Symposium Introduction

The traditional definition of ideology—socially necessary false belief—exhibits an intellectualist orientation ripe for rethinking. In The Mind-Body Politic (hereafter MBP) Michelle Maiese and Robert Hanna (hereafter M&H) draw explicit political-critical consequences from their earlier work on essentially embodied cognition to argue that social institutions necessarily engage in the mind-shaping of its members, not merely doxastically but above all somatically and emotionally, instilling habitual skills and modes of comportment that perceive, respond to, and reproduce learned saliences and affordances in their environment. M&H understand social institution as any group of people whose “affective orientation” (subjective experiences, emotions, beliefs, intentional actions, etc.) is collectively organized and guided by shared principles or rules that function as norms. Such an “embodied objective spirit” (my formulation) can then be evaluated according to what M&H describe as “true human needs” such as autonomy, self-realization, empathy and solidarity, and so on. By these criteria M&H handily demonstrate that social institutions that operate according to the principles of neoliberalism—which they summarize as Hobbesian liberalism, the valorization of capitalism, and technocracy—are coercive and enslaving of its members, fundamentally thwarting human flourishing. Their two emblematic case studies are higher education and mental health practice.

Not only do M&H vivisect the deforming effects of neoliberal social institutions, they describe and advocate for specific remedies and actions in order to create, refashion, and sustain genuinely emancipatory social institutions. Anscombe famously suggested that we cannot have a proper theory of ethics until we have a proper philosophy of mind. This book tacitly takes up that challenge by presenting an emancipatory political theory grounded in a sophisticated philosophy of embodied mind and affective, enactive cognition.

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The picture of embodied mind in MBP was developed and defended by Maiese (Embodiment, Emotion and Cognition[2010]; Embodied Selves and Divided Minds [2015]) and in her earlier collaboration with Hanna (Embodied Minds in Action [2009]). Its key features are that human minds are dynamically emergent, irreducibly interdependent with their biologically and physically mattered bodies (no dualism or supervenience relation), and that we act by intentionally moving our bodies by means of desire-based emotions that ground mental causation in our neurophysiology as living organisms. M&H draw the social- and political-philosophical consequences that motivate their book. The result is a naturalistic, neo-Aristotelian picture of embodied minds always already existing in socially and culturally mediated and affectively situated activities responsive to similarly mediated environmental affordances: “affective scaffolding” that implicitly shape selective and value-laden, response-dependent attention and attunements (“affective framing”). In other words, Hegel’s objective spirit is naturalized for us “minded animals”: our sense-making, and hence our susceptibility to mind-shaping by social institutions, occurs primarily through the affective framing of our social, second nature, a preeminently political matter.

M&H provide eight political criteria for determining that a given social institution is pernicious in its mind-shaping of its members, that it enacts “collective sociopathy,” thwarting human flourishing: commodification (e.g., commodity fetishism, reification, capitalism’s value theory), mechanization (e.g., instrumentalism, rationalization, mini-max optimization, etc.), coercion (including governmentality, self-disciplining, etc.), divided mind (e.g., Dubois’s “double-consciousness”), reversal of affect (inversion of pro- and contra-attitudes as the subject adopts the institutional affective framing), loss of autonomy (inculcated volitional passivity and heteronomous self-perception), incentivization of desires (the subject’s motivational set becomes rigid and instrumentalist, conforming to the instrumental goals of institutions), and false consciousness (the subject’s acceptance of the institutional affective framings as a natural given).

M&H then demonstrate how neoliberalism (as state policy, as political ideology, and as individuals’ self-disciplining practices of governmentality) as expressed in two case-study institutions—higher education and mental health practice—exemplify these destructive criteria in regards to all participants. Instructors pursuing tenure/financial security become “credentialing providers” to tuition-paying customers seeking market exchange value for their degree, a structure that—as M&H presciently outline in this pre-pandemic book—is only reinforced by the recent shift to and intensification of online education. The neoliberal policies and practices of pharmacological and “managed” health care companies conceives mental disease as caused and therefore potentially cured by neurobiological intervention, thereby removing from consideration and critique the social-institutional affective framing contributing factors and the rhetoric of “responsibilization,” self-reliance, resilience, and individual entrepreneurial self-management that subserves market forces and proleptically blames the inevitable victims of those forces.

In the final chapters of the book M&H outline the contours that any constructive, enabling institution must take. Such an institution must fulfill criteria that are the negative image of those that characterize destructive and deforming institutions: an enabling institution will foster self-realization, autonomy, authenticity (including the recognition of genuine desires), an organicist understanding of individual development and social-institutional relations, promote dignity in the Kantian sense, and an integrated and critical consciousness. Unlike the overly intellectualist or cognitivist philosophies of mind that they reject, M&H hold that the right and effective affective framing will cultivate pre-reflective, embodied and enactivist (that is, complex, dynamically evolving systems of elements that yield emergent higher-order behavioral dispositions and tendencies) habits of mind such as empathy, curiosity, flexibility, imagination, and humility, which in turn, and in essential reciprocal interaction with enabling institutions, will develop into the virtues of solidarity, mutual aid, collective (democratic) decision-making, and so on. Suggestively interweaving John Dewey and Paolo Freire, they identify the primary function of a constructive, enabling institution to be enactive-transformative learning, by which these habits will be cultivated through embodied, affective (re)framing that can alter a person’s environmental attunements (what they care about), self-relation (how they care about it, hence who they take themselves to be), practical agency (how they manifest these attitudes of care in desires and volitional actions), and ultimately cognitive mindset (what they think, how they reason). The authors show how affective framing patterns can be instilled through bodily practices including participatory art forms (dance, music, interactive exhibitions), lived learning activities (experiments in modes, members, structures of pedagogy), expressive activities rather than those aiming to transfer or “bank” information, disrupting accustomed habits of attention, introducing new, affectively charged concepts; similarly, mental health practices like cognitive behavioral therapy and expressive arts therapy can reframe affective patterns and induce enactive transformation that can fulfill the criteria of a constructive, enabling institution.

In this way M&H leave traditional ideology critique to those who, according to the psychological literature they cite, will run headlong into “cognitive walls” that are impenetrable to rational persuasion among those whose affective self-identities are at stake; instead, M&H advocate a “cognitive-affective revolution” because “in addition to various modes of critical thought and self-reflection, subjects need to be prepared to have certain kinds of affective, aesthetic, and spiritual experiences that productively disrupt their existing habits of mind” (308), and therefore need institutions that will inculcate and cultivate our best embodied selves.

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Among the illustrious respondents to MBP are leading thinkers working in “4E cognition,” premised on the mind’s being embodied, embedded, enacted, and extended into its environment, and those scholars well versed in political philosophy on the other. Together they offer a wide range of observations, extensions and criticisms of the project, indicative of the provocative innovations contained in the book.

Jan Slaby faults M&H for framing their proposed remedy in problematic proximity to traditional Enlightenment and humanist motifs of individual virtues such as dignity, autonomy, authenticity, and self-realization that have themselves become conduits of neoliberal subjectivation in Foucault’s sense. Missing for Slaby is a more thoroughgoing critique of the ongoing co-variance and co-activation between institutional arrangements and minds that undermines the normative force of the notions of “true human needs” and the Western humanist idea of “subject” that animate MBP.Slaby’s remedy to the remedy entails expanding the list of foundational texts in emancipatory political philosophy proposed by M&H to include seminal works in postcolonial and critical race theory.

