasts, on the seasons, (except at the equator), on some rain and maybe snow, on some plants and animals. Evolution of our DNA and of acquired knowledge has adapted us to make and depend on such predictions. But these predictions are not absolutely certain, and the more complex our DNA and society become, the more fragile we are. There have been several mass extinctions since life came to Earth. Each time, the complexity of life has been reduced, and complex life has been hardest hit. Each time, new complex life has developed relatively quickly. We humans are the most complex beings yet, particularly regarding our brains, culture, and immune systems. Nothing seems ever to have exterminated all life on Earth, but it can happen. Before then, mankind or civilisation is likely to get wiped out. Summing up, everything is contingent, but evolution tends to triumph over this.
    German philosophers tend to write defensively, worrying that they might be thought guilty of exaggerated certainty. This makes unnecessary problems for normal readers. If I am asked where our spoons are kept, I answer. But I do not say that my wife may have changed everything while I was having lunch. There is always a modicum of uncertainty, without even involving quantum theory.
    Also, if I write that the ancient Greeks “knew” that heavy things fall faster than light ones, this is obviously ironic. I know about Galileo’s experimental “refutation” of this. But the Greeks were not really wrong.
    There is a tribe in the Amazon jungle, whose language uses different verbs, according to the nature of the information being given. One verb is used if I am saying what I can see, another if I am reporting a memory, another if I am passing on what I was told, and so on. These people are hunter-gatherers, whose language has not helped them to a great reputation as philosophers. Discovery of this language has undermined the Noam Chomsky belief that all human languages provide a mechanism for recursion. These people cannot say “I said that he told me that …”).
    But is this odd language very primitive, or a late development suitable in rain forests? It can hardly be primitive, since the other languages were quite well developed long before homo sapiens came to the Americas. I cannot believe either that it is very good. I think Chomsky was essentially right. This is a niche language. The tribe must have gone through a phase of strong mutual distrust, that drove them to change to a grammar that made lying very difficult!
    It seems that grammars can change in a few hundred years. People subjected to oppression can quickly learn to express themselves unclearly, or subserviently. The oppression can come from a government, religious dogma, or from society.
    Does Rorty regard the rubbish talked by Trump, Farage, Johnson, etc, as ironism, (intended or not)? Can he think that it helps us on the way to liberal socialist democracy? At least Trump is clever. He is accusing four young brown Congresswomen of “hating USA”. They can hardly say in defence that they love USA with its current elected president, for its racism, nationalism, gun laws, and overcrowded prisons. In some countries, anybody who wants change is regarded as disloyal.
    Two quotes from Wikipedia: –
    “The philosophy of pragmatism “emphasizes the practical application of ideas”.
    “Rorty denies that the subject-matter of the human sciences can be studied in the same ways as we study the natural sciences”.
    Pragmatism seems OK. Who needs a “neo” version of it?
    Since humans are part of nature, how else can human sciences be studied? OK, one can ask them questions, but often their electrical brain activity shows that their answers are wrong. Ethical considerations interfere with some experiments. Yet, I am now being studied regarding an operation technique.
    The Rorty “neo” version seems to depend on irony.
    Irony, and sarcasm involve saying something different from what one thinks but expecting that the audience realises this. Irony is humourous. Sarcasm has a bitter taste. Both relate to cynicism. I notice that German humour is more gentle than British. Germans even explain jokes, to avoid misunderstanding. The British rather hope that some do not understand the joke. One can then laugh at them, as well as at the joke. People who see the joke are pleased to pass the test. I cannot speak much for other nationalities. My Canadian Czech cousin worries that his jokes offend me, but the truth is that they are just unfunny, like the jokes in my German TV-magazine.
    Rorty seems to think that irony, contingency and solidarity will help make a functioning liberal democracy. Surely, irony often annoys people who think one is making fun of them. Introduced into serious articles, it annoys people who don’t want to waste time studying what is ambiguous.
    Contingency spreads uncertainty everywhere, so Rorty should avoid making predictions. Compared with scientists and SF-writers, philosophers anyway have a bad record for predicting especially the future. This may be because many are mainly interested in the past and present.
    Democracies, with a few exceptions, are not very social. “Conservatives” have mostly been in power in recent centuries. This implies liberal in the economic sense, “let the clever get rich”, but not so liberal regarding lifestyle. The people who have most to gain from solidarity often reject it. One among many examples is the unpopularity in Greece of the decision to create “North Macedonia”. Strangely, Rorty ignored cruelty to non-humans, (talking in the land of RSPCA)! He wanted solidarity with minorities, but he was not so clear about majorities like refugees.
    Four quotes from Wikipedia follow:
    Rorty’s philosophy is discussed by Donald Davidson, Jürgen Habermas, Hilary Putnam, John McDowell, Jacques Bouveresse, and Daniel Dennett, among others. In 2007, Roger Scruton wrote, “Rorty was paramount among those thinkers who advance their own opinion as immune to criticism, by pretending that it is not truth but consensus that counts, while defining the consensus in terms of people like themselves.
    Rorty defines allegations of irrationality as affirmations of vernacular “otherness”, and so—Rorty claims—accusations of irrationality can be expected during any argument and must simply be brushed aside.[
    Rorty’s philosophical ‘hero’, the ironist, is an elitist figure.
