Sunday, 30 September 2018

Madness in the Method - Prelude to Bacon and Hobbes

“There is method in the madness”. This widely used expression is meant to highlight the incongruity between methodical action and madness – almost to the point of stating that the two are mutually exclusive. The reason behind this popular saying is the belief is that true madness is incapable of methodical action almost by definition: people who are able to pursue activity methodically must exhibit a degree of rationality – the method itself – without which they could not be said to be acting methodically. Even Max Weber argued that the mark of a free decision is the fact that it is made rationally, and therefore methodically, so that the means adopted are adequate to the proposed ends. Weber’s notion of freedom is thus opposed to that of madness in the sense that mad actions do not adopt adequate means for stated ends, so that they are neither rational nor free. Weber does not entertain the possibility that proposed ends may be mad, and therefore so can the methodical rational means, because his definition of rationality was always technical-scientific or, as he styled it, “value-free” (wert-frei), couched in terms of the effectiveness of human action.

It should be obvious already that Weber was wrong because if a stated end or pursuit is mad, then the means adopted cannot possibly be said to be sane, or free for that matter. But can they be rational? In other words, how is it possible for madness to be pursued methodically – rationally? Is it possible that our very definition of rationality is imbued with madness, in the sense that a methodology can be formally rational – that is to say, predictable and effective – and yet at the same time be the product of madness? How can insanity be institutionalised and perfected so that it saturates the methodology adopted in its pursuit? Or rather, how is it at all possible to pursue insane ends by methodical – rational and reasonable – means? Can madness have effectuality – the “irresistibility” (Hannah Arendt in The Life of the Mind) of logico-mathematical thought? The phrase “there is madness in the method” again seems incongruous – for how can a method be methodical and yet be insane? What, we ask finally, is “methodicity”?

How can mad pursuits be carried out methodically? The question concerns the perennial antinomy between form and substance (perennial because it is the kernel of the philosophia perennis from Anaxagoras to Zeno). The method is the rational form and the substance is the irrational goal. Evidently, here it is the notion of rationality that is called into question. Can formally rational action be substantively mad? The implicit identification of rational with reasonable is due to the common etymology of the two words – derived from the Latin ratio. Hegel went even so far as to identify the rational, not just with the reasonable, but with reality itself! For him, indeed, “whatever is rational is real and whatever is real is rational”: in other words, history is the extrinsication, the unfolding of Reason in space and time; history is this unfolding of the Idea, of Reason, through the stages of Spirit in the world – the manifestation of the Spirit’s “world-wisdom” (Welt-weisheit).

But what if there is madness or irrationality in the purportedly rational Form itself? What if the Form, the possibility of thinking the Form, of equating and homologating life and the world as if they were numbers and quantities – what if this very human capacity to abstract from experience and to impose an inflexible measure on it (a Procrustean bed) is itself a form of madness, of irrationality? Here it is not merely the scientific method that is called into question – for we have seen in our critique of Descartes that there is no such thing. What is challenged is the very content and validity of logic and mathematics – in other words, what is questioned is the calculability of the world, which depends, first, on the formal validity of logico-mathematics, and, second, on their ability to contain, to carry validly – rationally - the “things”, the “contents”, the “sub-stances” that they claim to re-present, to which they pretend to refer. Neither of these functions are valid or true for logico-mathematics because we have shown it to be internally contradictory and externally antinomic: the very “purity” of logico-mathematics – already internally contradictory - makes its Form conceptually incompatible with the Substance of the life-world.

The madness of the method lies precisely in this: - to wit, in the drive we have as humans – wherein lies our insanity - to rationalise the life-world, to make it quantifiable and calculable – not at all because the life-world is quantifiable and calculable, but only and solely because we will it thus (!), because we construct our life-world in a manner that makes it artificially amenable to calculability! And this drive is obviously exacerbated under specific historical modes of production. This human ability to conjure up a calculable life-world springs solely from the confusion, heightened to the point of neurosis in capitalist society, of truth with certainty – the reduction of the substantive life-world to form (reification of reality into quantities) and of our experience to predictability and infinite reproducibility. All in the interests of “productivity ”, which in capitalism means “profitability”, which means control of living activity by means of its “exchange” with dead objectified labour – an exchange made possible only by violent means.

As we have argued on earlier occasions, the limit to the madness of capitalism is the destruction of the ecosphere through overpopulation. And overpopulation is an existential must for capital because the real meaning of capitalist accumulation is – precisely, the accumulation of exploitable living labour as surplus labour. Thus, “there is madness in the method” of capitalist society because its reproduction is dependent entirely on its ability to force – by violent means – the impossible “exchange” of living labour with dead objectified labour. Capitalist accumulation – “profitability” as the economic measure of “growth and development” and of “social progress” – is the mathematical method behind the madness of capitalism. But here the madness is the method itself! Marx saw the exploitation behind this method- an exploitation that still had some “rationality” behind it in a Hegelian sense. It took Max Weber to expose the pure “formality” of this rationality – and therefore its substantive madness! In Marx, the almost eschatological inevitability of the advent of communism is the ultimate justification of capitalism. But in Weber no such teleology is possible: capitalism is the method of its own madness – it is its own “tale of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. (In this sense, Weber’s analysis of capitalism is the apotheosis of Nietzschean nihilism.)

Our upcoming study of the transformation of Cartesian rationalism into the empiricist methodology of Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes will seek to unravel the process whereby the capitalist “great transformation” of human societies has led us to the catastrophic denouement of a well-nigh totalitarian social order run by capitalist algorithms – the ultimate cataclysmic triumph of capitalist insane methodology and methodical madness.

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