In his precise but far-reaching response Shaun Gallagher raises elementary questions regarding M&H’s characterization of neoliberal mind-shaping, their notion of autonomy, and their conception of institutional design. Gallagher complicates their ostensible account of hierarchical, top-down institutional authority by emphasizing that institutions exert their influence in diverse, complex, and even self-undermining ways: lateral, nested, overlapping and mutually contravening relations among institutions, and conflicting rules and communicative practices within a single institution yield a messier picture of affective scaffolding as well as opportunities for protest and reform. Likewise Gallagher claims that M&H work with two notions of autonomy—the classical humanist notion of agential autonomy and the post-classical notion of relational autonomy—yet they do not give sufficient attention to the implicit tension, to the point of potential heteronomy, between these two notions. Given the ideological distortions of mind-shaping even upon second-order volitions in a Frankfurt-style procedural autonomy, it seems that M&H must opt for a substantive notion of the good life sustained by a proper relational autonomy, that is, a thicker notion of authenticity than their Enlightenment sketch affords. Gallagher’s final comment identifies and develops a means-end ambiguity and dilemma in M&H’s account of how to design a constructive enabling institution. Either their pedagogy of enactive-transformative learning already incorporates the positive virtues and dispositions it is intended to foster institutionally, in which case it is otiose, or the pedagogy functions as means, but could in principle enact any kind of institution, virtuous or vicious. Missing for Gallagher is an explicit argument for their claim that constructive, enabling institutions are best grounded on and realized in embodied-enactive precepts. Here too, apparently, a tension obtains between thin, Kantian conceptions on the one hand, and substantive, Aristotelian ones on the other.

Gent Carrabregu also raises three fundamental questions for M&H that arise from their innovative engagement with both political philosophy and philosophy of mind. First, he finds an implicit tension between their adherence to a Kantian “dignitarian” notion of human nature from the political-philosophical tradition on the one hand, and their advocacy of a thoroughgoing environmental, if not behaviorist, conception of embodied and enactive minds on the other. Second, he strikes a cautionary note regarding the scientific status of their theory, given epistemological doubts about the extent and definiteness of knowledge of human cognition on the one hand, and about the verifiability of social-scientific methods on the other. Lastly, he raises a fundamental worry about the very cogency of the classical mind-body problem, which M&H’s “essential embodiment theory” seeks to resolve, by invoking Chomsky’s claim that with the demise of a causal-mechanistic conception of interaction we lack an intelligible concept of the body along physicalist, Cartesian lines. Unlike other respondents, who are themselves embedded within the research program of 4E, Carrabregu raises questions that address the very framing of the problems M&H tackle.

Joel Krueger presents a concise and elegant description of M&H’s conception of embodied mind within the larger context of research on 4E cognition. His presentation, however, is preface to his argument that the premier site of contestation between “constructive and enabling” and “destructive and deforming” institutions is the Internet itself, a thesis even more momentous since Covid, after MBP was already completed. The consequences of the “online institutions” thesis for the project of MBP are still coming into view, and cry out for a sequel from M&H.

Both Maiese and Hanna responded individually to each response, an act of intellectual generosity—and perhaps Internet-mediated relational autonomy—for which we are most grateful.

Jan Slaby

Response

Philosophy of Mind for Dystopic Times

If philosophy “is its own time, apprehended in thoughts,” as Hegel said, then Maiese’s and Hanna’s The Mind-Body Politic is doubly philosophical. First, the book is reflective—in both tone and content—of the downward spiral that has befallen the United States in the last two or so decades, as the country has been ravaged by neoliberal deregulation, massive inequality, declining middle classes, racial violence, and a general eroding and dismantling of the institutions and mindsets of the mid-twentieth-century social democratic era. In this key, the book rhymes with works such as George Packer’s The Unwinding (2013), Henry Giroux’s America at War with Itself (2016), or, on a slightly broader plane, Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine (2007), Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism (2009), and David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs (2018)—to name just a few entries from a growing stack of recent Untergang literature. Second, Hegel’s catchphrase resonates through the book even more acutely when one reads it during the long summer of 2020, a time at which the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc across the globe and in the United States quite especially. Those who found the authors’ readiness to call many staple institutions of late-liberal Western societies “dystopic” a little exaggerated will no longer think so. In fact, you might find the word too weak given the devastation and dereliction that has befallen large swathes of the land of the free. Uncanny echoes come back from recent magazine articles with titles like “Death at the Dollar Store” or “Back to the Jungle” (New Yorker).1 In view of these texts that read like dispatches from a nearly failed state, The Mind-Body Politic feels eminently like a philosophy of our very present moment.

I offer this prelude to convey why I am a staunch advocate of the broader project that Maiese and Hanna pursue in their book. It is high time that philosophy of mind catches up to the madness out there, to the collective political funk that gnaws at our sanity. The classical riddles of the field have paled next to conspiracy theories, populist affect and neo-authoritarian modes of governance. Musing abstractly over “consciousness’ place in nature” in 2020 seems beside the point when consciousness’s place in public life has become most questionable. Ours is a time in which a TV show entitled BrainDead, mocking congressional Republicans, has inadvertently changed genre from satire to forensic documentary in just a couple of years.2

The sad urgency of our current moment contributes to my reasons for cheering on Maiese’s and Hanna’s program of a “political philosophy of mind” and I congratulate them on their convincing elaboration of key components of this endeavor. The book clears a path for others to follow, showing how the philosophical study of mental capacities can catch up with the mind-forming and deforming powers of the current social and political landscape. But I also have reservations about the authors’ too simplistic and optimistic framing of an alternative to our mind-deforming and soul-crushing status quo. The well-known enlightenment mold to which the authors want us to return in the later chapters of the book—perhaps Hanna a tad more than Maiese—is too much of a piece with what the authors so convincingly criticize. The list of “mandatory readings” they provide towards the end not only skews decidedly old, white, and male, but also rather canon-confirming. Accordingly, in the second half of this commentary, I provide a different take on the present dialectical situation, one that is more complicated, more critical of enlightenment humanism and less hopeful than the positive narrative Maiese and Hanna leave us with. And, to be sure, I will offer several additions to that reading list, so stay tuned.

The chief merit of The Mind-Body Politic is that it powerfully reorients philosophy of mind towards a study of the formative nexus of social institutions and mental capacities. It sheds a lot of light on prevalent political economies of the mind, both in a developmental perspective and with regard to the actualization and expression of mental capacities in various socio-material settings. The book’s central concept is that of a mind-shaping institution. This is a purposefully designed social arrangement that exerts massive formative influence on the mental makeup of institutional agents, where “institutional agents” are both, an institution’s authorized operatives and the institution’s designated addressees or clients, who often have little choice but to enter the institution’s mind-molding fray. Drawing competently on more than three decades of work on 4E situated cognition, in particular approaches to the embodied mind and enactivism, on philosophy of emotion and the affective sciences, and on empirical as well as phenomenological work on social interaction, the authors continue and invigorate a legacy begun by authors such as Francisco Varela, Shaun Gallagher, and John Protevi to effect a political turn in the study of mind, as they bring all this work into fruitful connection with both old and new studies in social and political theory, Frankfurt school critical theory, including its forerunners in Marx and Kropotkin, and, a bit less centrally, Foucault-inspired studies of power and governmentality and recent works in critical pedagogy.