    Susan Haack believes Rorty’s neopragmatism is both anti-philosophical and anti-intellectual, and exposes people further to rhetorical manipulation
    Going back to Weber’s precis in the blog, before the paragraph that I so disliked, there is already some silliness. Scientific truths are often discovered. Historical truths were mainly made. In both cases, there are exceptions. The Anthropocene climate change was made, (and later discovered). That Sir Walter Rayleigh was a traitor was made, (by him), (and later discovered in a Spanish library). Where is the wonderful new idea? Too much is made of changes made by humans, (without saying so). Most philosophers do not fully appreciate Darwin. There were earlier huge climate changes, for instance when plants first flooded the atmosphere with the reactive gas oxygen.
    It was always possible to change things. Whether a change is an improvement is a matter of taste. I should perhaps welcome the new hero, the liberal, playful ironist. I like liberty, although I have married twice, I grew up in a family of chess players, and I like humour. I think the British are known for their love of liberty, games and humour. But I have grave doubts whether these characteristics are the solution to all our problems. Rorty also trusts democracy too much. I don’t see signs that the World is going that way. Aside from democracy, Rorty may be rather prophetic.
    Trump and Boris Johnson might be ironic. Perhaps even Putin has a sense of humour. At least the three are not as serious as Mrs. Clinton, Mrs. May and Stalin. (But I see them rather as power mad, and not liberal towards others).
    Rorty seems to have an obsolete view of free will. He thinks we can improve ourselves. This stems from a soul-like view of the real self. This “controls” the rest of one’s self, which is driven by genetics, reflexes, hormones, training, etc. It relates to consciousness, but that is not as simple as it seems, considering dreams, subliminal awareness and split-brain effects. I have written more about this elsewhere. Of course, one is often happier with considered decisions, than with what one does automatically, (read Kahneman). But semi- and fully- automatic actions constantly keep one alive. The real self is the combination of all these aspects. No part has control.
    Rorty reportedly remarked that German philosophers oscillate between following Kant and Hegel. Habermas answered that Marx should be added to this pair. I should prefer Hegel. He showed more interest in current international developments, (the industrial revolution). But Kant and Hegel are both incomprehensible. Marx believed deeply that every man-hour of work had the same value. This was central to Das Kapital. So, we can ignore him. If human values exist, surely the work of J. S. Bach, John Lennon, or a Spitfire pilot was worth much more than the work of a typical person. Of course he was wrong much more than that.
    Rorty and other Americans try more to keep up with the times. This is good, but Rorty is too optimistic. Consider also Searle’s Chinese room thought experiment to prove that computers cannot think, because they only manipulate symbols. Later he backed away from this, because computers can store information. He should have known this! But what magic turns bits and bytes into information? Daniel Dennett gets this right. Asked whether he believes that machines can really think, he replied “Yes, you and I are two examples”.
    Incidentally, I like Prof Lesch for his pleasant talking style, and his cosmology knowledge. When he expands into chat programs, his views can be stimulating. But he should steer clear of philosophy. His programs with a theology professor and wine were a waste of viewing time. Also, he recently stated, ex cathedra, that computers cannot think. He expressed his religious belief, instead of a scientific view.
    Rawls had an idea to improve democracy. Everybody should vote without knowing her position in society. This might work badly even without family life. Small children already understand much about how they fit in. Perhaps active voting right at age 10 would be OK, letting children influence their futures more. But younger than that seems too soon. Either way, would give more power to people having many children, thus accelerating population growth, and encouraging religion.
    By chance, I now switched to TV Campus Channel as a young philosopher, Helmut Heinz, was talking about Common Sense and Morality. He thinks Common Sense is helpful for deciding morality of individuals. But he doubts whether it is a good basis for national morality. He did not explain why. Apparently, Nietzsche thought similarly. Looking at it cynically, (realistically?), I think the individual can judge well her chance of being convicted for a murder. But a nation finds it hard to judge the effect of starting a war. He seemed a nice young man, so perhaps he just finds it hard to know whether a politician will act as he hopes.
    Politicians should prefer democracy. An elected leader can expect eventually to retire in comfort. There are exceptions, such as Lincoln, Lumumba, Kennedy and Palme. But, from Julius Caesar to Sadam Hussain, the dictators have had worse finishes, even after hanging on longer.
    I found it difficult to find a place for Tina Turner in this, but then found connection to her part and to the plot of Thunderdome, (as explained by the film director).
    George Miller is obviously intelligent and creative, but he is not always easy to understand. Tina Turner is important in this her first acting role. She rules a post-apocalypse community, using her intelligence and charisma. It is important that she has her positive image. Mad Max turns up, and she lets him into the community, hoping to use him to extend her powers. After some time, he refuses to help and goes off, trying to survive in the desert.
    There is nothing like Rorty’s Contingent Liberal Democracy. There is Irony in the song “We don’t need another hero”. They do need another hero! Tina Is becoming more dictatorial. Remember Churchill’s “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. I cannot imagine how a democracy could arise there without another hero. I cannot imagine how Rorty could use this film to support his theories. Mad Max was not the hero that they needed.

    I apologise to Rorty, now dead, if I have misunderstood him.

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