Monday, August 7, 2017

Real hermeneutics of suspicion

The phrase "hermeneutics of suspicion" was coined by Paul Ricœur in an attempt to yoke together three schools of thought: Marx, Freud and Nietzsche. To paraphrase Sesame Street, all of these things are not like the others. Why yoke them together then? It was a desperate attempt to save modernism. These three are taken to be the foundation of modernism.

Not always exactly these three. Before World War 2  Wagner was often included in the place now occupied by Nietzsche but Wagner was a nasty bit of work who simply cannot be redeemed no matter how beautiful his music. Sometimes Darwin is proposed as a replacement for Nietzsche but that would be a bit problematic as Darwin tends to undercut both Marx and Freud in ways that liberals and progressives fear so they're stuck with Nietzsche.

That, however, leaves a huge problem in that none of these schools of thought has much in common. You can tell a plausible but not actually verifiable story that they helped change the world. But, as I think I've said before, to what did they change it as they don't share common goals? ARe they causes or just symptoms? Ricœur's attempted answer is that they all shared a hermeneutics of suspicion, that is they all argued that the language we use conceals a far less flattering account of ourselves than what we like to believe. A deep study of this language (usually referred to as a "text" or "discourse") will reveal inconsistencies. That, however, is not enough. To understand what is really going on we need to bravely face that what really drives human beings is one of the following: 1) brutal economics, 2) the pursuit of sex and power, or 3) a slave morality that entails the submission of all that is noble and good in humanity by weak sheeple driven by resentment.

I'll tell you where there is a real hermeneutics of suspicion though—in popular culture. Just yesterday I saw a story claiming that dogs and cats have a large carbon footprint and immediately thought, "This is a lie." Millions of us no longer trust the experts. We don't believe the press, we don't believe the bureaucrats, we don't believe the professors, we don't believe environmentalists and we don't believe activists and do-gooders of any kind.

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