Among the many analytical forays the book has to offer, two things strike me as particularly convincing. First, the authors chart a fascinating inventory of mental capacities very different from what has been in the center of attention of previous philosophers of mind. This array of capacities and their explication in terms of development and expression is an excellent first go at a catalogue of subtasks for a political philosophy of mind. The place of context-free qualia and arid debates about intentional states is now taken by the likes of participatory sense-making, situated normativity and “affective framing.” There is ample emphasis on affective resonance at the earliest levels of ontogenetic development, and a lot of detailed engagement with work on social affordances and situated normativity, affective niche construction and institutional “mind hacking.” Philosophy of mind gets showcased in a fresh guise as not only an exciting interdisciplinary endeavor but also as a sociopolitical battleground. The message is clear: The human mind, in its present iteration and rampaged as it is by a freakishly deformed institutional landscape, needs to be safeguarded and nourished as much as it needs to be understood and theoretically elucidated.

Second, while not explicitly stated in these terms, I think the book drives towards a powerful thesis concerning the fulcrum of the mental, what one might call the “affective core” thesis. This is the claim that a bundle of affective capacities—capacities to affect and be affected, in Spinoza’s words—form the backbone of an individual’s self-conscious perspective on the world. Maiese and Hanna suggest the notion of “affective framing,” hinting at the notorious frame problem in classical AI and cognitive science. Affect, they contend, is what effectively precludes a frame problem from arising in the case of sentient animals, as affect always already orients the organism—and the human subject in particular—towards matters of existential significance. Embodied affectivity is the corporeal-cum-mental backdrop through which agents process reality from their unique vantage points. Part of the point is that whatever else you might consider noteworthy among human mental capacities, affective framing is already in place, embedding and enabling all other mental feats. Overlook this dimension, or even only underestimate its importance, and your attempt to understand the human mind is imperiled from the start. By foregrounding the affective core of the politically shaped mind, the authors put their cards on the table: Not only do they consider the mind, and most everything “in” or about it, as essentially affective, but they consider the formative powers of social arrangements likewise to operate mainly through the mediating and motivating powers of affect.

Drawing in part on my own work on relational affect and affective mind invasion, Maiese and Hanna show how the contemporary mind might be affectively “framed” also in the not so flattering sense of the word. The affective arrangements of institutions lure individuals into modes of attachment, patterns of interaction and mental habits quite detrimental, in the longer run, to the well-being, flourishing and social relatedness of the agents in question. Institutions become affective traps and machines of extraction, hacking the minds of those who dwell in their spaces. Such institutions showcase outward appeal—the thrill of connection, the pleasures of being “on the inside” of an exciting endeavor, a marked sense of belonging—while their arrangements in the longer run both exploit their adherents and habituate them in ways contrary to their own self-avowed purposes and orientations.3 Such institutional “framing” is so tough to notice and so hard to shake exactly because it works via the affective connectedness to social and material environments that people cannot help but seek out and, at least initially, often enjoy. In virtue of the various affective channels that connect an institutional milieu with the embodied comportment of its target subjects, all sorts of contents and modes of conduct can be “uploaded” into the mindset and habitual demeanor of institutional agents. This is so because embodied affective relatedness originates in earliest ontogenetic stages and thus unfolds at a mostly pre-conscious level that is hard to bring into critical focus. The two authors do an excellent job in conveying how this affective manufacturing of institutional buy-in works in detail. Particularly—and also sadly—convincing in this regard are their two case studies on the neoliberal university and on the mental health sector in the United States, respectively.

Given that these case studies circle in on the ongoing entanglement of institution and mental makeup, I found it a little disappointing that this dimension received relatively short shrift in the last two chapters of the book. There, considerably more space is devoted to the individual mind at the point where affective frames have already been firmly and finally deposited within it. By focusing mostly on individual minds in these outlook chapters, the authors stay on a well-trodden mainstream track in describing mental habits and virtues. Billed as a part about the deliberate design of “constructive, enabling institutions,” chapter 7 in particular devotes little attention to the insidious entre-deux between institutional structures and individual minds. While the authors wisely steer clear of the more radical positions in the extended mind spectrum, one would think that what they drive at is more than a developmental view. Their point must be that institutional arrangements make and break minds also in processes of continued synchronic co-variance and co-activation. Alleviating interventions accordingly need to happen on the side of the institutional arrangements, including the broader discursive surround in which these institutions are set, whereas the authors work mostly in the mold of classical “protestant” anglophone philosophy with its emphasis on the education or entrainment of individual virtues and traits of character (not to mention the all too bourgeois dance and drama exercises, of all things, among their favored means to do so). The book’s theoretical starting point thus struck me as more forward-looking and radical than its later chapters. But I do not want to dwell on this at length, because this problematic is related to a larger worry that applies at the level of the overall intellectual positioning of The Mind-Body Politic.

Convinced as I am by Maiese’s and Hanna’s programmatic and critical interventions, why am I less on board with what they offer as a progressive move forward? The authors’ blueprint for what they call “constructive, enabling institutions” built from “collective wisdom” stems from the classical Enlightenment canon. The central chapter 6 is a box-ticking exercise in Enlightenment feel-good notions such as dignity, autonomy, authenticity, self-realization, and the like, problematically grounded in the authors’ confident assertion of a universal list of “true human values.” As a philosopher fondly cognizant of an intellectual upbringing in the vicinity of Critical Theory and Post-Marxism, I cannot help to greet much of this with warm fellow-feelings, at least initially. But is this a learning history we can unreservedly be proud of? Foucault, who figures among the authors’ sources but fades from attention rather rapidly, should have made us cautious. For him, the figure of the subject and much of enlightenment philosophical discourse are ruses for power to operate and invade the innermost citadel of the modern self. On a more superficial plane, it surely didn’t escape the authors’ notice that many of the core values from their wish list have long been hijacked by the spin doctors of Post-Fordist capitalism. Self-expression, authenticity, autonomous choice, process-oriented participation instead of coercive top-down governance, organic integration instead of mechanical fragmentation, are fixtures in the neoliberal arsenal of soft power. While we have reason to assume that the authors are aware of this, they inexplicably skate beneath the dialectical bar set by Boltanski and Chiapello in their study on the—by now not so—New Spirit of Capitalism.4

But these are all just preludes to my central worry. The humanist fray that Maiese and Hanna try to refresh has a problematic legacy that much predates the sense-twisting newspeak of Post-Fordism. One way to bring this out is to probe the notion of the subject in the double sense of locus of accountability (“subject” in the active sense of responsible agent) and entity primed for being governed (“subject” in the passive sense of being subjected to power). The dialectic between subjection to authority, on the one hand, and self-assertive empowerment, on the other, has been construed rather one-sidedly by the enlightenment mainstream. For the bourgeois philosophers of the early modern period this was surely much in evidence. The philosophical elaboration of the autonomous subject coincided with the unprecedented rise of the European bourgeoisie to economic power, moral authority, and cultural hegemony. The reservoir of ideas, aesthetic energies, and political visions laid down in that period can seem both inescapable and inexhaustible. The picture changes drastically, however, once the dark undertow—literally!—of the European enlightenment is brought adequately into view. From the perspective of the colonized, the violently displaced and enslaved, the modern figuration of the human subject is doubly pernicious, to say the very least: At first, their subject-status was withheld on the grounds of alleged natural inferiority, and later, after that status had been reluctantly granted, it was itself used as an instrument of oppression. Devoid of property and without bearings in the dominant social order, les damnes’ newly won legal status as “free” agents and autonomous, responsible subjects imposed heavy burdens upon them. Being a subject, for these individuals, became an imposition of responsibility for their own plight. Being “free” for them amounted, in the memorable double sense of the word pointed out by Marx, to being free to sell their labor-power while being free of material resources.5 Under the guise of the Enlightenment conception of the subject, an objective lack of options could conveniently be read as a habit of poor choices. At any rate, this was the narrative pushed by those who held firm in their possession of propertied privilege. The “burdened individuality of freedom,” to use Saidiya Hartman’s searing phrase, is the flip side to the noble-sounding humanist discourse of the emancipated subject.6

I cannot go into the kind of detail required to bring out the full dialectic; what I want to point to here is merely the extent to which the Western humanist idea of “the subject” itself would merit a critical analysis as an institution with pervasive mind-molding powers, and that its legacy is, mildly put, decidedly ambivalent. This is why the full story is much more complicated than the neatly organized positive/negative framing—dystopic versus enabling institutions—that Maiese and Hanna often fall back upon. The enabling, nourishing, solidarity- and empathy-fostering qualities of social institutions have by no means been distributed equally. The insidious backside, the ruses, the small-printed exclusions in the text of the European enlightenment are well-studied by now. Besides Saidiya Hartman’s pathbreaking work on the continued subjection of the formerly enslaved in the name of freedom, I especially recommend Sylvia Wynter’s genealogical critique of the macro patterns of Western sociocultural intelligibility.7 Wynter brings into focus the historical roots of a racial order centered on the white liberal norm subject in its two main iterations, renaissance humanist (“rational man”) and biocentric-Darwinian (“homo oeconomicus”). In Wynter’s broad optic appears a decisive rift between these successive hegemonic elaborations of the Western figure of “man,” mostly exclusionary and repressive, and the broader humanist fray, whose autopoietic potentials are still largely untapped. While such a macro-critique of the Western order would be by and large in accord with Maiese’s and Hanna’s critique of the prevailing late-liberal status quo, it breaks company with their project at the point where “rational man” again sets out to monopolize the domain of the human. This “overrepresentation of man,” in Wynter’s parlance, crowds out the truly emancipatory potentials that the human symbolic species possesses in virtue of its auto-instituting powers.8 My point is not so much that Maiese’s and Hanna’s forward-looking proposal falls short in this regard (although it likely does), but that this broader framing of the issues does not nearly figure in their narrative. By refusing to distinguish at all between “human” and “man,” and by all too confidently and imposingly speaking of “true human needs” (when what is in fact at issue is a parochial Western list of hollowed-out values at best), the authors inadvertently, and despite their best intentions, return us to a mode of thinking that is of a piece with what they have set out to critique.

What alternative would I recommend given this broader, more complicated dialectical picture? Most importantly, I think we should refrain from offering facile visions, let alone blueprints of a “better world,” and instead stay with the thorough and detailed critique of the dystopic status quo. This would much aid the urgent task of performing a rigorous deconstructive critique of the Western order and its deep history; it would help it by bringing out, gripping analysis after gripping analysis, this order’s utter unbearableness. In this endeavor, those of us who have just recently arrived in the barren lands of “progressive dystopia”9 can learn quite a bit from the ones who have been forced to reside in ravaged, hostile, and utterly derelict territories for so much longer.

In this spirit, I would like to add the following recommendations to the list of “mandatory readings” offered by Maiese and Hanna: Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism (1950); Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952); Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book” (1987); Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection (1997); Charles Mills, The Racial Contract (1997); Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom” (2003), Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons (2013). This body of texts—and many more I cannot list here—brings us closer to a place from which central issues of the Western intellectual heritage will appear in a clearer, if much less favorable, light. Maiese’ and Hanna’s energetic reorientation of the philosophy of mind is already thrusting in this direction. Given these promising beginnings, it is all the more important not to stop at the half-way point and instead push on further into a discursive realm that prepares us to confront our present dystopic moment head-on.

 

Works Cited

Boltanski, Luc, and Eve Chiapello. The New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Verso, 2006.

Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. New York: New York University Press, 2000 (1950).

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skins, White Masks. New York: Pluto, 2008 (1952).

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester, UK: Zero, 2009.

Giroux, Henry A. America at War with Itself. San Francisco: City Lights, 2016.

Graeber, David. Bullshit Jobs: A Theory. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. New York: Minor Compositions, 2013.

Hartman, Saidiya. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Klein, Naomi. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2007.

MacGillis, Alec. “Death at the Dollar Store.” New Yorker, July 6 & 13, 2020.

Marx, Karl. Capital. Vol. 1. Translated by Ben Fowkes. New York: Knopf Doubleday, 1977 (1867).

Mayer, Jane. “Back to the Jungle: A Meat-Processing Company Puts Its Workers at Risk.” New Yorker, July 20, 2020.

Mills, Charles. The Racial Contract. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997.

Packer, George. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

Shange, Savannah. Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Antiblackness, and Schooling in San Francisco. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019.

Slaby, Jan. “Mind Invasion: Situated Affectivity and the Corporate Life-Hack.” Frontiers in Psychology 7 (2016). https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00266/full.

Spillers, Hortense J. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17.2 (1987): 64–81.

Wynter, Sylvia. “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, after Man, Its Overrepresentation—an Argument.” CR: The New Centennial Review 3.3 (2003): 257–337.


  1. Alec MacGillis, “Death at the Dollar Store,” New Yorker, July 6 & 13, 2020; Jane Mayer, “Back to the Jungle: A Meat-Processing Company Puts Its Workers at Risk,” New Yorker, July 20, 2020, 28–39.

  2. BrainDead, TV show on CBS, https://www.cbs.com/shows/braindead/.

  3. See Jan Slaby, “Mind Invasion: Situated Affectivity and the Corporate Life-Hack,” Frontiers in Psychology 7 (2016), https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00266/full.

  4. Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism (London: Verso 2006).

  5. Marx verbatim: “The owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power” (Capital, vol. 1, book 1, ch. 6, available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch06.htm).

  6. Saidiya Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 115–24.

  7. Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, after Man, Its Overrepresentation—an Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3.3 (2003): 257–337.

  8. See Wynter, “Unsettling,” 260.

  9. See Savannah Shange, Progressive Dystopia: Abolition, Antiblackness, and Schooling in San Francisco (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019).

  • Robert Hanna

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    Reply

    The Mind-Body Politic and Beyond: A Response to Jan Slaby

    I’m very grateful to have Jan Slaby’s broadly supportive, and yet also critically challenging, comments on The Mind-Body Politic (henceforth MBP), for the opportunity they give me to elaborate and extend my/our views1 on (i) the synchronic and contextually-embedded social-institutional dynamics of essentially embodied minds in processes of mind-shaping, (ii) the critical contrast and opposition between, on the one hand, the classical Enlightenment, and on the other, the project of radical enlightenment, (iii) the critical contrast and opposition between, on the one hand, a permanent process of post-colonialist/multiculturalist/neo-neo-marxist social critique, and on the other hand, a radically enlightened process of social-institutional design and creation, as the be-all and the end-all of political philosophy of mind.

    Re (i), the synchronic and contextually-embedded social-institutional dynamics of essentially embodied minds in processes of mind-shaping.

    JS writes that

    [Maiese’s and Hanna’s] point must be that institutional arrangements make and break minds also in processes of continued synchronic co-variance and co-activation. Alleviating interventions accordingly need to happen on the side of the institutional arrangements, including the broader discursive surround in which these institutions are set, whereas the authors work mostly in the mold of classical “protestant” anglophone philosophy with its emphasis on the education or entrainment of individual virtues and traits of character (not to mention the all too bourgeois dance and drama exercises, of all things, among their favored means to do so).

    One small and half-serious point: if I were able to rewrite MBP, I’d specifically recommended engaging in Dionysian dancing exercises, which is an altogether different and not-so-very bourgeois thing. But more generally, constructively, and fully seriously, I want now to present an outline of what I call a radically enlightened, realistically optimistic dignitarian humanist, or anarcho-socialist2 theory of the synchronic and contextually-embedded social-institutional dynamics of essentially embodied minds in processes of mind-shaping.

    This theory of social-institutional dynamics has six sources of philosophical inspiration:

    (i) Plato’s Socratic dialogues,

    (ii) Kant’s ethics and theory of radical enlightenment,

    (iii) Bertrand Russell’s little-known 1918 book, Proposed Roads to Freedom (Cornwall Press, 1918),

    (iv) the Brazilian neo-Marxist philosopher of education Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (trans. M. Ramos; Continuum, 2007),

    (v) Rebecca Solnit’s brilliant 2009 book on disaster communities and social anarchism, A Paradise Built in Hell (Penguin, 2009), and

    (vi) a series of classic books on facilitation, principled negotiation, and participatory decision-making, including Roger Fisher’s and William Ury’s Getting to YES (1981; 3rd ed., Penguin, 2011); Samuel Kaner’s “What Can Organizational Design Professionals Learn from Grassroots Political Activists?” (Vision/Action [1987]); Elinor Ostrom’s Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge University Press, 1990); Allan Kaplan’s Development Practitioners and Social Process: Artists of the Invisible (Pluto, 2002); Kaner’s Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making (2nd ed., Wiley, 2007); and Peter Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging (Berrett-Koehler, 2008).[/footnote]

    In part 2 of Proposed Roads to Freedom, Russell discusses many concrete social and political issues, and proposes a number of concrete solutions, in line with his favored doctrine, Guild Socialism,” which is a federalist development of Kropotkin-style social anarchism. And in the last chapter, “The World as It Could Be Made,” he quite lyrically describes a normative vision of a categorically politically better world: as it were, John Lennon’s “Imagine” for 1918. In fact, it turns out that Lennon’s political views were actually strongly influenced by Russell’s views, via Paul McCartney.3 One thing that’s very striking about Russell’s arguments in this 1918 political book is his consistent avoidance of a priori reasoning, abstraction, and even minimal formalization. It is as if, in this book, he found great intellectual relief from the relentless abstractions and formal-logical reasoning patterns of Principles of Mathematics (1903), Principia Mathematica (1910), Problems of Philosophy (1912), the aborted Theory of Knowledge project (1913), Our Knowledge of the External World (1914), and even An Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1918), written in Brixton Prison, about which he later wrote in his Autobiography:

    I found prison in many ways quite agreeable. I had no engagements, no difficult decisions to make, no fear of callers, no interruptions to my work. I read enormously; I wrote a book, “Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy” . . . and began the work for “Analysis of Mind.”4

    As a consequence, however, Russell’s political solutions in Proposed Roads to Freedom are in fact too concrete—too much embedded in a certain historical-social context: Europe and England, circa 1918, at the end of the Great War. This fact makes Russell’s excellent ideas less generalizable, less directly applicable, and less relevant to the United States and the rest of the world, one hundred years later, circa 2018, not to mention the future world, than they should be. But here I can help Russell out with a basic procedural principle of social-institutional design, as follows:

    First, by an institutional structure, I mean an ordered set of ethical principles shared in common by a group of people, with a collective aim, guiding their mutual interactions.

    Or, in other words, an institutional structure is a social network of ethical principles designed to further some collective aim.

    Second, by oppression, I mean this:

    A person or a group of people are oppressed if and only if their actual condition falls below what would be minimally sufficient to meet the ethical demands of respect for their human dignity.

    Third, by oppression with respect to X, I mean this:

    A person or group of people are oppressed with respect to X if and only if their actual condition falls below what would be minimally sufficient to meet the ethical demands of respect for their human dignity with respect to X.

    So, for example, as the Black Lives Matter movement clearly demonstrates, young Black men in the United States have been and still are being oppressed with respect to treatment by the police: the police historically and systematically have been and still are treating young Black men violently in ways that fall substantially below what would be minimally sufficient to meet the moral demands of their human dignity with respect to police treatment.5

    Fourth, Federalism says:

    States should introduce a series of mediating institutional structures between government and the individual, each of which and all of which have specifically moral aims and adequate rational justifications.

    Fifth, Quasi-Federalism says:

    Humanity should introduce a series of mediating institutional structures between government and the individual, each of which and all of which have specifically radically enlightened, realistically optimist dignitarian humanist, or anarcho-socialist, moral aims and adequate rational justifications.

    Sixth, Quasi-Federalism operates according to a recursive6 basic procedural principle that I call the principle of Devolutionary and Dynamic Anti-Oppression, aka DDAO:

    Suppose that a State or Statelike institutional structure S exists. Then S should be replaced by a series of new institutional structures, each one of which simultaneously represents a definite step in the direction of the devolutionary deconstruction of S and also a definite step in the direction of the dynamic construction of a non-oppressive condition, in a post-big-capitalist, post-State, post-State-like institutional world, for all the people affected by S.

    According to DDAO, in a normative sense, each new institutional structure simultaneously represents a definite “left to right” decrease in big-capitalist alienation, commodification, and economic oppression more generally, and in Statist and State-like institutional coercion and authoritarian oppression more generally, and also a definite “right to left” increase in individual and collective non-alienation, non-commodification, non-coercion, and overall non-oppression. So each new structure is dual and enantiomorphic (mirror-reflected) in a categorically normative sense. More generally, we should always be looking to design and create new institutional structures that have this normatively dual, enantiomorphic character, namely, they satisfy DDAO.

    Here’s a brief example of how DDAO can be applied, also partially inspired by Alex Vitale’s breakthrough book, The End of Policing (Verso, 2017). For each armed police force in the United States, we create a new devolutionary/dynamic Police Force Regime 1 in which no police officers normally carry guns or ever use other violent solutions to policing problems (left to right devolution of the State) and all police officers consistently practice nonviolent solutions to policing problems, although they still carry nightsticks and have some training in the martial arts (right to left construction of a non-oppressive condition for young black men, and others, in a post-big-capitalist, post-State, post-State-like social-institutional world). Then, as soon as it can be implemented, for each armed police force in the United States, starting with Police Force Regime 1, we create should be a new devolutionary/dynamic Police Force Regime 2 in which no police officers normally carry nightsticks or ever use other violent solutions to policing problems (left to right devolution of the State) and consistently practice nonviolent solutions to policing problems, although they still have some training in the martial arts (right to left construction of a non-oppressive condition for young black men, and others, in a post-big-capitalist, post-State, post-State-like social-institutional world). And so-on, set-by-step, until Police Regime Null is reached, in which there is, in effect, the end of policing in the United States, because whatever social-institutional structure remains in place, fully meets or exceeds the minimal demands of sufficient respect for human dignity, in a post-big-capitalist, post-State, post-State-like social-institutional world.

    And here are two crucial further points about real-world applications of DDAO. First, in applying DDAO, we are always drawing directly on fully embedded social know-how about the actual operations of the relevant institutional structures,7 to guide us in knowing how each new institutional structure simultaneously represents a definite decrease in Statist and State-like institutional coercion and also a definite increase in individual and collective non-oppression.

    Second, obviously, no change in institutional structures occurs independently of simultaneous changes in other institutional structures, since there are multiple dependency relations not only within institutional structures but also between and among institutional structures. So, for example, in the police oppression example, obviously, in order to make each recursive change in the institutional structures constituting police forces, until, in effect, we reach the end of policing in the United States, we would also simultaneously have to make corresponding, relevant changes in other institutional structures, for example, in the local government administration regimes that control police forces.

    A few paragraphs above, I defined “institutions” in terms of shared ordered sets of ethical principles and collective aims. What is a collective aim? By that, I mean an essentially embodied, action-oriented, desire-based emotive8 shared set of basic ideals and values, or what the Brazilians call concordar: a shared heart. It is also what Samuel Alexander calls “sociality” and what JS calls “relational affect.”9 The basic idea is that once we realize that, from the standpoint of the philosophy of mind, emotions are neither merely “in the head” nor inherently passive, but on the contrary are essentially embodied, first-person experiences of desiderative caring, directly expressed as dispositions spontaneously and creatively to move one’s body intentionally in various ways, then we can also clearly see that all emotions are immediately manifest in the world and fully shareable with others. Concordar is vividly obvious in the deeply important yet still everyday human phenomena of sexuality and love, religious rituals, revivalist meetings, team sports, rock music concerts, and all kinds of dancing, for example, dionysian dancing. In all of these group activities, concordar exists not only among and between active participants or performers, but also among and between audiences or viewers, and also among and between active participants or performers and audiences or viewers. These phenomena clearly show that concordar can be the source of tremendous personal and social liberation, intense bodily and spiritual enjoyment, and morally authentic happiness—as well, of course, as considerable amounts of shallow or morally trivial happiness, “just having fun.” Concordar is equally vividly obvious, however, in the bonding rituals of business corporations, cults, and terrorist oganizations, in angry political demonstrations and protests, in jingoistic political spectacles, in military rituals and spectacles, in mob hysteria, and in mob violence. The latter phenomena all clearly show that concordar can also be the source of tremendous psychological and social oppression, and evil. This is why concordar must be nurtured and sustained only in accordance with DDAO.

    Re (ii), the critical contrast and opposition between, on the one hand, the classical Enlightenment, and on the other, the project of radical enlightenment.

    JS writes that

    [I] have reservations about the authors’ too simplistic and optimistic framing of an alternative to our mind-deforming and soul-crushing status quo. The well-known enlightenment mold to which the authors want us to return in the later chapters of the book–perhaps Hanna a tad more than Maiese—is too much of a piece with what the authors so convincingly criticize. The list of “mandatory readings” they provide towards the end not only skews decidedly old, white and male, but also rather canon-confirming.

    As I’ve indicated above, I’m fully committed to a radically enlightened, realistically optimistic dignitarian humanist, or anarcho-socialist, morality and politics, as the source of our guiding normative principles in political philosophy of mind. Therefore, I also fully reject the classical Enlightenment, broadly in accordance with the well-known Horkheimer/Adorno critique of classical Enlightenment in The Dialectic of Enlightenment,10 and instead defend what I and others have called radical enlightenment.11 As I construe radical enlightenment, according to that view we owe it to ourselves and to all others, in order to respect their human dignity sufficiently, to screw up our moral courage, and try our wholehearted best to grow out of our personal immaturity and inauthenticity, and to change our lives for the better, by criticizing, rejecting, and exiting the State and all other State-like institutions alike, in order to create and sustain a radically better world in which there are no States or other State-like institutions, hence no destructive, deforming social institutions. Radical enlightenment in this sense is a maximalist version of enlightenment, motivated by what I call “Left Kantian” ideas,12 that sharply contrasts with other everyday, familiar “minimalist” versions of enlightenment, whether Kantian13 or non-Kantian.

    Re (iii), the critical contrast and opposition between, on the one hand, a permanent process of post-colonialist/multiculturalist/neo-neo-marxist social critique, and on the other, a radically enlightened process of social-institutional design and creation, as the be-all and end-all of political philosophy of mind.

    JS writes that

    on a more superficial plane, it surely didn’t escape the authors’ notice that many of the core values from their wish list have long been hijacked by the spin doctors of Post-Fordist capitalism. Self-expression, authenticity, autonomous choice, process-oriented participation instead of coercive top-down governance, organic integration instead of mechanical fragmentation, are fixtures in the neoliberal arsenal of soft power. While we have reason to assume that the authors are aware of this, they inexplicably skate beneath the dialectical bar set by Boltanski and Chiapello in their study on the—by now not so—New Spirit of Capitalism.

    The insidious backside, the ruses, the small-printed exclusions in the text of the European enlightenment are well-studied by now. Besides Saidiya Hartman’s freedom, I especially recommend Sylvia Wynter’s genealogical critique of the macro patterns of Western socio-cultural intelligibility. Wynter brings into focus the historical roots of a racial order centered on the white liberal norm subject in its two main iterations, renaissance humanist (“rational man”) and biocentric-Darwinian (“homo oeconomicus”). In Wynter’s broad optic appears a decisive rift between these successive hegemonic elaborations of the Western figure of “man,” mostly exclusionary and repressive, and the broader humanist fray, whose autopoietic potentials are still largely untapped. While such a macro-critique of the Western order would be by and large in accord with Maiese’s and Hanna’s critique of the prevailing late-liberal status quo, it breaks company with their project at the point where “rational man” again sets out to monopolize the domain of the human. This “overrepresentation of man,” in Wynter’s parlance, crowds out the truly emancipatory potentials that the human symbolic species possesses in virtue of its auto-instituting powers.

    What alternative would I recommend given this broader, more complicated dialectical picture? Most importantly, I think we should refrain from offering facile visions, let alone blueprints of a “better world,” and instead stay with the thorough and detailed critique of the dystopic status quo. This would much aid the urgent task of performing a rigorous deconstructive critique of the Western order and its deep history; it would help it by bringing out, gripping analysis after gripping analysis, this order’s utter unbearableness. In this endeavor, those of us who have just recently arrived in the barren lands of “progressive dystopia” can learn quite a bit from the ones who have been forced to reside in ravaged, hostile and utterly derelict territories for so much longer.

    I’m fully on board with pessimistic post-colonialist/multiculturalist/neo-neo-marxist social critiques of the sort that JS describes, in order to identify and glaringly to spotlight the sources and mechanisms of human oppression, but only as a necessary precursor to radically enlightened, realistically optimistic dignitarian humanist, aka anarcho-socialist, social-institutional design and creation. And here’s why. I believe that if it were pursued permanently, and not merely as a necessary precursor to designing and creating social institutions that sufficiently respect human dignity, then pessimistic post-colonialist/multiculturalist/neo-neo-marxist social critique would become nothing but an endless exploration of victimhood and dystopia, that’s explicitly or implicitly deterministic, and either (i) cynically quietist and morally/politically passive or else (ii) inherently prone to “internalize the oppressor” and turn into a monster of counter-oppression. Pursued permanently, then, it itself becomes a destructive, deforming social institution—the very thing it set out to criticize, reject, and take down—and therefore it’s existentially, morally, and politically self-defeating. Far better a so-called “facile” and “simplistic” activist neo-Utopianism, that ends at least some forms of oppression and radically improves at least some people’s lives, than a tragically inert or tragically terrorist social-institutional snake that ends no forms of oppression, radically improves no one’s lives, and ultimately immolates itself by swallowing its own tail. Or to switch metaphors, from self-immolating snakes to ladders, I think that post-colonialist/multiculturalist/neo-neo-marxist critique is only a necessary ladder that’s meant to be kicked away after we’ve climbed up out of the sewer and into the bright light of day, where there’s endless constructive, enabling social-institutional work still to do, and not the be-all and end-all of political philosophy of mind.

     


    1. As coauthors, Michelle and I of course agree about what we published in the book, but as anyone who has done coauthored work knows, there’s always a certain amount of compromise, negotiation, and fusion or synthesis in the finished product. So it’s possible that our views might differ slightly in our replies to these comments. In order to accommodate that possibility, I’ll use the following protocol: (i) I’ll use the first-person plural form whenever I can be pretty confident that we’ll agree, (ii) I’ll use the first-person singular form whenever I think it’s likely that our views will differ somewhat, and (iii) I’ll use the neologism “my/our” when I’m not sure whether our views will be essentially the same or somewhat different.

    2. See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Radical Enlightenment: Existential Kantian Cosmopolitan Anarchism, with a Concluding Quasi-Federalist Postscript,” in D. Heidemann and K. Stoppenbrink, eds., Join, or Die: Philosophical Foundations of Federalism (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2016), 63–90; R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise, Rational Human Condition 4 (New York: Nova Science, 2018); R. Hanna and O. Paans, “On the Permissible Use of Force in a Kantian Dignitarian Moral and Political Setting, or, Seven Kantian Samurai,” Journal of Philosophical Investigations 13 (2019): 75–93, available online at https://philosophy.tabrizu.ac.ir/article_9431.html; and R. Hanna, “On Rutger Bregman’s Humankind: Optimism for Realists, or, Neither Hobbes Nor Rousseau” (unpublished manuscript, September 2020 version), available online at https://www.academia.edu/43631182/On_Rutger_Bregmans_Humankind_Minor_revisions_22_September_2020_.

    3. See S. Michaels, “Sir Paul McCartney: I Politicised The Beatles,” Guardian, December 15, 2008, available online at https://www.theguardian.com/music/2008/dec/15/paulmccartney-thebeatles, and also this interview with McCartney, available online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3m2r0Ln0rU.

    4. Russell, The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, ch. 8.

    5. Sadly and tragically, as is well-known, this is only the tip of the iceberg of “structural racist” oppression of Black people in the United States. See, e.g., C. Anderson, White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016).

    6. A recursive principle is a principle that, starting with a “ground level” or “zero” case as input, is successively applied to the result of each prior application until a certain desired output is constructed. So, for example, the arithmetic principle that determines counting to ten in the natural number series is a recursive principle.

    7. This is also what J. C. Scott, borrowing the Greek term for Odysseus’s non-discursive social and political insight in the Odyssey and the Iliad, calls “metis” in Seeing Like a State (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998).

    8. See R. Hanna and M. Maiese, Embodied Minds in Action (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), ch. 5; and M. Maiese, Embodiment, Emotion, and Cognition (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

    9. See S. Alexander, Space, Time, and Deity (2 vols., London: Macmillan, 1920), 2:31–37, available online at https://brocku.ca/MeadProject/Alexander/Alexander_toc.html; and J. Slaby, “Relational Affect,” Academia.edu, available online at https://www.academia.edu/25728787/Relational_Affect.

    10. M. Horkheimer and T. Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. E. Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002).

    11. In his excellent but also highly controversial Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650–1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), and its two sequel volumes, Jonathan Israel traces the origins of the very idea of a radical enlightenment project back to Spinoza, pantheism, and metaphysical monism. I certainly agree with Israel that Spinozism is at least one important source of the radical enlightenment tradition, but am also strongly inclined to think that Kant’s role is actually greater and more profound. See, e.g., F. Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987).

    12. See, e.g., R. Hanna, “Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature,” Con-Textos Kantianos 5 (2017), available online at https://www.con-textoskantianos.net/index.php/revista/article/view/228; and R. Hanna, “Kant, Adorno, and Autonomy,” Critique (2017), available online at https://virtualcritique.wordpress.com/2017/07/05/robert-hanna-on-martin-shusters-autonomy-after-auschwitz/.

    13. I borrow the helpful label “maximalist” from S. Fleischacker, What Is Enlightenment? (London: Routledge, 2013), 7. Fleischacker himself defends a “minimalist” version of Kantian enlightenment; see What Is Enlightenment?, 169–93.

    • Michelle Maiese

      Michelle Maiese

      Reply

      The Mind-Body Politic and Beyond: A Response to Jan Slaby

      I’ve very grateful for Slaby’s insightful and perceptive remarks about some lingering questions raised by the book, in particular how to understand the relationship between institutional change and change at the individual level. In addition, these comments allowed for further reflection on what it would mean to devise social institutions that are constructive and enabling.

      Slaby notes that while our case studies highlight the entanglement of social institutions and individual minds, the last two chapters of The Mind-Body Politic focus primarily on individual minds. This is problematic given that any needed interventions will need to target not just the mental habits of individuals, but also institutional arrangements as well as the broader discursive surround that forms the backdrop for these institutions. The institution of higher education could be improved significantly, I suspect, by treating it as a well-funded public good, altering labor and publishing practices, and expanding opportunities for genuine faculty governance. Still, it is individuals who will push for such changes and bring about institutional transformation. In my view, the question of which to prioritize, structural/ institutional change or individual change, is not very helpful; we need both kinds of changes, and they operate in reciprocal interaction with each other. To be stable and effective, structural-level interventions will need to be accompanied by individual-level interventions, and vice versa. What is more, since various social structures are entangled with each other, change at the institutional level will need to proceed on multiple fronts. Individuals need to take personal responsibility for unjust structures, but this needs to occur collectively if any sort of significant structural change is to occur. And changing structures, in turns, can allow people to recognize that new ways of doing things are possible, so that new modes of life begin to become “second-nature” and viewed as “natural” or “inevitable.” Insofar as “institutional habits and the habits of individuals are co-constitutive,” what is needed is a “transactional back and forth between public policy and the attitudes and beliefs of individual persons whereby each has its turn in constituting the other” (Noe 2020, 299).

      The need to change both institutions as well as individual minds comes into even sharper focus when we consider the various challenges of our dystopic times. Neoliberal discourse and values no doubt have helped to shape the way in which people in capitalist societies, especially the United States, have framed and understood the pandemic, as well as intensified the suffering of those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. It is not surprising that people in the United States frequently have said “we have no choice” but to lift lockdowns, open up the economy, and get people back to school and work. Because there are no other supports in place for guaranteed income and economic relief has been channeled primarily toward the already-wealthy rather than ordinary workers, people are forced to choose between risking illness and their financial livelihood. Some of the discourse surrounding our collective hesitance to extend and increase unemployment benefits or establish a universal basic income (even temporarily), e.g., the claim that such benefits disincentivize work and constitute a “handout,” clearly resonate with and reinforce our neoliberal mental habits.

      But our current dystopia obviously encompasses not just neoliberalism, but also race relations and unjust criminal justice institutions—problems that have been around for a long time but have grabbed people’s increased attention in recent months. Addressing these sorts of problems is challenging precisely because we need to both transform our institutions as well as change individual minds. If we changed the institution of policing, for example, people might begin to see that we don’t need traditional mechanisms of “law and order” to keep people in line, that there are other ways to deal with many social problems, and that human needs are better served through other avenues. This would better position us to move to a system in which mental health crises, substance abuse, and domestic abuse are addressed by trained clinicians rather than police officers. We might cultivate increased collective resistance to the privatization of prisons and the prevalence of overly strict drug laws. But how can we find the political will to change our institutions if we can’t first change people’s perspectives? How do we convince people that the transformation or abolition of the institution of policing and the broader criminal justice system is not only possible, but also worthy of pursuit?

      It seems as if education has some significant potential when it comes to exposing people to new perspectives and ways of thinking. By enlarging their perspective, it can help them to question customary practices, imagine things otherwise, and develop new habits of behavior and attention. This often is a first step toward becoming attuned to relevant facts, understanding the workings of oppression, and imagining things otherwise. What some theorists refer to as “counter-publics” can be understood as the sorts of spaces in which subjects begin to challenge and resist prevailing habits of mind and develop new behavioral “scripts” and forms of life. In The Mind-Body Politic, we point to expressive arts as one powerful way to tap into subject’s cognitive/affective framings and shift their mental habits. However, these efforts to cultivate more flexible habits of mind and promote individuals’ capacity for autonomous agency need to be combined with efforts to change institutional arrangements and transform discourse. I envision this as a reciprocal back-and-forth where we simultaneously endeavor to bring about change at both the individual and structural level. We need to change institutional arrangements so as to promote the exercise of autonomy; but at the same time, we need to support people’s capacity for autonomous agency in order to challenge and resist oppressive institutions.

      Slaby is not convinced by our recommendations for how to move forward largely because we have drawn from the classical Enlightenment canon to devise our blueprint for “constructive, enabling institutions.” He notes that notions of dignity, autonomy, authenticity, and self-realization can be reinterpreted within a neoliberal framework and thereby hijacked. Self-expression can be construed as the ability to buy products that express one’s unique personal tastes, I take it, and process-oriented participation at a corporate tech firm in Silicon Valley might be emphasized only because it leads to productivity maximization. But Slaby’s central worry, he states, is that Enlightenment humanism has a problematic legacy. Colonized and enslaved people initially were denied status as autonomous agents and “free persons” on the grounds that they were naturally inferior. Later, after that status had been granted, it was used as an instrument of oppression. Once autonomy was interpreted in terms of the freedom to sell one’s labor, subjects who lacked material resources were deemed as responsible for their plight. Indeed, the “burdened individuality of freedom” that Slaby highlights, drawing from the work of Saidya Hartman (1997), is central to the discourse of “personal responsibility” and “responsibilization” that we highlight as a cornerstone of neoliberalism in the book.

      However, in The Mind-Body Politic, we do not explicitly acknowledge that “the enabling, nourishing, solidarity- and empathy-fostering qualities of social institutions” have not been distributed equally. Educational opportunities, transformative or otherwise, certainly have not been distributed equally. And yet in our discussion of constructive, enabling institutions, we say nothing about the need to rectify historical racial injustice or take it into account while designing such institutions. Our idealized model of constructive, enabling institutions abstracts away from the particularities of people, including their different backgrounds and experiences. As Slaby notes, the account rests on idealized human capacities and a notion of “true human needs”; it remains rather silent on various forms of oppression and people’s experiences of injustice and exclusion. Although we do mention racism as an example of destructive mind-shaping, our recommendations regarding constructive and enabling institutions do not explicitly take into account the history of European domination, racial slavery, Jim Crow, and the establishment of white supremacist states.

      Building upon ideas from feminist and anti-racist theorists, one might say that The Mind-Body Politic engaged in a bit of “ideal theorizing,” and that what we need is some more “nonideal” political philosophy of mind. What I mean is that we have set aside considerations of race and used white experience as the foundation on which to build “a purportedly representative socio-political imaginary and subsequent roadmaps for prescriptive redress” (Noe 2020, 281). As a result, our recommendations may qualify as an example of what Charles Mills (2018) calls a “whitopia,” an imaginary utopian site that is shaped by “whiteness.” A nonideal approach would have done more to describe the world as it actually is. It would have more carefully acknowledged, for example, the prevalence of “real-world moral disputes in which people lack shared cultural assumptions and/or are unequal in social power” (Tobin and Jaggar 2013, 409). And it would have commented on the difficulties of advancing transformative education in environments where white supremacist attitudes continue to dominate. There is a danger, for example, that the kinds of dance, music, or drama exercises that we recommend will end up being very “white,” bourgeois versions of the expressive arts; however, this need not be the case. To be truly transformative, education needs to take into account cultural dynamics, prevailing educational practices, and facts about who has access to which schooling opportunities. It needs to recognize that those coming into an educational setting have different racial, ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds, different gender identities, different sexual orientations, and different abilities; and it should acknowledge that these differences amount to different degrees of privileges and power that impact who has a voice and who is viewed as having epistemic authority.

      This is all to say that I think Slaby’s concern that our blueprint of a better world smuggles in Western conceptions of “man,” “freedom,” and “true human needs” is worthy of careful consideration. After all, there may be no Archimedean point or “view from nowhere” from which we can identify distorting institutions as well as true human needs (McGeer 2019); the institutions that we inhabit are likely to distort our understanding of things and blind us to relevant considerations. What counts as a “constructive, enabling” institution versus a “deforming, distorting” one is contestable terrain, and it is likely that our normative views will continue to evolve. Therefore, rather than setting out a list of our true human needs in advance, perhaps it is better that we continue to engage in reason-giving and dialogue with one another to broaden our understanding of what is valuable. This stance of epistemic humility might open us up to recognizing the importance of human needs whose significance currently is not well understood from the standpoint of our Western socio-cultural perspective.

      This incorporation of a nonideal stance is, I believe, fully consistent with, and supportive of, the sort of “radical Enlightenment” approach that Hanna recommends. In order to respect people’s human dignity, grow out of our own personal immaturity and inauthenticity, and devise truly constructive and enabling institutions, we need to recognize our own blind spots and the ways in which our theorizing may be influenced by bias. I deeply appreciate Slaby’s comments and the opportunity for personal reflection they have provided.

      Works Cited

      Hartman, S. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford University Press on Demand, 1997.

      McGeer, V. “Mindshaping Is Inescapable, Social Injustice Is Not: Reflections on Haslanger’s Critical Social Theory.” Australasian Philosophical Review 3 (2019): 48–59.

      Mills, C. “Through a Glass, Whitely: Ideal Theory as Epistemic Injustice.” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 92 (Fall 2018): 43–77.

      Noe, K. “White Habits, Anti-Racism, and Philosophy as a Way of Life.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 58.2 (2020): 279–301.

      Tobin, T., A. Jaggar. “Naturalizing Moral Justification: Rethinking the Method of Moral Epistemology.” Metaphilosophy 44.4 (2013): 409–39.

Shaun Gallagher

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Joel Krueger

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